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Green is the New Trend

April 10, 2009

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With cost-savings a high priority, 'green' is the new trend

Energy-efficiency movement takes root as firms cut costs and environmental impacts
Dallas Business Journal - by Lisa Tanner Staff writer

For North Texas companies driven to cut energy costs, green has become the new gold.

In addition to cost savings, sustainable buildings also minimize a company’s impact on the environment and are credited with a wide range of business improvements, including higher productivity and better worker health through improved indoor air quality.

Green building already is a huge industry, and although it’s difficult to determine a firm dollar amount of green projects going on in the Metroplex, residential and commercial green building nationwide is expected to top $100 billion annually by 2013. And cities and states are increasingly mandating that buildings are built in a sustainable way, often with targets for reduced energy usage. More stringent environmental regulations are anticipated from the Obama administration.

Even companies that long have been interested in green concepts are finding room for improvement.

When the J.C. Penney Co. (NYSE: JCP) headquarters opened in 1992 in Plano, it was ahead of its time, designed to reduce energy needs by making use of natural indirect lighting with an automatic window shade system and wide roof overhang to reduce solar heat when it’s hot outside.

“We were green before green was the thing to do,” said Mary Knuff, facility manager for the J.C. Penney home office and a member of the building design team. The retailer took a long-term approach, interested in doing the “right thing” to be as energy-efficient as possible.

“We’re always looking for things to upgrade to save energy, with our eyes open to new technology to do that,” she said.

Reducing energy usage is also a bit of an art.

“We come up with some wild, crazy ideas” she said, such as one now under consideration to use a remote-controlled cart to return glassware to the cafeteria so that disposable containers would no longer be needed. Already, the company uses biodiesel fuel created from the oil used to cook french fries to run a truck used on the 125-acre campus.

“We’re working toward a goal of having zero waste from the building,” Knuff said. “So we look at everything.”

Over the past five years, the company has implemented about 40 ideas to reduce energy consumption. In 2008, J.C. Penney received the Energy Star label, signifying commercial buildings that, on average, use 35% less energy than a typical comparable building. Now the company anticipates its headquarters will receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification by year-end, the result of more modifications, including the addition of motion-controlled plumbing fixtures, minimal-water landscaping and the conversion of cafeteria paper and plastic goods to recycled and biodegradable products. LEED certification is based on a series of points awarded for specific green building criteria, including the use of sustainable building sites, water and energy efficiency and improved indoor air quality.

J.C. Penney and its facility management contractor, Johnson Controls Inc., had already tackled significant projects, such as changing to more energy-efficient lighting and installing an energy management system to customize control of more than 100 lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning zones. In another effort, the facility, home to 5,000 workers, recycled 744 tons of paper, cardboard, plastics and cans in 2008.

The company is also tackling energy usage in its stores, investing $100 million during the past six years to install energy management technology, lighting and other cost-saving systems. These efforts reduced electricity usage by 6% in 800 stores and achieved energy savings of 15% in 10 stores that were the site of an advanced energy management project. In the 10-store test, energy management systems record energy usage data in 15-minute intervals and compare it to the same day of the prior year, allowing stores to identify and respond to changes in energy consumption.

And in August the company will open its first store planned for LEED certification, a 115,000-square-foot building in Fairview expected to use 40% less energy than a similar-size building. It’s energy-saving features include a reflective white roof and energy-efficient lighting. It is also designed to save water and makes use of construction materials that are supplied from nearby areas to reduce transportation-related emissions.

Designed to save

Dallas-based architecture firm Corgan Associates Inc. has seen the issue from both sides, as it increasingly builds green details into clients’ plans while embracing the concept at its own new Dallas headquarters. The LEED Silver certified structure was built on a former brownfields, or contaminated, site in Dallas’ West End.

The building’s very shape, a T-shaped structure that shades itself, saves energy through reduced cooling costs. The design also makes use of skylights and oversized windows to greatly reduce the need for artificial lighting. Even features that cost a bit more initially — such as the controls for the building’s energy management system — quickly saved the firm money with added efficiency, said project manager Kirk Johnson. Locally obtained materials were used as much as possible to reduce the environmental impact of transporting materials, while a rainwater collection system is used for landscape irrigation, reducing irrigation usage by 50%.

Clients have a range of green considerations when it comes to the design of their facilities, Johnson said. Some want a green building from top to bottom and aren’t overly concerned about the cost. Others are interested in choosing green features that offer the most bang for their buck — those that produce significant energy savings. In the early days of interest in sustainable buildings, going green was perceived to be more expensive. But recent data suggests that there are marginal or no additional costs to going green, he said.

Building in efficiency

Implementing green systems during office tower renovations can be complex, but Dallas-based office building owner and manager Gaedeke Group has found those efforts to pay off.

Gaedeke has updated energy management systems in its Dallas properties, replaced inefficient lighting and installed better-insulated roofing to reduce energy costs.

Changing standard light bulbs in the company’s Dallas buildings is expected save $475,000 alone. Installing variable frequency drives on mechanical equipment such as air-handling units and cooling tower motors allows the units to run more efficiently and has produced $86,000 in annual savings, said Dan Yates, regional manager and green programs officer for the company.

“The company is very proactive about looking for ways to save energy and lower operating costs,” Yates said. “We’re very conscious that the little things can add up,” he said.

Gaedeke’s Dallas-area properties total about 1.2 million square feet and include office buildings Oak Lawn Plaza, Regency Plaza, Banner Place and One McKinney Plaza. | 214-706-7117