By Travis P. Dickerson with additional reporting by Linzy Novotny
The energy used by buildings accounted for 38.9 percent of the total amount of U.S. energy consumed in 2005, according to a report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Buildings included office buildings, accounting for 46.3 percent of the total, and residential buildings, making up the rest at 53.7 percent. With these figures in mind, improving the efficiency of office buildings will have a major impact on energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions over time.
LEED and Energy Star Ratings Set Environmental Efficiency Standards
To help with efficiency, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has set standards which measure a building’s performance in the area of environmental efficiency, giving owners and operators ideas on how they can improve. Energy Star is a joint program of the EPA and the Department of Energy that promotes products and techniques in energy efficiency. An office building in downtown Charlotte, N.C., is taking these standards to heart and carbon reduction to another level.
The 15-story, 365,000 square foot Ally Center appears rather modest, but the center is doing more than ever to be sustainable. As if being LEED certified Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council and being awarded the Energy Star for operating efficiency wasn’t enough, the center merges energy efficiency with simple, yet elegant design.
By focusing their efforts on conservation and reduction the folks at Ally Center have reduced their carbon footprint in much the same way as a boat builder streamlines a ship. Cutting down on drag means it takes less inertia to generate forward momentum.
How the Ally Center is Environmentally Friendly
In keeping with the boat analogy, it’s an all hands on deck approach at the Ally Center because everyone gets involved. The recycling program at the center is very thorough with a comprehensive listing of over 30 items on the acceptable recycling list. Receptacles are located in every cubicle and in all public break rooms. According to a 2010 study on college campuses, “consumers placed more than twice as many plastic bottles in the recycling receptacles when the receptacles were presumably closer to the point of consumption.”
Reducing water waste is also a big deal at Ally Center. Low-flow faucets and toilets in every bathroom help reduce environmental impact and keep operating costs down. Studies show that on average a worker uses the restroom 3-4 times during the day. By reducing the amount of water per flush by 20-30 percent the savings really stack up.
Motion sensors in public areas turn lights on and off in response to need. Energy saving windows let in visible light reducing the need to burn electricity. The lighting control system at the center will save 6.1 million household lamp hours per year, according to Ally Center’s developers, Trinity Capital.
Perhaps the most significant yet overlooked facet of the center’s strategy to reduce energy consumption is something that property manager Lauren Green said, “The lights go off automatically at 7 p.m.” Obviously that factor contributes to the environmental impact but what about the psychological impact?
The Positive Impact Green Office Buildings Can Have on Employees
According to author and expert on obtaining happiness at work Alexander Kjerulf, environmentally focused companies make their employees happy in five ways. Employees feel a sense of pride, a stronger bond with the company is developed, employees can take action, employees feel they can make a positive difference and lastly, it’s the right thing to do, according to Kjerulf on his website.
Although Kjerulf is referring to environmentally-friendly companies, the same rules can apply for the way office buildings are managed. Employees at the Ally Center and other environmentally-friendly buildings feel pride for contributing to a recycling program and feel a bond with the center, meaning they are happier to spend their time in the building. Above all, a green office building makes a positive difference by cutting the amount of energy that is being used, more items are being recycled and there is less water waste.
An employee who works in the Ally Center agrees, “Working at [the] Ally Center you don’t really notice the difference, but that it is definitely a factor in job satisfaction,” Elizabeth Sustman said about working in a green office building. “If I had the choice I would rather work here. The impact of green office buildings is exponentially greater than the impact that a single person can have. Green buildings are definitely here to stay.”