State Projects Save Money, Help Environment

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Capitol Ideas: May / June 2010

Two years ago, Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Mulligan was concerned the trial courts in his state weren’t addressing environmental sustainability.

So he put together the Trial Court Energy Task Force, better known as the Green Team.

In the last year, recommendations from the Green Team have saved the court system $2.9 million in utility costs, according to Michael O’Loughlin, an administrative attorney at the Boston Municipal Court Department and chairman of the Green Team’s Education and Outreach Subcommittee.

“When you can save money in this day and age, it gets a lot of attention,” O’Loughlin said.

But that’s not all the Green Team accomplished.

In addition to reducing energy use—which came about through changes in energy procurement and lighting as well as conservation efforts—the Green Team has stressed recycling, which has resulted in more than 80 tons of recycled paper in just three of the state’s counties and 49,000 pounds of recycled electronics, as well as education and outreach, according to O’Loughlin.

“I think the chief justice felt that for an organization as large as the trial courts, we needed to consider our impact on the environment and the world around us,” he said.

The money savings garner the attention, but people seem to really care about taking better care of the earth, O’Loughlin said.

Other states are also looking at general building codes, but that’s not all states are doing to go green. They’re focusing on using renewable energy, buying more green furniture and cleaning products.

When it comes to being green, state governments often take the lead by looking to LEED—as in the LEED certification for environmentally sustainable buildings, administered by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, the U.S. Green Building Council.

Many states require their buildings and ones they lease to have that certification. California takes it a step further: The state recently passed the most stringent, statewide building requirements in the country. Those requirements, dubbed Calgreen, take effect in 2011.

“The benefit to California is going to be greater energy efficiency, greater water efficiency, less use of landfills and finally a healthy work force,” said Tom Sheehy, undersecretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency and chair of the Building Standards Commission, which approved the regulation.

The code requires all buildings to reduce water use by 20 percent. The West is in a prolonged drought situation, Sheehy said, “so water is a very precious commodity.” Calgreen also requires 50 percent of construction waste be diverted from landfills for recycling in different ways, according to Sheehy.

LEED Certification

States have found that going green saves green.

“I think the biggest thing is to save money by cutting energy use,” said Melissa Gallagher-Rogers, LEED director, Government Sector, for the U.S. Green Building Council.

Thirty-four states require their buildings to have LEED certification from the council. The certification, which comes with a fee, ensures states are getting the efficiencies and energy savings they asked for, Gallagher-Rogers said.

Jenna Ide, director of Massachusetts’ energy program, said LEED establishes the standard to which all buildings must adhere.

“You can have a goal of getting better energy efficiency, but what does that mean to hold that project to that standard,” Ide said. “The project may change over time and lose or gain some elements, but it still has to meet LEED.”

That’s a requirement in Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick issued an executive order called Clean Energy and Efficient Buildings when he took office. The order requires retrofits for facilities larger than 100,000 square feet and LEED certification for new buildings and renovations of buildings larger than 20,000 square feet, according to Hope Davis, director of the state Office of Facilities Maintenance.

Gallagher-Rogers said there’s more to LEED certification than helping states save money.

“When you’re inside the building, you’re also protecting indoor air quality through smart material choices, through the way you ventilate the building so you’re really protecting the health of employees or the visitors that are coming into that building,” she said.

In New Mexico, for instance, custodians in the Building Services Division work the day shift. That increased the need to use green cleaning products, said Erik Aaboe, the state’s energy efficiency Lead by Example coordinator.

“Because they are on the daytime shift, it’s really important the products and cleaning we do doesn’t adversely affect folks,” Aaboe said.

That’s not all. Several states are looking to more environmentally friendly products from lighting to carpeting.

The Washington state procurement office, for instance, already has a significant “green buy” program, said Michael Van Gelder, senior facilities planner for Washington real estate services group in the Department of General Administration. The legislature last year and in the current session has expanded that program even more, he said.

And the department that leases property for the state from private entities is changing its specifications, particularly with regard to carpeting. Chris Gizzi, an architect responsible for coordinating and monitoring energy conservation and sustainability programs in leased facilities, said carpet used now ends up in the landfill after it’s torn out of buildings. New specs will require all carpet used in state-used buildings to be 100 percent recyclable for reuse as carpet.

Steve Russell, vice president of the plastics division for the American Chemistry Council, an organization that represents companies in the business of chemistry, said plastic products go a long way in meeting LEED requirements.

For instance, different plastic, rubberized or polymer-based roofing products reflect rather than absorb energy in buildings. Plastic pipes, he said, require less energy to pump water.

Energy Efficiency

Those things are important, since buildings consume 40 percent of the nation’s energy use, Russell said. “That’s a huge amount of energy nationwide, but it also represents more opportunities to really be more efficient,” he said.

New buildings are an obvious target for energy efficiency, but retrofitting old buildings offer numerous opportunities for efficiency, those involved with state buildings say.

In New Mexico, for instance, the state is using money from the federal stimulus package to retrofit its buildings for energy efficiency, said Aaboe. The Lead by Example initiative strives to make buildings and vehicles more energy efficient both in the equipment used and policies set.

“And just really to lead the way for those in the private sector and citizens of the state to be able to save energy, save money and lessen our impact on the environment,” Aaboe said.

New Mexico encourages both energy efficiency and energy conservation. The difference: “Energy conservation is that you turn your thermostat down to save energy so you’re making a sacrifice,” Aaboe said. “With energy efficiency, you might insulate your house so you use less energy but you don’t suffer for it.”

Many states and private companies are looking at the type of energy they use—outside the renewable portfolio standards states have set for utilities to use certain renewable energy sources for power.

HP, touted by Newsweek as the greenest company in the world, has doubled its goal of using renewable energy to 8 percent by 2012. The company recently installed one of the nation’s largest solar power installations at its Rancho Bernardo, Calif., site, which is projected to save the company $750,000 over the next 15 years while providing 10 percent of the facilities power, according to a company fact sheet.

Several states—including Maine, New Mexico, New York, Washington and Wisconsin—require a certain percentage of renewable energy be used for state-owned buildings, according to an informal survey by Marcia Stone, executive director of the National Association of State Facilities Administrators, an affiliate of The Council of State Governments.

In some states, reliance on renewable energy has gone a step further.

In Oklahoma, for example, the Department of Central Services installed a donated 10 kilowatt wind turbine on the grounds of the governor’s mansion to partially power the governor’s residence. It’s not too far from an oil derrick that has long sat on the capitol grounds.

“The wind turbine on the mansion grounds will pay dividends for many years to come in terms of cost-savings and environmental efficiencies,” Gov. Brad Henry, the 2007 CSG president, said in a statement. “Because of our rich energy history, it just makes sense for Oklahoma to be a leader in the development and promotion of alternative fuels.”

John Richard, director of Central Services, said the wind turbine is part of a larger, ongoing effort to reduce state costs by greening government buildings.

“Our overriding goal in all of our ‘greening’ projects is to save the state money and make it more environmentally friendly in the process,” Richard said in a press release.

Other states—including Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin—have installed photovoltaic solar panels on the capitol roofs, Stone found in her survey. In Washington, a 20 kilowatt solar panel system provides enough energy to light the capitol dome at night, according to Ron Major, resource conservation manager for the state’s Department of General Administration.

Dealing with History

Many state buildings are considered historic, and that can present challenges. But Gallagher-Rogers, from the U.S. Green Building Council, said there are ways to retrofit those buildings without damaging their historic nature. State buildings, particularly capitols, were built to last, Gallagher-Rogers said.

“There are success stories where states have been successful working in those buildings, marrying historic preservation and green goals and coming out with a more efficient building,” she said.


5 Green Ideas

Separate Garbage.
Going green isn’t trash talk in Washington; instead the garbage is going green.

In the last year, garbage collection at the capitol campus has changed. Instead of tossing food waste into any trash can, employees dump it into a single composting container, said Ron Major, resource conservation manager for the state’s Department of General Administration. That means every trash bag in the building doesn’t have to be picked up every day—and the food leftovers don’t go to a landfill with the rest of the garbage.

The project cost about $10,000 to implement, but it’s diverted 145 tons of waste from the landfill—saving about $60 a ton in landfill disposal costs, Major said. That’s expected to increase this year.

“We saved money and we helped the environment,” Major said. “I can’t see any downside to that.”

Try Recycling.
Plastic is energy.

Steve Russell, vice president of the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council, an organization that represents companies in the business of chemistry, said recycling plastic offers many energy benefits and savings.

Russell said new technologies make it possible for plastic to be burned for fuel. While turning plastics into energy may seem far off, Russell said some municipalities and electric companies are generating energy from it already.

That’s an added benefit, Russell said, “besides doing the right thing for the environment and keeping these materials out of the landfill. … The more we divert from landfill, the more communities save in disposal costs.”

Recover Heat.
When it comes to computer servers, no heat is wasted in Washington.

The Department of General Administration takes the heat generated from the Department of Information Services’ data center and uses it to preheat outside air to a 600,000 square foot building on the capitol campus, said Ron Major, resource conservation manager for the states Department of General Administration.

“We’re trying to get as much out of the energy that we put into these buildings as we can,” said Major.

Replace Lights.
The Oklahoma Arts Council is expecting to save nearly $2,000 a year, just in its Betty Price art gallery and just by changing lights.

That’s just one way the state is saving money by replacing lighting. In the Capitol parking lot, 28 400 watt high pressure sodium lights were replaced with 200 watt LED lights.

It’s not just the Sooner State seeing the light.

The state capitol and executive residence in Wisconsin was retrofitted to use compact fluorescent light bulbs. In New Mexico, the state installed energy efficient ballasts and bulbs, as well as compact fluorescent lights. It’s also installed motion systems in some areas so the lights aren’t on all the time.

Avoid Runoff.
The Massachusetts College of Art and Design has found a way to marry education and sustainability.

An architecture professor worked with her architectural design class to design a rooftop garden using milk crates and greenery. A portion of the college’s 11th floor is covered with the greenery encased in steel on the outer rim, said Craig Kilburn, sustainability/environmental health and safety officer at the college.

“The primary goal was to incorporate the green roof into the architecture of an existing campus, which can in turn have effects of water retention and less runoff to the streets,” Kilburn said.

The project cost about $30,000, most of which was donated. Kilburn said the college has seen positive impacts from the project, including psychological. “It’s definitely much more pleasing to look at than a black roof,” he said.

And while a cooling effect inside the building hasn’t been proved yet, Kilburn said it is obvious on the roof itself.