Shedding Light on Green Building

By Anat Lahovitsky

Wikipedia currently defines a green building as ‘an outcome of a design philosophy which focuses on increasing the efficiency of resource use — energy, water, and materials — while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment during the building’s lifecycle, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal.’

The green building concept is part of a variety of projects initiated by various authorities, NGOs and activists to promote buildings, neighborhoods, and cities to be healthier and more comfortable places to live and work in. The green building concept, adapts these public notions on a building level, attempting to foster urban and suburban landscapes that are environmentally friendly for their surroundings through efficient, effective and non-intrusive use of energy, water, materials, and land.

On a more practical level, green building developers will tend to use recycled or recyclable materials, incorporate renewable and energy efficient power generation systems, tend to effectively control outdoor air ventilation systems, use non-toxic paints, finishes, adhesives, furniture and fabrics that do not negatively affect air quality or have any potential adverse effects on individual residents, use water resources more efficiently and produce less waste. Consequently, the owners of green properties are able to reduce some operation and maintenance costs, lower utility bills, reduce their impact on the environment and improve the wellbeing of the occupants.

New York was among the first states in the US to offer a tax incentive program for developers and builders of environmentally friendly buildings. The Green Building Tax Credit program, managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), provides for tax credits to owners and tenants of eligible buildings and tenant spaces which meet certain “green” standards. Some of the standards that need to be met to qualify for the “green” credit are as follows:

* Energy efficiency – no more than 65%-75% of energy use allowed under   The New York State Energy Conservation and Construction Code (depending on the type of building).
* Purchase of energy saving appliances and HVAC equipment.
* Indoor Air Quality – Ventilation and exchange of indoor/outdoor air; smoking areas; ventilation capable of purging two floors at a time; fresh air intake located away from sources of contamination; annual indoor air quality testing; carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, radon, and particulates.
* Mechanical Plant Commissioning.
* Facilitating recycling of wastes.
* Energy compliant plumbing fixtures.
* Building materials, finishes and furnishings.
* The size of the property – Generally, the property has to have at least 20,000 square feet of interior space.

In addition, the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) published the High Performance Building Guidelines, an internationally recognized green building reference. A companion piece for roadway and underground infrastructure, the High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines, was one of the first of its kind in the world (both guidelines can be found at ).

While the Building Guidelines were in development, DDC launched a pilot program to incorporate sustainable features on several projects. By early 2008, more than 60 projects incorporating sustainable strategies were in design or construction, or were built.

Among the first buildings to be issued Credit Component Certificates in New York City were a condominium at 1400 5th Avenue, New York City, for which the sponsor, 1400 5th Avenue LLC, received a tax credit of over $1,500,000 and an office building at 959 8th Avenue, New York City, for which the sponsor, Hearst Communications, Inc., received a tax credit of $5,000,000.

On the federal level, the standards for green building are the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: Sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The LEED standards provide developers with a straightforward checklist of criteria by which the ‘greenness’ of a building can be judged. Points are awarded in various categories, from energy use (up to 17 points) to water-efficiency (up to five points) to indoor environment quality (up to 15 points); the total then determines the building’s LEED rating. Extra points can be earned by installing particular features, such as renewable-energy generators or carbon-dioxide monitoring systems. A building that achieves a score of 39 points earns a “gold” rating; 52 points earns a “platinum” rating.

A gold-rated building is estimated to have reduced its environmental impact by 50% compared with an equivalent conventional building, and a platinum-rated building by over 70%. A typical green building can save up to 30% in energy; 35% in greenhouse gas emissions and up to 50% in water usage. Rating buildings in this way reveals how inefficient traditional buildings and building processes are.

All certified projects receive a LEED plaque, which is the nationally recognized symbol demonstrating that a building is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to live and work.

One of the current examples of green buildings in New York City to obtain the LEED certificate is the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park. It is a 1,200 feet skyscraper on Sixth Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd Street, opposite Bryant Park. It is the second tallest building in New York City, after the Empire State Building. It has been designed to be one of the most efficient and ecologically friendly buildings in the world.  The building is 54 stories high and has 2,100,000 square feet of office space.

The design of the building makes it environmentally friendly, using technologies such as floor-to-ceiling insulating glass to contain heat and maximize natural light, and an automatic daylight dimming system. The tower also features a greywater system, which captures rainwater and reuses it. Air entering the building is filtered, as is common, but the air exhausted is cleaned as well, and carbon dioxide sensors signal increased fresh air ventilation, when elevated levels of carbon dioxide are detected in the building. The occupants are provided with multiple air column units, enabling them to control their own space temperature as well as improve the ventilation effectiveness. The construction of the building contains about half of the concrete usually found in traditional buildings. The cooling system produces and stores ice during off-peak hours, and then uses ice phase transition to help cool the building during peak load. Water conservation features in the tower include waterless urinals, which are estimated to save 8 million gallons of water per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 144,000 pounds per year. The tower has a 4.6-megawatt cogeneration plant, which provides part of the base-load energy requirements. Onsite power generation reduces the significant electrical transmission losses that are typical of central power production plants. Bank of America also states that the building is made largely of recycled and recyclable materials. Bank of America Tower is the first skyscraper designed to attain a Platinum LEED Certification.

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