Building Environmental LEEDership

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by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

What does it take to make a building green?  More than green paint!  A host of technologies and techniques are available to make structures friendlier to the environment, both inside and out. Even the right kind of green paint can help!

According to the Environmental Information Administration, U.S. buildings account for 40 percent of our primary energy use, 72 percent of electricity consumption and 39 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions.  There’s clearly room for improvement, and with greater efficiency comes big returns in health and cost-savings.

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The U.S. Green Building Council has developed certifications for “green” building projects, known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or “LEED.”

The LEED process is voluntary and cooperative, and flexible enough to apply to new construction or renovations, and both residential and commercial projects.  Projects are rated on a 110-point scale in five categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental air quality.  Bonus points may be given for design innovation or regional priorities.

For example, using enough recycled materials during construction scores a point for materials and resources. And back to that green paint: using paints with low volatile organic chemical (low-VOC) emissions wins a point under indoor air quality. The four levels of LEED certification are: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59), Gold (60-79) and Platinum (80+).

The LEED program began in the 1990s, but recently the number of projects seeking certification has exploded. There are currently over 24,700 in the United States, with more than 8,000 of those registered from January to June of this year.

It’s no wonder – the cost savings can be huge! Green buildings can reduce energy use by 24 to 59 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 33 to 39 percent, water use by 40 percent and solid waste by 70 percent, according to statistics compiled by the Green Buildings Council.

This state we’re in has more than 50 existing LEED-certified buildings and more than 400 additional projects in the works. The Willow School in Gladstone, for example, is one of only two Platinum buildings in New Jersey.  Equipped with solar and geothermal heating and cooling systems, a rainwater and runoff recycling system to maintain landscaping, recycled building materials and many other “green” features, the school is a model of sustainability for its students.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation offices in Morristown, built in partnership with the Morristown Parking Authority, are another inspiring LEED story. The building incorporates materials from renewable sources like bamboo and cork, a “biowall” of plants to help filter air naturally, an under-floor air-conditioning system and dual flush toilets, just to name a few green features, and is in the process of becoming LEED certified. It’s a great example of a longtime conservation supporter living its values!

Learn all about LEED at www.usgbc.org; New Jersey-specific information can be found at www.usgbcnj.org.  For real-world examples, visit the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation website at www.grdodge.org/green/greenbuilding/, or the Willow School website at www.willowschool.org/campus/environment.htm.

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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