Industries Energy/Green

Green construction

As sustainable trend grows, even a car wash opts for green

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Print this page by M.J. McAteer

Like kudzu, green buildings took root quietly in Virginia.  They didn’t grow much at first, but once established, began to spread rapidly. Unlike kudzu, the burgeoning growth of green buildings is expected to be a big plus for the state’s environment.

The genesis of the green construction movement in the commonwealth can be dated to 2003, when two buildings in Northern Virginia — an alternative school in Arlington and a facility at the Pentagon Metro station — earned Virginia’s first LEED designation. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an accreditation system developed in the 1990s by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

The designation is awarded to projects that meet criteria for sustainability in categories that include recycling, energy savings, water conservation and indoor air quality.  LEED ratings — which range from certified, to silver, to gold, to platinum — have evolved into the benchmark for sustainability for nonresidential projects nationwide. As of July, nearly 6 billion square feet of commercial space in the United States were either LEED certified or in the pipeline to become so.

Buildings can also opt for a Green Globes environmental assessment, a rating system for commercial buildings sponsored by the nonprofit Green Building Initiative (GBI).

Sustainable growth, as measured by LEED certification, was slow to get started in Virginia. After the initial two projects in 2003, just three projects in ’04, three in ’05, and five in ’06 earned LEED certification. Then, the movement seemed to reach critical mass.  By the end of last year, Virginia had 135 LEED buildings. More significantly, almost 10 times that number of projects (1,047) had been registered for LEED evaluation upon completion of construction or retrofits. Included on the list are office buildings, along with significant numbers of K-12 schools and colleges, stores, hotels, libraries and military installations.

This summer, Woodbridge will even welcome the world’s first full-service LEED car wash. Co-owner Eric Rosenkranz says that it will have three water recycling systems so that all but 15 gallons of the 80 gallons typically needed to wash a car will be reused. “It will be green and a good value at the same time,” says Rosenkranz. 

If car washes can become models of sustainable practices, environmental stewardship obviously has obtained success in Virginia, and the reason is simple: Being environmentally responsible has become good business.

Green building materials that once cost a premium have become much more competitively priced and more widely available, and “the payback [on energy savings] is sooner than in the past because the technology has gotten better,” says Megan Miller, a member of the James River chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Even more intrinsic to green growth have been federal, state and local government efforts to promote sustainable building because of its ultimate cost-effectiveness. Rosenkranz’s car wash, for instance, is being partially financed through federal stimulus money in the form of a loan from the Small Business Administration.

On the state level, Virginia has begun mandating that new executive branch buildings or renovations of greater than 5,000 square feet conform to LEED standards, and it has started giving energy-efficient private buildings a tax break. 

The commonwealth’s counties are demanding greener buildings, too. Fairfax is requiring LEED certification for construction and major renovations of county buildings of more than 10,000 square feet, and Albemarle is building two LEED school additions.  Virginia municipalities promoting LEED include Alexandria, Charlottesville, Chesapeake, Richmond and Virginia Beach.

The emphasis on sustainable building has seeded a whole slew of subsidiary businesses. Lumber companies, window manufacturers, plumbing and electrical suppliers and appliance makers now all vie to see who can save the customer more on energy costs. Meanwhile, carpet companies and furniture makers — which once boasted about high-end materials — increasingly emphasize a commitment to using recycled products. 

The buildings profiled here — including MeadWestvaco’s new corporate headquarters in Richmond — incorporate many eco-friendly elements and show that sustainability is becoming a core business strategy. 

See a photo slide show of MeadWestvaco’s corporate headquarters.


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