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Greening big existing buildings

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/25/09 @ 4:17pm

Jim Breen, building owner of the IMG Center, had his 'ahah' moment about sustainability when he found that he wasn't among the majority of his co-workers driving hybrids or taking public transit to work. The realization helped ease his path to pursue LEED, the nationally recognized green building process, for the existing 14-story office tower located at the corner of E. 9th and St. Clair. Today, their seven-figure investment in energy efficiency has conserved 40% of total energy use and saved tens of thousands of dollars.

Breen's confession came during a pitch by Northeast Ohio Green Building Council chair Tim Panzica to 28 building owners including Fifth Third Bank, The Cleveland Indians and The Cleveland Clinic. Panzica, co-owner of a large construction firm, says his company decided to pursue LEED-Silver for their existing building in a stepwise fashion and by viewing through a cost savings lens.

"Your metric is to improve operational efficiency, reduce environmental impact and save money -with or without spending money," Panzica said. "Your metric for greening existing structures doesn't have to do with cost per square foot."

What worked for Panzica was empowering his employees to form green teams who write green building policy and push for its adoption with executive management.

Breen admitted the process of greening a building of his size could take two years. The biggest investment, besides the capital expenditure, is in bookkeeping if following LEED.

"If you can't document it using LEED process, you're not going to get there," he said. "Bookkeeping is 85% of the process. It's a long journey. Ask questions upfront and you have to get buy in from the top people writing the checks."

EnergyStar is a great step, Breen added. "If you get an 89 score (on EnergyStar), that's great. It will tell you how many points you're likely to get with LEED. That's a wheelbarrow full of points."

"You have to carve out some time internally, or add bench strength," advised a building representative with Fifth Third Bank, which pursued EnergyStar a few years ago.

Other attendees shared stories of taking steps to green their buildings. Cleveland Public Library's operations manager said greening operations is a mindset that takes time to instill. For example, CPL's recycling program was as much about maintenance following the procedure as it was about purchasing blue bags and signing a separate contract to haul recyclables (which CPL did, only paying for fuel surcharges for the recycling. The program has reduced their trash dumpster tips in half, saving them thousands of dollars a year in waste hauling fees). The library is also disposing of fluorescent light tubes with their 55-gallon drum that crushes bulbs "to make sure the mercury doesn't end up going into the lake." And, they're now recycling all of their old books.

The Cleveland Indians still have some green building features on-deck after their demonstration solar panel and a recycling program that saves 130 tons of plastic and glass from the landfill (a $60,000 savings), said Brad Mohr, assistant director of ballpark operations. While another solar panel and a possible wind turbine won't make a dent in their 21 million kilowatt hour energy consumption, it would be a conversation starter. And if pursued through the Evergreen Cooperative, as Mohr hopes, it could support some local green jobs.

The Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Green Building Council wants to help big building owners take the first steps toward greening the shell and core of their structures, Panzica said.

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