Smarter Business: Green Building

The open floor plan, designed by Studio Gang Architects and engineered by WMA Consulting Engineers, was specifically created in collaboration with NRDC to use fewer construction materials than traditional private office design. Under the project management and sustainability advising from Closed Loop Advisors and LEED and Living Building Challenge consulting services provided by the WMA Sustainability Solutions Group, the space meets aggressive environmental goals. The new open floor plan contributes to lowered energy and water usage, a decreased carbon footprint, and a reduction in utility costs.

The design not only reduces resource use, but also allows for increased collaboration in an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere. The new open plan is LEED Platinum certified under v 2009 for Commercial Interiors guidelines as put forth by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It has also achieved Petal Certification under the Living Building Challenge 2.1. Both promote sustainability in the construction of the office and in operation.


Choosing the Location

Chicago Civic Opera Building

20 N. Wacker provides a variety of transportation opportunities for employees.

The NRDC Chicago office is within walking distance of multiple CTA trains and bus lines, and Metra commuter rail lines. Secure bike storage is available for employees in a neighboring building's bike room, and the health club on the 15th floor of the Civic Opera building provides showering and changing facilities. This helps to encourage the use of alternative transportation, both decreasing employee carbon emissions from commuting by personal automobiles and promoting health and well-being.

Using Natural Light and Improving Indoor Air Quality

The open floor plan eliminated all pre-existing offices during the renovation. Now, windows border the entire space, allowing natural light to penetrate deep into the office, reducing the need for unnecessary energy use. All workspace windows are accessible and operable, allowing occupants to manage fresh air levels and control their climate naturally.

All materials, from the low VOC carpet tiles to the formaldehyde-free composite wood used in construction, were carefully chosen not only to comply with the Living Building Challenge materials petal, but also to remove all unnecessary toxins typically found in construction. Furniture and seating are Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified (or meet comparable testing requirements). In order to maintain safe air quality, CO2 monitors were installed throughout the office. Climbing gardens, installed on rope fixtures on walls and columns, help to naturally purify the air while providing greenery and an aesthetically pleasing work area. The chosen plants (philodendron cordatum and philodendron brasil) are known to remove large amounts of air toxins. In order to prevent the accumulation of contaminants caused by construction activities, the general contractor implemented measures such as pathway interruption, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning protection.

Saving Energy

LED light fixtures

Cooper Foszcz, NRDCLED light fixtures hanging in the kitchen.

There are several measures that were taken in order to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions. First, over 90 percent of electronics in the office are Energy Star compliant, exceeding the government energy efficiency standards and reducing energy usage. The new NRDC office is equipped with an advanced lighting and dimming system. All lighting systems use energy efficient bulbs that automatically adjust to the surrounding daylight conditions. This provides a 40 percent more efficient lighting density when compared with the ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007 baseline requirement. Lights in the work areas turn on automatically dimmed at 50 percent and can be adjusted to user's comforts. Accompanying this advanced lighting system is a smart technology monitoring system that allows NRDC to determine inefficiencies in energy use and helps determine what areas need to be fixed. For example, a bulb that might need replacing will use more energy to stay lit. This monitoring system will show where that bulb is located in the office so it can be changed, saving both on energy use and utility costs.

Smart plug sensors, which the majority of electronics are plugged into, automatically power down computers, printers, docking stations, and other electronics at a designated time, saving up to 10 percent of energy usage. NRDC also purchased green power, in the form of Green-e certified Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), to offset the anticipated electricity consumption over a two-year time period for the Chicago office. Additionally, carbon credits in the form of Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) were purchased to cover the carbon emissions associated with the renovation project.

Water Efficiency

The Midwest office uses a smart technology energy system to monitor water and energy usage and provide real-time data. In-depth reports of energy and water use over periods of time are collected and stored in an online database. This live data feed can help to reduce water usage by an average of 15 percent.

Fixtures in the washrooms have been replaced with ones that have ultra-low flow ratings in order to reduce water consumption by 35 percent from the EPAct 1992 standards. Toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush, urinals use 0.125 gallons per flush (known as pint urinals) and sinks use 0.5 gallons per minute.

Using Recycled and Sustainable Materials

Reusing furnishings and finishes from the old Chicago office was a high priority in terms of recycling materials efforts and reducing waste. The general contractor diverted 96.3 percent of the project construction waste from landfills. All materials were locally sourced from locations within anywhere from 310 to 1,200 miles of the project site in efforts to reduce the transportation carbon footprint of the office construction.

reclaimed wood reception desk

Cooper Foszcz, NRDCReclaimed Douglas fir was used to make the reception desk.

Materials reused from Chicago's old location include several different mediums. Glass featuring native Illinois prairie scenes were removed from the old office and installed in the new conference rooms' doors and walls. All existing task chairs used at the old Chicago office were reupholstered and brought to the new space, while all new chairs purchased are made from recycled materials. The old conference table has been repurposed and now acts as desks for individual video rooms.

"New" construction material was heavily concentrated on using recycled lumber. Reclaimed wood panels consisting of old baseboard and crown molding were installed on internal walls and give the office an aesthetically pleasing look. The reception desk is made of reclaimed Douglas fir from a local building reuse shop, salvaged by local construction projects. Installed in the main office area, ceiling tiles are made from wood fibers spun from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified Midwest-sourced wood, ensuring no toxic-binding agents were used in the process. Ceiling tiles in the conference rooms and pantry are wrapped in a rapidly renewable felt material, made from 100 percent wool. The felt wrapped panels absorb sound pollution, and are locally sourced to cut down on carbon emissions.

NRDC's Green Offices
Overview | New York | Washington, DC | Chicago | Santa Monica | San Francisco | Beijing

last revised 4/28/2014

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