Smarter Business: Green Building

Sunlight fills 90 percent of regularly
occupied spaces, saving energy.

NRDC's San Francisco office
Renewable materials are used
throughout the office.

NRDC's San Francisco office
Cooling equipment was installed only
in conference and computer rooms.

NRDC's San Francisco office
From bamboo ceilings to linoleum
floors, the office is a showcase of
sustainable alternatives.

NRDC's renovation of a 1920s high-rise building in San Francisco received a gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program without costing more than a traditional renovation. For most businesses, building new office space from the ground up simply isn't an option. Instead, they do what NRDC did -- shop around for an appropriate space to lease. The challenge was to create a green office in an existing space -- without paying above-market prices.

Here's how we did it following the principles of green building.

Choosing the Location

By reusing many elements of the existing building, such as interior walls, plumbing, mechanical equipment, ductwork, sprinklers and radiators, NRDC avoided purchasing many newly manufactured materials. And nearby bus and rail stations offer easy commuting options for staff.

Using Natural Light and Improving Indoor Air Quality

Working in an environment filled with fresh air and natural daylight can boost employee satisfaction and productivity. To create excellent indoor air quality, NRDC used techniques such as adding enhancements to the existing mechanical airflow systems, simply allowing windows to open and placing windows high on interior walls (a technique called clerestory glazing) to ensure that 90 percent of the regularly occupied spaces are lit by the sun.

Saving Energy

Increasing a building's energy efficiency can reduce expenses while cutting power plant pollution. In the San Francisco office, NRDC installed three new energy-efficient heat pumps that do not use ozone-depleting chemicals. Cooling equipment was installed only in the conference and central computer rooms, where activities and equipment generate excessive heat. Energy-efficient light fixtures, timers and occupancy sensors all reduce power usage from lighting to just half of what California's Title 24 standards allow; the mechanical systems use 55 percent less energy than these standards require.

Using Recycled and Sustainable Materials

Every year, millions of acres of forest are cut down for wood used to construct and furnish buildings. Choosing recycled and renewable materials preserves natural resources and can reduce building costs. From suspended bamboo plywood ceilings to linoleum floors, the San Francisco office is a showcase of renewable alternatives. NRDC's commitment to using renewable and recycled materials did not stop with the building materials -- nearly 75 percent of the waste generated by demolition and construction, including packaging debris, was diverted from landfills, either through re-use or recycling.

Buying Local Materials

Using materials manufactured within the region where construction takes place helps support the local economy and reduces the environmental impacts resulting from transporting materials long distances. Of all the construction material, about 40 percent was manufactured within a 500-mile radius. These materials included the structural steel and other metals, all aluminum door frames, and all glass, sheetrock and metal studs.

Other Green Building Highlights

  • Light color palettes for paints and furniture reflect natural light through interior office space.
  • Thermostatic valves (replacing on/off valves) on every radiator provide heat to the radiator only when the space needs it.
  • Insulation added to the water heater reduces the energy required to keep water hot.
  • Agrifiber board, a composite panel product made from recovered agricultural waste such as rice straw, sunflower husks and walnut shells, makes up the core of the office doors.
  • Bamboo, a renewable material, is used for door veneers and ceiling panels.
  • Materials with recycled content were used for aluminum door frames, metal studs, sheetrock, insulation, acoustic ceiling panels, linoleum flooring and carpet tile.

NRDC's San Francisco office was designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.

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

last revised 12/12/2005

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