Archive for the ‘green buildings’ Category

photo originally uploaded by p3p510

Pop quiz: What’s one of the biggest sources of global warming in the United States? Just look around. Chances are you’re reading this from inside a hermetically sealed, continuously heated and air-conditioned, well-lit commercial office building. Such structures, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are responsible for nearly 20 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. So this week the EPA singled out for praise those energy efficient buildings that qualify for its Energy Star rating – also found on washing machines, dishwashers and other household appliances. Energy Star buildings in 2006 saved $600 million in power costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 11 billion pounds – the equivalent of taking 900,000 cars off the road, the agency said. Such buildings use, on average, 35 percent less energy than conventional commercial offices.

That piqued Green Wombat’s curiosity. What about the headquarters of the 10 big corporations and four environmental groups that have formed the U.S. Climate Action Partnership to press for immediate mandatory greenhouse gas emissions caps and the establishment of a national carbon trading market? Absent from the EPA green building list are the headquarters of US-CAP members Alcoa (AA), BP (BP), Caterpillar (CAT), DuPont (DD), General Electric (GE), Lehman Brothers (LEH), Duke Energy (DUK), FPL (FPL), and PNM Resources (PNM), as well as the HQs for Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and World Resources Institute. (Click here to download Energy Star building list.)

The only US-CAP member to score an Energy Star rating was California utility PG&E (PCG) for its San Francisco building, which the EPA says uses half the energy of your standard-issue tower. (BP, however, announced in January that an expansion and retrofit of its U.S. headquarters in Maryland will adhere to green building practices, deploying energy efficient heating and lighting systems.) San Francisco, in fact, is chockablock with green skyscrapers, though Green Wombat’s home at One California Street didn’t make the list. Nor did the New York City headquarters of the wombat’s corporate parent, Time Warner (TWX). It should be noted that Salesforce.com (CRM), which Green Wombat took to task recently for its less-than-green marketing practices, is housed in a renovated historic San Francisco building that won an Energy Star rating.

One caveat: It is possible the Climate Action Partnership companies and green groups – or their landlords – simply did not submit an application for the Energy Star rating. Still, more than 3,200 did apply and make the grade. California has the most Energy Star buildings – 779 – with Texas in second place with 367 and North Carolina taking third with 306.

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It’s hard to think of a mammoth Wal-Mart (WMT) Supercenter as a green building but on Friday the retail giant will open the first of what it calls its high-efficiency stores. The Kansas City, Missouri, Supercenter incorporates a number of technologies that Wal-Mart says will slash energy consumption by 20 percent. Given the massive size of a Wal-Mart Supercenter – the Kansas Cty story is 197,000 square feet – that should have a not insignificant impact on electricity demand – and greenhouse gas emissions – as the company opens more high-efficiency stores. Much of the energy savings comes from the Kansas City store’s heating and air-conditioning systems. The store uses water – which has a higher heat-carrying capacity than air – for heating and cooling. For instance, waste heat from the stores refrigeration cases is recycled for use in the heating and cooling systems. The Kansas City store uses LED lighting in its refrigerated cases as such lights consume less energy and emit less heat than conventional lighting.  Sensors detect when a customer is approaching and turns on the lights; otherwise they remain off. LED lighting alone can reduce a store’s energy consumption by 2 to 3 percent, according to Wal-Mart. The Kansas City store has has been built with skylights and sensors will lower or turn off store’s electric lighting depending on how much natural light is available. Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar says the second of four high-efficiency store to be built this year will open in Rockton, Illinois, in the spring. Some features of the Kansas City City, such as the LED lighting, are being installed in all new Wal-Mart stores.

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Walmart_green_storeWal-Mart (WMT) last year began operating two "green" stores that had been designed to minimize their impact on the environment. A preliminary review of the stores’ first year has found that the green technologies deployed – everything from high efficiency LED lighting in display cases to recycling cooking and motor oil to use as fuel to heat the buildings  – has been successful, according to Wal-Mart. The stores located in McKinney, Texas, and Aurora, Colorado, also repurpose the heat generated from refrigeration units to heat water and feature drought-resistant and native plants in landscaping watered with drip irrigation. An effort to power the stores with renewable energy from wind turbines was less successful due to mechanical problems. "When we conceptualized these two experimental stores, we thought about our environmental opportunities which led our thoughts to our current goals: to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and environment, said Wal-Mart executive Charles Zimmerman in a statement. Two federal labs are evaluating the stores over a three-year period. When the monitoring is complete, Wal-Mart will decide which technologies to incorporate in its thousands of other stores.

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Cool Roofs

Coolroofphoto1If you’re a green geek, California is the place to be these days. Environmental technology is hot, hot, hot – just witness the megabucks being poured into Silicon Valley solar startups and biofuels companies. Sure, greentech is sexy – I for one am still waiting for that solar-powered iPod – but we tend to overlook low-tech solutions to environmental problems. Like painting roofs white.

So-called cool roofs reflect rather than absorb the sun’s rays and can lower air-conditioning bills by 15 percent and a building’s overall energy costs by half. That’s a considerable chunk of change given that we spend $40 billion a year on air conditioning in the United States. “If you have a new home in Sacramento or Fresno, on a hot afternoon there’s two ways to take a kilowatt off the grid,” Arthur Rosenfeld, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, said recently. “One’s to install photovoltaics to cool the house – that’ll cost you about $7,000. Or you can make the roof white.”

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