Builders go green

Wednesday, June 8, 2005 at 12:00am

There are going to be a lot more green buildings in the future.

At least that's the way Kim Shinn, president of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, sees things.

No, he's not talking about camouflaged structures blending seamlessly into their surroundings.

He's talking about buildings with "sustainable design." In fact, his title at the Nashville office of TLC, an engineering firm based in Orlando, Fla., is director of sustainable design.

Thinking of going green?
The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program certifies Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
The three existing LEED programs cover new buildings and major renovations; existing buildings; and commercial interiors.
For a new construction project, there are 69 possible points. Meeting construction goals that total 26 points earns the basic LEED certification; 33 points are required for silver certification; 39 for gold; and 52 for platinum. (There are only five platinum LEED buildings in the world.)
New LEED programs in the planning stages are those for a building's core and shell; residential homes (with regional guidelines); and neighborhood developments.
For more information about the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED program, as well as the Middle Tennessee chapter, visit its Web site at www.usgbc.org/.

"'Sustainable design' means the building's design is completely benign as far as its impact on the environment goes," Shinn said.

In other words, "nothing is done that would impoverish the Earth," he added.

Such buildings are attracting users due not only to their environmental benefits, but to their reduced operating costs as well.

There are many ways to go green through construction techniques and new products. Approaches include everything from using more windows for light and heat to growing vegetation on rooftops to reduce rainwater runoff.

An authoritative roadmap for constructing buildings with minimal impact on the planet is called LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is an official certification program of the USGBC, which has 10,000 members and is growing quickly, according to Shinn.

The three existing LEED programs cover new buildings and major renovations; existing buildings; and commercial interiors. A building must meet certain criteria to earn points toward certification as an LEED building.

The only building in the Nashville area to be LEED certified is home to Hastings Architect Associates LLC at 127 Third Ave. S. Formerly the Williams Salvage Building, constructed in 1895, it became a showcase for many LEED recommendations when it was renovated in 2002.

"As environmentally conscious designers, we have always recognized the importance of integrating sustainable design principles into all our projects," said William Hastings, principal of the firm.

There are two other projects in Tennessee that are LEED certified: a facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a Nestle bottling plant in Red Boiling Springs.

There are eight other projects that will seek LEED certification, including two dormitories at Vanderbilt University and the federal courthouse planned for downtown.

There are different levels of certification, depending on how many points a project earns for completing a certain number of the recommended procedures.

At the basic certification level, Shinn said, there is very little difference in the cost of constructing an LEED certified building and a conventional building. At the upper levels of certification, it could cost 5-10 percent more to develop an LEED certified building.

But there are many life-cycle costs that can be decreased through good sustainable design and selection of materials, said Hastings. "[An] LEED certified building should be less costly to operate over the lifetime of the building and should provide a better environment for the habitants," he said.

"For some clients, there is a business advantage from a marketing standpoint as well," Hastings continued, "but it is very specific to each project."

Steve Neighbors, president of the not-for-profit Home Company of Middle Tennessee, wants the company's newest project, Fifth and Main in East Nashville, to be LEED certified.

The $70 million mixed-use New Urbanism project will have 324 residential units (60 percent for purchase and 40 percent rental) and about 70,000 square feet of commercial space for retail and office use.

The roughly seven-acre site was once home to a Genesco Inc. shoe manufacturing facility, which is being torn down piece by piece, thereby earning the project LEED points for recycling the material.

"I think it will give us a marketing advantage. We can show we've made an impact on the local environment and the indoor air quality," Neighbors said. "Then you can attract people who want to live there and work there."

"Our goal from the first day has been to do this," Neighbors added, referring to developing an environmentally sensitive project. "Whether the market will accept it, embrace it, I assume yes."

He said the company's structure allows it to have a different attitude about its projects. "Our company has been involved in green projects before. We're a not-for-profit organization. We don't have an investor base to please," he said, adding that the organization still uses sound business and budgeting practices.

"The project is uncharted territory. If we can set some new standards that people can emulate, then we've reached our goal," Neighbors said.

Shinn said education is very important at this stage of the LEED program, and he anticipates seeing more LEED projects as awareness by local officials and others in the construction business continues to grow.

People directly involved in the construction industry are beginning to accept the program in increasing numbers, Shinn said.

Since the LEED program was initiated in 2000, about 2,000 buildings nationwide have registered to become certified and about 200 have been certified. Shinn said the number of buildings applying for certification grows every year.

To that end, Shinn gets out and meets with groups and companies to preach the LEED gospel. He recently met with the managers at Nashville-based Solomon Builders who are in charge of Neighbors' Fifth and Main project.

"The public is looking for less impact on the community as a result of development," said Mike Cobb of Solomon Builders.

He said eventually construction projects would routinely include more green space, better use of water, and have a less negative impact on the environment.

"We will eventually get there, hopefully without a mandate," he said, referring to what might be one-size-fits-all types of bureaucratic solutions. "But definitely, it's the thing of the future."

Cory Short, Solomon Builders' manager for the Fifth and Main project, said he initially was not sure about the value of the process. "Now I am excited about it and for us to be on the leading edge. I can see the value for Solomon in a leadership role."

Shinn is happy to see more companies going green, but conceded that achieving such ambitious goals will take some time.

"We can get close, but we're not there yet," he said. "But the movement is still very young and you can have an influence."

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