It's Easier Being Green

Businesses are showing more interest in becoming Earth-friendly

the Baltimore chairman of a group that certifies `sustainable' building practices explains the advantages

Q&a -- Rex A. Wright

April 20, 2008|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Sun Reporter

Rex A. Wright is chairman of the Baltimore chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit group that helps companies make their buildings environmentally friendly. The group has established a rating system called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) that lists criteria buildings have to meet to be considered green. LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of energy-efficient buildings. It is used by architects, engineers, interior designers, lenders and government officials, among others. Wright talked to The Sun about the increasing interest by businesses in becoming more Earth-friendly.

Tell us a little about USGBC in Baltimore.

The USGBC Baltimore region chapter is a chapter of the national United States Green Building Council, which has been around only for about 10 years now. The Baltimore chapter - we are going into our fifth year of operation - is just growing exponentially as far as our participation is concerned. When I first started coming to meetings four years ago, maybe 10 people would show up. And now it's not unusual to have hundreds at an event.

On a grand scale, our purpose is to transform the building industry to use more sustainable practices. That means to use all resources wisely. Building structures that have access to public transit, to be respectful of the existing landscape. To always be looking at the quality of the indoor environment, through natural light, through indoor air quality and temperature comfort. What makes a building green?

A lot of things. The U.S. Green Building Council looks at five areas. And they're about the site. So you're looking for a sustainable site. What does that mean? Reusing an existing building or water efficiency. Energy is also a big one. You can use renewable energy on your building. It would be everything from lighting to the heating and air-conditioning system, which is one of your biggest users.

The other issue is going to be the indoor air quality. There are a number of studies that show day lighting in schools improves test scores. ... Material and resources is another thing that we look at. You're looking for recycled products, if at all possible. The commercial furniture industry has actually been proactive as a whole in providing recycled furniture and other renewable types of services. Another one of the big things that is happening is that most commercial carpet is now made from recycled content. They either make it from recycled carpet or plastic bottles. Again, these are things that have happened in the last five years. It' s become more mainstream so there's no premium for it. It's just done that way. Why are businesses adopting more environmentally friendly standards? What has happened in the last five years?

The cost has become pretty much equal on the front end. On the back end it's always been better to do it this way because you're going to have lower energy costs. You also have higher worker retention and less absenteeism.

There's roughly a 35 percent lower energy cost in a LEED-registered building. So it's all good on the backside now.

Also, businesses are starting to look at the triple-bottom-line viewpoint. Where they're looking at not only dollars, but they're looking at their environmental footprint, they're looking at their social interaction with who they do business. A number of companies are not only providing annual reports, but they provide a sustainability report as well, which looks at environmental issues.

It's a differentiator in the marketplace as well as for people who are starting to look more for that - customers and other businesses. If you have a business that has adopted a sustainability program, then they're going to be looking for other businesses to support their sustainability plan. So there is an awful lot of economic reasons in addition to the environmental reasons and the social reasons to do these things. Does Al Gore have anything to do with that?

I think it does. I mean, I personally think that Al Gore was in the right place at the right time. And that the message needed to get out. And he's done a lot to get the message out so people are not willing to just let things go.

One of the things with USGBC is it's a third-party verification. So you can't just go out and say you have a green building. That's one of the reasons it was developed, because there was so many definitions out there and everybody was calling themselves green and nobody knew what that meant. So USGBC has developed a standard and said, "When you get certified as one of our buildings, this is what that means." What are the biggest gripes you hear from people about becoming environmentally friendly?

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