Making Change: Building it Green

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The former Cleveland Trust bank on Lorain Avenue in Ohio City is a stately 86 year old building. With ornate molding on the 26 foot high ceilings, original Tennessee marble walls and wood trim, the building was left for dead until a coalition of local environmental groups chose it as the cite for their collective home. The Cleveland Green Building Coalition is heading up the effort. Executive director Sadhu Johnston explains, the four million dollar project is more than your average renovation.

SADHU JOHNSTON: What we're really trying to do is to demonstrate to people that you can do green while preserving and that's often they are seen to butt heads and this project is showing that the two movements have a lot in common.

While touring the mostly finished building, Johnston points out seemingly endless environmentally friendly features. There's the radiant floor heating and cooling system; geothermal wells under the parking lot; insulation made from recycled paper and cardboard; and-the creme de la creme-the roof. Five stories up there are views of downtown, the lake and the steel mills it'll be a great place to hang out in the warmer months-made all the nicer by the 800 square foot green roof that's filled with endangered grasses. The roof also has a patch of conventional black tar and a strip of white reflective coating. The three areas will demonstrate the heat differential of the three surfaces, Johnston says. So, on a hot summer day the temperature on the green roof will be about 85 or 90 while the traditional black roof could be as hot as 200-degrees.

SJ: We're in there trying to air condition while it's two hundred degrees on there. It's just ludicrous. So you put this reflective coating, which has a reflectivity of 60 percent, and right immediately the temperature goes down to 110. So you've taken off 90 degrees just from the reflectivity. Why isn't every project doing this, you wonder.

You might also wonder why more people aren't building green when you consider that the center's green construction makes the building 67 percent more energy efficient than required by code. That adds up to a savings of 500-thousand dollars over the next 20 years. The savings are all the more sweet because the building meets the U-S Green Council's LEED certification-the standard established to dub a building green. According to U-S Green Building Council president and CEO Christine Ervin, building green doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg if it's planned from the start. Ervin points out green construction is a growing industry. Since LEED standards were established three years ago, nearly 700 projects have registered to meet certification. In that same time period, the U-S Green Council's membership jumped 940 percent. And it's not just tree-huggers who are on board.

CHRISTINE ERVIN: The diversity of the kinds of projects also is telling us that this is a serious trend that is moving into the mainstream market.

Several cities and government agencies are already requiring green construction on new buildings-including the city of Portland, the General Services Administration and the U-S Army. David Goldstein of the National Resources Defense Council says the move to establish national incentives to build green should be a wake up call to Cleveland's manufacturers. A native Clevelander, Goldstein says, all Northeast Ohio needs is a little innovative action.

DAVID GOLDSTEIN: But if Cleveland adopts stronger standards first then it's going to be local industry that gets the experience and the expertise meeting that demand ahead of everybody else and so that becomes a regional export market.

Goldstein says it's not just industrial Cleveland that should push government for higher green building standards. He says, with 35 percent of pollution coming from the electricity and gas buildings use, requiring energy efficient green buildings is as much a public health issue as it is an economic one.

At least one local business has realized this. The Garland Company is a local manufacturer that's been installing roofing systems all over the country and is now responsible for the Environmental Center's roof. Since 1996, Garland has incorporated recycled materials into about 80 percent of its products. About 15 percent of their business now comes from their green product line. Nathan Schaus, project manager at Garland, says the market will continue to grow as long as knowledge of the benefits of green construction keeps spreading. And that does take some effort.

NATHAN SCHAUS: It's a two-fold education. You need to educate the buyer, the end user that what they're buying is a building solution for the long term. So the initial investment, you have to explain that cost over its life cycle. With the incentives, it's changing the mindsets of the people that regulate government and electricity today.

While regulators mindsets may be slow to change the demand for green housing has been growing like a weed. According to the National Association of Homebuilders until 2001 there were 19-thousand registered green homes nationally; in 2002 alone close to 13-thousand green homes were built. If you're not in the market for a brand new home, the N-A-H points out, even making small changes-like installing double-pane windows-helps save you money, helps the environment and ultimately, helps the economy.

In Cleveland, SN, 90.3

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