Lake Superior State University may not be too well-known, but it does generate some publicity each year with the release of its annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.
Those who tire of hearing or reading certain words and phrases go to the Michigan university’s Web site and nominate them for consideration. The big losers for 2009 are the word “green” and such related phrases as “going green.”
Good luck with getting those banished — especially in Arizona.
Many who have been beating the drum for energy efficiency, water conservation and sustainable business practices have found willing ears in executive suites across the state.
General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale is just one company that has proactively embraced standards set forth by the U.S. Green Building Council under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Green Building Rating System.
Genesis Worldwide Enterprises in Cottonwood took a bold step forward in 2005, when it installed an 84-kilowatt photovoltaic power system, which then became the second-largest private commercial solar power system ever installed in Arizona.
It’s impossible to log onto Web sites for such utility companies as Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project or Tucson Electric Power without being directed to information about their green programs and services.
And if none of that is convincing enough, consider this. Light rail has come to the Valley of the Sun with the debut of a 20-mile, $1.4 billion system in late December.
Granted, these are just some of the steps Arizona businesses and municipalities are taking along the road to sustainability. But they are important steps.
“We could get a lot better than we are, but we’re doing pretty darn good,” says Charles Popeck, president and CEO of Green Ideas Inc., an environmental building consulting firm in Phoenix, and one of the founders of the USGBC’s Arizona chapter.
And Popeck sees a general acceptance of sustainability principles throughout the Arizona business community, not just among specific industries such as high-tech firms.
“I’d have to say it’s across the board. Everyone seems to be catching onto it,” he says. “The reason is it’s just common sense. I mean, how can you argue with saving water and saving energy?”
Bonnie Richardson, the new chair of USGBC Arizona, believes the decision to go green usually starts at the top.
“I think it really comes from the corporate philosophy,” she says. “I do think that folks in high-tech businesses have been exposed to more of the new ideas and so they tend to be more willing to embrace and try things out. However, I think we’re now at that tipping point where it just makes good financial sense for businesses to do this, and that’s where it’s going to be a lot easier for people to adopt it.”
John Neville, a sustainable systems consultant and president of the Sedona-based networking organization Sustainable Arizona, emphasizes those financial considerations in terms of a willingness to go green.
“Sustainability means the ability to last,” he says. “And if you look at your business and make business decisions based on the idea that you’re going to last a long time, then you look at your expenses and your income in a different way. If all you’re concerned about is next quarter, then you make your business decisions differently and you’re not going to be sustainable.”
When LEED-accredited professionals like Popeck, Richardson and Neville talk about sustainability and business, they oftentimes are referring to companies and institutions that are seeking one of the various levels of LEED certification.
According to the USGBC, “LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.”
In fact, the nationally recognized LEED certification system is not just restricted to new construction. There are ratings programs for existing buildings, schools, commercial interiors and retail spaces among several others. Each category has a specific checklist that earns points for applicants. The more points earned, the higher the rating level with basic certification at the low end and the LEED Platinum level at the top.
Those going for new-building certification can earn points, for example, by locating a building on a site that accommodates alternative transportation methods for its employees, maximizes open spaces, utilizes water-efficient landscaping, has on-site sources of renewable energy and implements a construction waste management program.
USGBC Arizona includes a statewide list of completed LEED-certified projects on its Web site.
Popeck argues that green buildings are no more expensive than any other type of new construction.
“I think the biggest misconception out there is that it has to cost more upfront. It certainly does not,” he says.
When costs go up, it’s usually because someone decided to go for LEED certification well after the design process got under way.
“That is a typical problem out there and then people say, ‘Well green building costs more.’ Well it doesn’t really cost more,” Popeck says. “It’s because you designed your building twice that it cost more.”
Companies can recoup some of the expenses involved in greening their buildings through government tax credits and utility company rebate programs. But there are also significant savings from taking a green approach. This can include lowering the price of energy and water, as well as trimming shipping costs by sourcing construction materials locally or rethinking product packaging.
So why isn’t everyone going green these days?
“Of course, the downturn economically has hurt us,” Richardson says. “But I don’t think it was particular to green building. I think it was just across the board because our construction industry here was really devastated and it’s going to take some time for all of that to come back.
“So we’re no different than any other part of the country where the downturn is slowing growth for some of our new businesses and also, perhaps, people aren’t confident to make big investments at this moment.”
Neville seconds that.
“Everyone kind of pulls in during an economic slowdown,” he says. “It’s difficult at times when you have cash-flow issues. It’s very difficult.”
Neville is certainly not opposed to companies jumping into the green movement with both feet, but in some situations he thinks it’s actually better for companies to take incremental steps.
When he works with a business or government entity, they start out by analyzing the organization’s mission.
Neville outlined the process: “You take a look at, ‘What am I trying to accomplish here? How does my business work?’ Whether it’s a business or running a city or running a school, you say: ‘How does this work? What are all my businesses processes? What are the things that really please the customer?’ And then, ‘How can I do those and get rid of the other things that I’m doing that are ridiculous?’
”He points to a printer who saved money while going green by switching from inks containing volatile organic compounds. This eliminated the need for filing a toxic release inventory report every year, which involved hiring an outside firm to conduct an audit.
“Going green is getting better at your job. It’s doing your business better,” Neville says. “Becoming more sustainable is becoming a higher-quality business, a more efficient and effective business. That’s really what it is.”
Richardson, who works as an architect and principal planner for Tempe’s transportation division, says it’s important for those promoting sustainability to make outreach and educational efforts during a downturn.
“As we recover, there will be people with a lot more ideas about what they want to do with their business and what direction they want to go,” she says. “What’s really interesting is that once you get people looking into it, they recognize that there’s significant savings for businesses that decide to grow their business green.”
Anthony Floyd, another LEED-accredited professional, manages Scottsdale’s green building program. His city does a lot more than just talk the talk when it comes to environmentally responsible building.
In 2005, Scottsdale passed a resolution mandating that the city adopt a LEED Gold policy for designing, building and constructing new municipal facilities. The Granite Reef Senior Center, which opened in 2006, became the city’s first such building to earn LEED Gold certification. There is a new fire station that was going through the certification process earlier this year.
The Scottsdale green building program is primarily a residential program, but it plays an important role in terms of influencing commercial entities.
“When we started the residential program, after a few years of that we realized that we needed to start practicing what we were preaching,” Floyd says.
They set the bar high, he says, because “we realized we need to lead by example.”
Floyd serves as a green-strategies resource for various Scottsdale departments, other Arizona communities and numerous organizations. In early 2008, he put together a report for the AZ Minority Green Business Conference titled “Greening the Building Process.”
The report contains pertinent strategies, facts and figures. But it also covers a practice known as “greenwashing.”
“It’s just like whitewashing,” Floyd says. “I mean, there are a lot of companies out there that are advertising themselves as being green. But you really have to look deeper.
“There are multiple attributes to green building and there are shades of green.”
Like manufacturers that freely trumpet the sometimes debatable health benefits of their products, there are others who “mislead consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”
Floyd uses the example of a business that may have sourced some construction material locally and uses that as a reason to promote itself as being green.
“But that’s greenwashing,” he says. “Just one particular product is not going to make a building green. It’s about the strategy and the design, and the combination of materials and resources that determines the overall greenness of the project.
“You can’t just look at water and say you’re green. You can’t just look at energy and say you’re green. In a building, you have to look at everything.”
But water and energy are two important considerations in Arizona, where the first may be scarce before long and the second can be extremely costly during summertime.
“In most of the LEED buildings that are being done, there is real focus on both water and energy,” Richardson says. “And that’s a new tack for Arizona.”
There are various ways to trim the use of potable water, such as installing low-flow fixtures and waterless urinals, harvesting rainwater and landscaping with native plants as Tempe does at its new transportation center.
“As long as water is relatively inexpensive, it’s a little harder to make the case that that investment turns around quickly,” Richardson says. “But I think over the next five years, there’s going to be a lot more discussion about how valuable water is in the desert and how we really need to change attitudes about managing it in a better way.”
Water efficiency is a major issue for Popeck. “It’s my pet peeve, really,” he says. “Yet every time you go into one of these project team meetings, you know, no one seems to get it. Everyone thinks the water’s unlimited. And it’s just really not.”
The need for energy efficiency and renewable energy are not just arguments coming out of Washington, D.C., these days.
Neville likes to say that the least expensive energy around is energy you don’t use. Energy is among the highest expenses on business ledgers.
“Whenever possible,” he wrote in a Sustainable Arizona position paper, “developments should incorporate energy technologies that rely on available, renewable, clean energy sources, such as solar, wind, ground-source, geothermal and other beneficial resources.”
Floyd is similarly inclined.
“If you’re green and you’re in Arizona, you need to be doing renewable energy,” he says. “It’s not an option. If you’re green, you should be generating a portion of your electricity using solar.”
There’s another, equally important part to this strategy, Floyd argues: “You need to start by reducing your energy load by being energy efficient. And then once you do that, you get a bigger bang from your solar buck.”