What do the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) in Chicago, the Renaissance Tower in Detroit, the Pentagon, and the McDermott Building in San Antonio all have in common? If your answer is that they are all mammoth, concrete, natural-resource-consuming structures, then you probably haven’t heard the latest “green” news about these buildings. No matter how you dice it, these buildings still consume a lot of resources, but the good news is that each one has taken major strides to reduce its environmental footprint.
Unquestionably, water runoff is a major issues in cities made of cement and asphalt. Acres of space with no place for water absorption creates a runoff nightmare. Flashfloods become a major threat, and the cycle of life is interrupted. After all, millions of people in crowded cities require oxygen, but very little plant life exists to create that oxygen. Some of the U.S.’s largest office buildings are joining the green roof campaign and are planting on their roofs. The benefits are many:
According to the American Rivers Initiative, installing a green roof on the McDermott Building in San Antonio would save a minimum of $316,200 per year in energy costs and keep 4.7 million gallons of water from running off each year.
Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, lights are left on far too often, and in buildings the size of the Willis Tower, the cost to run those bulbs really adds up. As part of their green initiative, managers of the building installed several light-saving programs. Automatic lighting in unused spaces resulted in big savings, but a lesser known technology was also utilized: daylight harvesting. Daylight harvesting technology analyzes the amount of natural light available through windows or skylights and adjusts the output of electric lights to the minimum amount required to meet preset lighting requirements. According to some figures, this means that a room can receive 100% of its required light levels with 90% less energy use. Apply that to these big buildings, and the savings add up.
When the biggest office buildings in the U.S. implement green initiatives, the impact on energy use is palpable. Add to that the use of recycled products, such as ceiling tiles in the Pentagon, and you just might start to see those big buildings a little differently. Perhaps, despite their cement exteriors, they really are green at heart.
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