Tag Archives: Energy

4 Ways to Make Your Office More Energy Efficient

The following post is by Alaska Structures:


Every workplace has its upsides and drawbacks. Whether it’s the quality of the coffee in the break room or squabbles over cleanliness of shared areas, navigating the politics and interested parties of an office environment can be taxing. One thing everyone can get behind is energy efficiency and using resources more effectively, but as with every project in the workplace, getting started requires a budget, a manager, and a dedicated team to see it through to completion. Especially if you’re a small business or startup struggling to make ends meet each month, it’s possible to simultaneously improve both your workplace and bottom line with a few smart energy efficiency upgrades and strategies.

Educate Your Employees

Every office has a few key figures who are noticeably wasteful or ignorant to their lack of eco-friendly habits, but they may not be leaving the refrigerator door open or the sink running on purpose. Investing in energy-efficient tools and appliances will only fully pay off if everyone on your team gets behind the initiative. And as anyone who has dealt with HR or employee criticism will tell you, it’s important to consider your approach when implementing energy-efficiency standards and initiatives.

The good news is that going eco-friendly in your office can be fun! Aside from the ideal scenario in which no lights are left on in empty rooms and all computer equipment being shutdown at night, the potential savings is huge. By informing employees of the cost-saving potentials and offering financial rewards in exchange for reaching benchmarks could help engage your employees into action.

Use Power Strips and Smart Lighting

Connected electronics often use “phantom energy,” or energy drawn and used even when the device is switched off. Investing in higher-quality power strips with scheduled on/off times and smart power utilization methods is a great first step, but sometimes the simpler route is just as effective. Have each employee unplug their machines at the end of the day will have a tremendous short and long-term impact on your bottom line. Otherwise, you can retrofit many electronics with smart Wi-Fi plugs to ensure they turn off automatically after regular business hours.

Installing a smart lighting system can also help reduce your energy costs while improving indoor comfort levels in the workplace. Replacing older bulbs with smart Wi-Fi connected models is expensive, but many may even last longer than traditional LEDs – some models claim to last 15 years during regular use.

Invest in New Space

While it’s generally easier to find and relocate to a more energy efficient office environment, some industries call for more specialized real estate to grow and expand their operations. As energy experts tell us, it’s crucial that energy efficiency standards are considered in the very early stages of the project to ensure complete adherence during construction and finalization in new spaces.

Many in the industrial sector have turned to high-performance polyvinyl fabric buildings to help bring down their energy costs and maintain profit margins as their business expands to a new facility. Because modern fabric buildings are low maintenance and quick to assemble, organizations with remote locations, camps, or secondary facilities outside of their headquarters have invested in portable fabric buildings. They’re also a great cost-saving alternative to brick-and-mortar buildings thanks to the natural light and comfort that comes with the energy efficient design and engineering that comes with higher-end fabric structures.

Make a Few Key Upgrades

Studies have shown that laptop computers are nearly 80% more energy-efficient than their desktop counterparts. Not only will switching to laptops help reduce the amount of energy expended in your office, they’ll save room in the workplace and allow your employees the flexibility to jump up and bring their work home or at a nearby coffee shop if so desired.

Finally, swapping out your office’s old refrigerator for a new Energy Star-rated unit will have a near immediate impact on your energy consumption and most importantly, your monthly bill.

There are plenty of strategies employed by business owners to maximize their company’s cost-saving potential and we hope more of an effort to improve energy efficiency across the board begins to catch on in throughout the business world as solutions become more and more affordable for companies of any size.

Alaska Structures has manufactured fabric buildings for industrial and commercial applications around the world since 1975.

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Take look at the “world’s greenest office tower”



Tom Paladino’s company was on the design team for the Tower at PNC in Pittsburgh and he says the project changed his life.

The Tower at PNC in Pittsburgh is being billed as the greenest office tower in the world. It has a skin that breaths, a solar chimney, a park in the sky, wood-clad porch doors, indicators that tell you what the weather is outside, and something called The Beacon – an interactive light sculpture that broadcasts data about how much energy the building is using.

The tower is shifted on the podium and street grid for maximum sun exposure.  A double-walled “breathable” facade provides a thermal buffer while allowing air to pass through.

Operable Skin, The Tower at PNC

Operable Skin, PNC Tower

So what’s a solar chimney? It’s a vertical shaft with a rooftop solar collection panel that creates an updraft that draws cool outside air through the skin, across the floors, and up and out of the building, without requiring fans, for almost half the year.

A “living room” space links every two floors of the building, and a five-story indoor park offers views of downtown Pittsburgh.

The Park at The Tower at PNC

The Park at PNC Tower

Paladino acted as owner’s representative on sustainability and LEED management issues.  The 800,000-square-foot, 33-story building was designed by Gensler to reflect PNC’s commitment to green building, energy efficiency and innovation.

The design and systems will help reduce energy consumption by 50 percent and reduce water use by 77 percent compared with a typical office building, Paladino said.

“It was ridiculously simple, and at the same time,  a challenge in its aspiration,” said Tom Paladino in his blog post on the tower.

“LEED shifted from being the purpose of the green building program to being one of the desired results. We moved to a higher purpose, creating a headquarters that would serve PNC as another tool of the business.”

The building was designed to be “the most progressive workplace ever and to attract a highly social, digitally native, and an environmentally conscious work force,” Paladino said.

The Tower at PNC is built green for future generations to enjoy.

The tower cost $400 million.

ESI Design's Beacon at PNC Tower

ESI Design’s Beacon at PNC Tower

Outdoor space at PNC Tower

Outdoor space at PNC Tower

The Tower at PNC

The Tower at PNC

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The next big thing in energy conservation? Small commercial buildings

The following post is by the Preservation Green Lab:

A new report released by the Preservation Green Lab in Seattle says an array of energy savings in small commercial buildings across the United States could profitably yield more than one quadrillion Btu annually, which translates into more than $30 billion in annual cost savings and improved financial performance for small businesses.

Conservation efforts commonly focus on larger structures, but 95 percent of all commercial buildings are less than 50,000 square feet. This is a massive and largely untapped opportunity for new energy savings.

“The energy savings detailed in our report represent the equivalent of 580,000 permanent new American jobs,” said Mark Huppert, Director of the Preservation Green Lab, and a lead author of the report. “Harvesting energy efficiency from small buildings is like striking oil, except it’s domestic, clean and keeps dollars in our local economies. The savings will produce real jobs that can’t be offshored or outsourced.”


Ninety-five percent of all commercial buildings are less than 50,000 square feet — a largely untapped opportunity for energy savings.

The report, “Realizing the Energy Efficiency Potential of Small Buildings,” was produced by the Green Lab in partnership with the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit that works collaboratively with commercial building interests to remove barriers to energy efficiency. The analysis was funded jointly by The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Here are the key findings:

  • Small buildings are responsible for 47 percent of the energy consumed by commercial buildings.
  • Small businesses or firms with fewer than 500 employees own 84 percent (3.7 million of 4.4 million total) of small buildings.
  • Potential energy savings in small buildings range from 27 to 59 percent, depending on the building type. This represents 1.07 quadrillion Btu annually or 17 percent of commercial energy use.
  • Small, neighborhood businesses such as restaurants, grocers and retailers can improve profitability by more than 10 percent through smart investments in energy savings.

The report recommends that utility regulators create incentives for energy efficiency to unlock the potential savings in these smaller buildings. Pilot projects that pay customers for measured energy savings could demonstrate how the private sector can drive down energy costs while utilities continue to earn a profit. These innovative programs also offer utilities the opportunity to burnish their images.

Some utilities are already embracing this approach. “I believe the cleanest power plant that I will build in the future is the one that I don’t build,” said Duke Energy CEO James E. Rogers during a 2012 address to the Urban Land Institute.

Programs that engage small businesses owners represent a big opportunity for the financial sector, as well as for the businesses themselves. “Since 2005, Wells Fargo has financed more than $21 billion for “green” businesses, “green” buildings, and “clean” energy customers, including $900 million in loans and investments benefitting low-income communities or housing projects,” said Andrew Kho, senior vice president with Wells Fargo Commercial Banking. “These investments can help our customers reduce their monthly operating expenses and support a transition to a “greener” global economy.”

The Preservation Green Lab is a sustainability think tank focused on the reuse and retrofit of older and historic buildings. A project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Green Lab was launched in 2009 and is based in Seattle.

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New module from Marysville solar manufacturer

The following post is by Silicon Energy:

Silicon Energy, a manufacturer of solar photovoltaic modules in Marysville, said it is releasing the Next Generation Cascade Series PV module.

The first generation came out in 2007.

The new module uses less embedded material, which improves performance and output.

Silicon Energy's new photovoltaic panels.

Here are some features of the new module:

· Anti-reflective coating on the front glass

· Advanced encapsulant

· Lighter weight mounting hardware

· About 30% fewer roof penetrations to reduce costs and speed up installation

· 12 AWG wire for reduced voltage drop

· Amphenol connectors with a higher current rating and increased reliability

· American Fittings Raintight conduit connectors that improve mechanical and electrical bonding

Gary Shaver, president of Silicon Energy said, “Our relationships with suppliers and research laboratories allows our engineering team to integrate innovative concepts and advanced material sciences into our products. We’re excited to see how architects and building designers integrate our new, even more attractive Cascade Series PV modules into the building envelope and overhead structures to achieve contemporary and functional designs.”

The module has a double-glass, open-frame design to shed water, dirt and snow. Airflow behind the module keeps the system cooler, which boosts performance.  Custom mounting hardware colors are available.

Silicon Energy is shipping the Next Generation module to Washington customers and will introduce it in other markets early next year.

Silicon Energy was founded in 2007, and is located in Washington and Minnesota.




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Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I’ve been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that “preservation” equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County’s Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, “Stewardship of the Built Environment.” He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the “three E’s”): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as “balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment.”

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, “the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism.” He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a “sunk cost” and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it’s because of our societal preference for the glitter of “new” vs. the practicality of “existing,” which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed “the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today.” And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young’s figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl — even if it’s “green”)!

Young’s talk introduced some great food for thought, but I’m so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, “Putting it All Together,” he provides a list of “challenges” for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to “decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies.” Lots to work on.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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