Sustainability, Its Implications

July 12, 2005
Paul von Paumgartten, a Johnson Controls executive who has been involved with LEED certification via the U.S. Green Building Council since its inception, discusses the impacts the new standard is having.

MILWAUKEE -- It may not be the prescription for making everything right with the universe, but proponents of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification program say it gets high marks for increasing employee productivity, reducing energy and other costs, and in the long term providing a facility that costs less to operate. And, says Paul von Paumgartten, director of energy and environmental affairs for Johnson Controls, based here near the shores of Lake Michigan, "The economics of it is now becoming pervasive." In the end, economics as much as anything are driving what is fast becoming the norm in facility construction.

LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - is in effect a rating system by which those designing new facilities put in place processes and systems which facilitate productivity, improve the internal and external environment, and save energy. Initially, LEED was targeted exclusively at new buildings. This year, LEED-EB for existing buildings was introduced and, say those who have been involved with the USGBC's initiative, it offers even greater opportunity for reducing energy use and other costs while creating an improved employee environment, which ultimately yields productivity gains. "High valuation of the buildings is one result," explains von Paumgartten. "The National Geographic Society greened a million square feet at its D.C. offices, and the value of the real estate went up $24 million."

Von Paumgartten served on the USGBC board for six years, during which the LEED certification process was formulated and introduced. "When I joined there were 100 members," he recalls. "Now there are 6,000 organizations; all the players are there. It's become a large coalition of the environmental community; the building community; the architects; engineers; federal, state, and local governments. State and local governments are in love with LEED and want to mandate it."

He is quick to point out that he prefers voluntary LEED participation, and says government mandates aren't necessary for a movement that has this type of momentum. "It's coming your way," says von Paumgartten, "It you're going to build anything, you will not be able to hide from LEED certification. Any high-profile building that isn't going for LEED certification is going to be out of date."

Von Paumgartten says he has been to the White House three times to present the USGBC's initiative with Administration officials. "They have the data; they actually built this into the national energy strategy," he explains.

Existing Buildings

The concept of redesigning existing buildings that are more sustainable - as with the National Geographic facility and Johnson Control's own Milwaukee headquarters - is the natural next step, says von Paumgartten. And, he points out, it can be applied to facilities of any size, even subtenants.

"The thing that seems to be driving it all is this concept of sustainability," he explains. "It's really an organizational commitment, a mandate, a belief. Energy efficiency and green really center around buildings, but sustainability is about organizations. They're the ones that are committed to it. It doesn't make a difference if it's public or private.

"A classic definition of sustainability is the triple bottom line: economy, ecology, and equity. It's not the CEO in a flannel shirt sitting by a stream saying, ‘Isn't the environment wonderful?' It's about data, data, data. These companies are now tracking their emissions; as they grow as an organization they're also tracking their footprint. Environment used to be about compliance; now it's a business strategy.

"Another reason sustainability is going to stay is it has both top and bottom line impact. It's not just about cost-reduction; it's also about being part of your growth strategy, how you brand yourself, how you market yourself.

"Green buildings are optimal not only environmentally but economically. They're the most efficient buildings, and the most productive.

"We find now that green buildings don't cost more to build; it's basically cost-neutral. We get superior buildings at virtually the same cost, but they operate at 25 to 50 percent less."

Von Paumgartten estimates that to date Johnson Controls and its customers realized some $17 billion in energy savings over ten years due to the institution of LEED guidelines.

Movement Into Airports

As with other major facility design and processes firms, Johnson Controls has been involved with LEED-certified projects and is now moving into the airport arena. The USGBC and others are currently exploring how to modify or adapt current LEED guidelines to airport-specific design considerations.

Comments von Paumgartten, "I think they [airports] may be the perfect candidate for it. It's such a public place and it's where the transportation industry and the building industry converge. It tends to be an identifying place for a community.

"They'll green themselves in a different way. You're not going to have to take anything apart. If you make the building as energy efficient as you can and add in these other elements, you can green almost any building."

Finding architects, engineers, and other professionals who are familiar with LEED is no problem, he says, with some 20,000 accredited professionals to date.