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GREEN BUILDING: Green Offices - Inside and Out

Industry News, Green Issue

Whether it’s by building LEED-certified facilities or creating eco-friendly office policies, landscape companies can green up their offices. We talked to two firms with strong commitments to doing so.

Marisa Palmieri | September 10, 2008

Case Study No. 1: Chicago-based Christy Webber Landscapes’ LEED-certified Facility


    Green roof – The roof absorbs significant amounts of rainwater, reducing the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system. In addition to protecting the roof membrane (some studies suggest green roofs can last 60 to 70 years vs. a typical roof’s 15- to 20-year lifespan), the roof keeps the surrounding environment cooler than a black tar roof would, reducing the urban heat island effect.

    Bioswale drainage system and rain garden – Bioswales, or vegetative ditches, direct site run-off to the central rain garden pond.

    Landscaping – Plant selection includes drought-tolerant, native adapted species, which limit the amount of irrigation necessary to keep plants healthy.

    Energy – Twelve and a half percent of the building’s annual energy use is from renewable sources like wind and geothermal. The east-west building orientation maximizes natural light and an energy recovery wheel extracts heat energy from exhaust air. Plus, energy use is about 60 percent less than baseline thanks to:  

  • A geothermal (ground source) system of pipes, which loop temperature transfer fluid through 220-foot deep shafts and into the building’s heat pumps, is the primary source for heating and cooling the building.
  • A solar thermal system for winter heat, hot water for hand washing and showers and heat for the warehouse building.
  • A solar wall in the warehouse. This metal panel system uses the sun to preheat fresh air entering the building heating system.
  • A wind turbine mounted on a 70-foot tower in the office park’s central loop. The turbine generates about 3,000 kilowatt hours per year.
  • For more information on CWL’s LEED-certified headquarters, visit

In 1998, Christy Webber, owner and president of Chicago-based Christy Webber Landscapes (CWL), was looking to build a headquarters for her 8-year-old landscape design/build and maintenance company. At that time, the firm was operating out of several leased locations scattered throughout the city.
Most urban locations aren’t conducive to a landscape company’s needs, but with most of CWL’s work taking place within city limits, it was a priority for Webber to remain in Chicago – and she had her eye on a 12.5 acre city-owned, debris-filled site on the west side.
Webber approached the city about purchasing the land, but was turned down. Her luck took a turn five years later when officials said they would sell her the site. By then she had a rapport with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, having earned several city contracts like Millennium Park. But there was a condition – Webber had to “bring something to the table” for the city.
Part of Webber’s offer was managing the development of the entire site through a firm she formed called Chicago Green Works. The result was an eco-industrial park with CWL as the lead tenet. For her headquarters, Webber built a green building complete with a rooftop greenhouse, solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system, among numerous other earth-friendly attributes (see sidebar below). The building earned a LEED Platinum designation – the highest rating the U.S. Green Building Council awards.
 Constructing a green building cost about 30 percent more than a conventional building, Webber estimates, but she believes she’ll see a return in heating and cooling cost and goodwill in three to five years. “It just made sense. I basically needed a pole barn, not a $3.5 million facility, but on the other hand, it’s really paying off.”
Other benefits include:

  • Attracting a younger and more progressive staff;
  • A $140,000 federal tax credit, “the largest green-building tax credit in the country,” Webber says;
  • Exposure. “We gotten a ton of press,” Webber says, including being featured in an issue of BusinessWeek’s Small Biz magazine. “I also think we get some more phone calls based on being green, but we need to track that better,” she says.
  • Growth. The company’s revenue increased 45 percent from 2006 to 2007 to $18.2 million. Though Webber says most of the growth has come from being the “go-to” company for commercial and municipal maintenance, at least some of it is due to its “green” reputation. “We might be a second look on a big proposal if the job requires local or ‘green’ companies,” Webber says.

Despite Webber’s environmental awareness today – she installed solar panels on a home she renovated and invested in two propane mowers and three hybrid vehicles for CWL –  she acknowledges her original intent was not “to save the earth.” “It was a business decision for me,” Webber says. “I needed this land. But since we’ve built this, I’m much more conscious.” She says it feels good to know that she’s making a difference in an industry that gobbles up natural resources like fuel and water. “Experts say that something like 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are created from buildings,” she says. “Well gosh darn it, I’ve done something to stop that. We’re totally free of outside energy use – everything is run from our solar panels and geothermal system. We’re free from the volatile costs of natural gas, which went up 30 percent this year.
“Everybody pooh-poohed me and made fun of me for doing this at first,” Webber says of her peers. “But now people are going to have to do it out of necessity because they need ways to reduce costs. Our industry needs to stop being so reactionary and start thinking of ways to save fuel and reduce costs. Instead of operating out of fear, we need to think, ‘What steps can we take to lead the way?”

Case Study No. 2: Novato, Calif.-based Cagwin & Dorward’s Green Office Team

Two years ago, after a corporate strategic planning retreat that focused on climate change and fuel consumption, Cagwin & Dorward, Novato, Calif., formed a Green Office Team (GO Team) to lead the charge in pursuit of a sustainable office.
The goal was to become smarter about the ways the company uses the earth’s resources, says Hannah Diaz, customer experience manager and member of the GO Team. The six-person team, made up mostly of administrative staff in the corporate office (Cagwin has 15 locations), kicked off its efforts by meeting with a green office consultant, who helped the team identify a number of opportunities and focus its efforts on the areas where it could begin making a difference right away. The cost for the consultant was about $500.


    A survey of 2,500 business professionals found that half of all professionals are interested in making their offices greener, but cost and understanding are the two primary factors preventing businesses from going green at the office. According to the survey, which was commissioned by Office Depot, professionals say they currently take part in the following green purchases and practices:

    • More than half (54 percent) recycle paper and magazines;
    • Nearly a half recycle bottles/cans and ink cartridges (48 and 45 percent);
    • Only 24 percent  purchase Energy Star-rated technology;
    • One-third (33 percent) use energy-efficient light bulbs;
    • A quarter (24 percent) print double-sided copies; and
    • Only 16 percent purchase remanufactured ink and toner cartridges.

    For more information, visit

One of the first initiatives was dealing with office paper. To start, the team made it a priority to create a policy of purchasing products made of 100-percent recycled content, that are acid- and chlorine-free and made with vegetable ink when possible. Next, the GO Team focused on paper reduction.
Instead of printing out hard copies, the administrative team developed spreadsheet files for nine internal reports, including monthly sales reports and weekly payroll reports. The result? The office conserved 40 reams of paper in a year. The accounting department soon followed suit, converting all of its reports to electronic versions, saving 125.5 reams of paper in a year. In paper cost alone, the savings were about $1,000. The company also has saved money in the storage and shipment of paper, cost of archive storage facilities and professional shredding expenses. While the dollars and cents can be impressive, Diaz emphasizes the environmental benefits. She estimates the company saves 7.5 trees and reduces 900 pounds of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere per year.
The GO Team also instituted a switch from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Despite their higher cost (around $3 each), CFLs are estimated to last between five and 10 years and pay for themselves in terms of lower electric bills in about five months, Diaz says.
Another GO Team endeavor was to reduce the company’s carbon footprint – the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it creates. The team is measuring these reductions in terms of fuel (gasoline and diesel), electricity (kilowatts) and therms (natural gas and propane). Here are some company-wide measurable results from Cagwin’s conservation efforts over the last two years:

  • A 10-percent reduction in the number of gallons of fuel used between first quarter 2007 to first quarter 2008. Part of the fuel savings came from introducing hybrid vehicles in 2007 (the company now has 14 Toyota Priuses).
  • A 7-percent reduction in electric energy consumption between first quarter 2007 to first quarter 2008.
  • A 65-percent reduction in the consumption of natural gas and propane between first quarter 2007 to first quarter 2008.

Many of the GO Team’s efforts weren’t complicated or expensive. One simple change was purchasing silverware, plates and cups rather than disposable utensils and dish ware. “We have the kitchen and the space here, why can’t we wash it? It reduces the impact on our landfills and saves the trees,” Diaz says.
The GO Team also refined the recycling program, distributing bins and creating English/Spanish instructional fliers for branch facilities to print out and post to encourage all employees to recycle. The company also distributed reusable bags, or “BYOBs,” to employees and customers as a promotional tool and a way to reduce plastic bag use.
The GO Team implemented the bulk of its sustainability programs last year, and now it focuses on communications, Diaz says. The team continues to meet monthly, discussing environmental books they read (like Plan B 3.0 by Lester Brown and One Makes the Difference by Julia Butterfly-Hill), and passing along eco-friendly tips and information to all Cagwin employees through e-mail blasts.
Company-wide, employee buy-in has been good, Diaz says. She attributes the success to the leadership from the top and the fact that most of the changes were simple. As she says, “It’s not too much to ask to have someone use a real plate or recycle. And it can make a big difference.” LL

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