There are a lot of good reasons to use sustainable construction methods when building or retrofitting homes and offices.
It’s good for the environment and saves money.
Katherine Hammack has another reason for being green – it saves lives.
Hammack, as the Assistant Secretary of the Army, is spearheading a $7 billion program involving renewable energy installations relying on solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and other sustainable energy programs on military bases across the country. Fort Carson in Colorado Springs is one of the 17 bases in the pilot “Net Zero” program that has a goal to get the bases completely off the grid by 2020.
Hammack was one of the keynote speakers at a recent panel discussion hosted the by the Denver law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck on the advantages of going green.
In addition to Hammack, the panel in a ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton Denver included Nicholas Rumanes, Gensler, Real Estate & Sustainable Development, and Les Lo Baugh, a shareholder at Brownstein who has assisted in drafting several environmental laws and regulations, and has served as LEED counsel on more than 30 million square feet of green/sustainable building projects. Carolynne White, a shareholder of Brownstein who is LEED-accredited and specializes in complex land-use approvals and local government regulatory issues, moderated the discussion.
At one point during the discussion, Hammack flashed a photo of soldiers on a battlefield using lightweight, portable solar panels to recharge their radios and laptops, which is not only convenient, but can be literally a matter of life and death because they don’t have to use field generators to generate electricity to keep equipment running.
“When they are in the ‘theater,’ as they say, every gallon of fuel that needs to be transported into the field put soldiers at risk,” said White, who has heard Hammack speak on numerous occasions, which is why she wanted her as a keynote speaker. “There really is a moral obligation to reduce that risk as much as possible.”
White said that she is sure that energy saving initiatives will find their way into the private sector.
“Absolutely,” White said. “That always happens. Just look at the Jeep. It was used in World War II and now they are all over the road.”
Hammack, trained as a mechanical engineer, came from the private sector, and thought it was going to be a tough sell to convince military bases of the benefits of going green.
In fact, the Army brass was gung-ho about going green.
“When I first talked to the general about it, they had this mentality of “command and control,” and they said let’s just order every base to do it,” she recalled.
She suggested that they ask bases commanders to volunteer and then choose the ones for the pilot program, before incorporating the best practices to all of the bases.
“You can imagine there are quite a few type-A people in the Army who are quite competitive,” she said, which has resulted in Army bases not even in the initial program touting how green they have become.
White has toured Fort Carson and came away impressed not only by things such as large solar arrays, but much smaller efforts to get off the grid.
“Sometimes it has been as inexpensive as better insulating buildings,” which were never meant to have been permanent structures, she said.
This summer, Hammack will be meeting with Wall Street to best determine how to leverage the Army’s dollars to get the most bang for the buck.
David Zucker, principal of Denver-based Zocalo Community Development, and a long-timer green developer, asked Hammack if the Army is developing its own green technologies. Hammack said it does not. Rather, it evaluates and incorporates the best options and practices from the private sector.
Triple bottom line of being green
Also at the panel, Rumanes of Gensler, described what he called the “triple bottom line” of going green. The three components are the planet, people and profits.
The benefits to the planet is that green practices conserved limited resources such as energy, water and materials; reduces pollution; and preserves natural habitats.
People lead by example; enhances workers quality of life; increases community awareness; and improves the health and welfare of workers. Research shows that people working in green offices show a 16 percent increase in workplace effectiveness; a 32 percent increase in knowledge sharing and collaboration; a 74 percent increase in employee engagement; and a 31 percent increase in creative thinking.
On the economic front, green practices reduce a building’s operating cost; boost economic activity; improves the asset value; and increases the demand for real state.
Lighting has the biggest return on investment, ranging from 50 percent to 200 percent, with an expected payback in five months to two year.s
Water optimization has a ROI of 50 percent with a one year to 18-month payback; photovoltaics, a 10 percent to 15 percent ROI; with a 10-year payback; solar thermal, a 25 percent ROI, with less than a three-year payback; and HvAC; a 33 percent ROI, with a two to three-year payback.
Hammack said that putting a future on the dollars saved by the Army’s green efforts are hard to predict with certainty.
“The enemy will have a say in that.”
Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com
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