The exterior of Premier Toyota in Amherst looks like any other dealership - a glass box stationed on a sea of concrete, expansive enough to hold 552 vehicles. It contains all the elements necessary for business-as-usual in the world of auto sales and service: parking lot lights - 117 of them, to be exact - seating for customers; service bays for repairs; and, of course, plenty of inventory.
But it's what customers don't see at the dealership that makes General Manager Bob Fisher most proud.
"Business can be responsible," notes Fisher, who says he's no environmentalist. He's just practical.
"I didn't go into the project with an ideology of green," Fisher says. "We compared materials and options and looked at each decision from the standpoint, is it an environmentally good process, and does it have a residual value to the business over time?"
Those 117 lights in Fisher's lot are high-aluminum, low-energy halide, constructed from anodized steel. Furniture inside the dealership is either natural or recycled, such as chairs made from old seat belts. The 23 stalls in the 15,000-square-foot service area were built from pre-cast concrete, a highly insulated material. And as for that big parking lot - 25 percent of the 11 acres of land Premier Toyota owns is green space.
The grand total cost about 20 percent more, Fisher estimates. But the long-term payback in energy savings and reduced maintenance is well worth it. "I would be more inclined to spend my hard-earned dollars with a company that made investments in time, effort and money to respect the quality of life of their customers," he says.
Today, more business owners like Fisher realize the payback for investing in designs and materials that don't leave Mother Earth out of the equation. This means taking into account energy efficiency, better air quality, open-air workspaces and products that are responsibly sourced, manufactured, installed, used and reused.
Awareness is driving the green building movement, especially with rising energy costs and increased public interest in global warming.
Nonprofit groups and organizations with deep-rooted ecological missions have always looked for greener alternatives, but now business owners from all sectors are beginning to recognize that green buildings are healthier and more cost effective to operate.
"The impetus of [green design] is energy cost," says Chris Dewey, principal and LEED accredited professional, Lowenstein Durante Architects. "Gas prices are going up, electrical is going up, and it's starting to hit pocketbooks. So more people are looking for alternatives to limit the lifecycle costs of heating and cooling their buildings."
Sustainable practices aren't new to the commercial arena. The Green Building Council's benchmarking system for rating high-performance buildings is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The holistic building approach to sustainability addresses five key areas: site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental air quality. When designing and constructing a commercial site, architects and engineers must document their success in each category to apply for LEED certification. Buildings earn points, and can be rated as certified, silver, gold or platinum. Essentially, LEED is a brand for green buildings - a brand that is becoming more sought after.
"LEED is currently the best standard for commercial structures," Dewey says of the third-party certification. Designers like Dewey and Rick Parker, a principal with Schmidt Copeland Parker Stevens, earned LEED Accredited Professional titles, which mean they are certified to implement and steward sustainable design processes. And Parker notes, sustainability must start at the drawing table.
"Greening a project is a fully integrated approach to the design and development, especially if it's new construction," he says. "From day one, all the players are at the table: the owner, designers, construction team and engineers."
Dialogue directs the process rather than design alone. "An engineer may say to a designer, ‘If you have this many windows, we can reduce the number of light fixtures,' and by reducing light fixtures, there is lower light output, which reduces energy costs," Parker explains.
These conversations helped Premier's Fisher understand the options as he steered his new facility project. One of his first green decisions was during site preparation. The dealership sits on farmland, so he worked closely with a civil engineer to be sure the land had proper water run-off. He decided to build a larger wastewater management system to accommodate his business, and he gave the city permission to run its drainage through the Premier Toyota property at no cost.
Sustainable design is a game of give and take - weighing the options, deciding what materials and processes have the least environmental impact. For example, you can choose highly renewable bamboo wood flooring, but if it is sourced from overseas, how green is it?
"Rapid renewables [like bamboo] grow fast, but the challenge of that material is it comes from Asia, so then you have shipping and pollution," Parker says.
It's important to note that going green isn't just about LEED, small changes around the office can make a significant impact: recycling paper, switching to energy efficient lightbulbs, reminding employees to turn off lights when leaving a room.
And business owners can gradually incorporate green practices, one room at a time. Replace the floor, repaint walls with low-VOC formulas that won't give off harmful chemicals, choose recycled or reclaimed office furniture. Recyclable carpet is also readily available, and carpet tile "leasing" arrangements allow businesses to return soiled or worn portions of carpet to the company for replacement. Also, more advanced HVAC systems reduce energy costs.
"Most of the buildings we work on today are using energy management systems, which controls the environmental conditions of a building by computer," says Tony Panzica, president and CEO of Panzica Construction Co. "The systems can bring fresh air into meeting spaces and control light fixtures."
Finding a professional that specializes in green design is easier today than it was five years ago. "We try to include sustainable design in every job we do," Dewey says. "The building may not go for LEED certification, but we try to implement Energy Star equipment and efficient light fixtures."
Meanwhile, more business owners are asking about sustainability. Parker says at least half of his clients are interested in green concepts. However, the initial cost of some products discourages business owners from going green.
Panzica says many business owners request green technology, but don't follow through with whole designs because of upfront costs. "Light fixtures, water conservation, geothermal systems require more capital, but in the long run, your expenses will be much less," he says.
Dewey estimates 5 to 10 percent savings in operating bills, depending on the project.
"Part of green design is re-education of what everyone really knows, but seems to forget," Parker says. "And that doesn't cost anything. If a company is truly committed, they shouldn't just rely on technology. Much of the process is education and reinforcement and group participation."