Green roofs are popping up across the country on various types of buildings, including the new U.S. EPA headquarters building in Denver, shown here. Native plants typically are planted; they reduce stormwater runoff and reduce the urban heat island. Photos: Green Grid Green Roofs
A new technology called modular green roofs consists of plants and soil that are pre-planted into modules made of recycled plastic. Since the modules are placed directly on an existing roof, overall green-roof installation costs are reduced.

Wouldn't it be nice to work for Google? A March article in The New York Times discussed the many perks of working for the giant Internet-search company, including round-the-clock access to free, chef-prepared meals, volleyball courts, two lap pools, and a climbing wall.

Company-provided transportation's the No. 1 bonus for Google employees.

Each day, more than 1200 employees board 32 biodiesel-fueled buses, eliminating an estimated 1000 cars from the freeways to ease traffic and reduce pollution.

If a green audit of Google's headquarters were conducted, the company would pass with flying colors. In addition to the environmentally friendly transportation option, the company has implemented waste, water-, and energy-reduction programs based on solar power; uses environmentally safe cleaning products; has advanced heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems that flush out 90% of indoor airborne impurities; and uses the air from the nearby San Francisco Bay for cooling.

While a public works department may not be able to offer its staff the same perks as Google, it can incorporate green operations into its facilities to operate with less impact on building occupants and the environment. The best way to begin the process is to conduct a green audit.

Defining The Process

A building consultant, architect, engineer, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-accredited professional can conduct this audit. Cost typically is based on a per-building scale, with a basic audit starting at $1000.

A green audit studies the facility's overall impact on the environment. Among a host of other measures that help a facility run more efficiently, an auditor investigates: energy and water use, and where you can incorporate savings or implement alternative power sources; indoor air quality; recycling programs; source elimination; and waste-reduction measures.

Though still a relatively new concept in many parts of the world, green audits are becoming more common. “They're viewed as a justified expense because they contribute to a healthier working and learning environment for all building occupants,” says Mike Sawchuk, vice president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions, a Peterborough, Ontario-based manufacturer of cleaning chemicals. “They also help employers save money in reduced energy use, waste reduction, and lowered workman's compensation expenses and other insurance costs.”

The key goal of a green audit isn't just to protect building occupants' health and the environment, but to decrease operating overhead, which helps save taxpayers money. Solar panels, for instance, reduce energy consumption costs, cutting back on fossil fuel use and reliance on big energy providers.

“A green audit also explores and, if necessary, encourages staff members to get involved with the ‘greening' of their facilities,” says Sawchuk. “Many of the best ideas on how to run a more environmentally friendly facility come from the bottom up, with staff members empowered to suggest ways for greening their own work areas. As collaborative and long-term efforts, the solutions can positively impact the environment, as well as cut expenses.”