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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
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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.
Where To Start

You may already be incorporating several tactics to make your facilities green.

An inexpensive and easy option is to switch from conventional to environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals and products. If these products are certified by such organizations as EcoLogo or Green Seal, they have minimal impact on the environment, perform as well as or better than conventional products, and are cost-effective.

Recycling office paper is another simple change your department can make.

“When desktop computers became commonplace in offices two decades ago, we believed we would all be working in a ‘paperless' world,” says Sawchuk. “Unfortunately, this hasn't happened except in situations where the organization takes significant ‘war on paper' measures to reduce paper use. These steps often begin with, and are the result of, a green audit.”

An extensive green audit will confront more serious issues and include a laundry list of facility operations and maintenance tasks to investigate. It will evaluate whether the facility's meeting current federal, state, and local regulations. Recent court cases also may be reviewed to provide suggestions for exceeding these regulations. An investigation may look at:

  • Toxic emission compliance at all facilities and suggested ways to reduce or eliminate pollution
  • Pollution-level testing within a facility to study levels emitted from office equipment, such as laser printers and copiers, cleaning products, fabrics, carpets, and other indoor materials that may off-gas or have high levels of volatile organic compounds, and suggested measures to reduce these levels
  • Ways to encourage or pay staffers to car pool, or find alternative ways to get to work
  • Environmental audit performance on all products newly introduced into the facility to see if they have been green-certified and/or are the most environmentally preferable products available
  • Extensive energy and water audits to encourage more efficient use of energy and measures to reduce water use
  • Hazardous waste exposure at the property and suggestions to clean up any potential problem areas.

Though the initial cost of an audit and the subsequent changes may seem high, you'll see a return on your investment very quickly. One bank in California has saved more than $400,000 annually for nearly a decade by incorporating a waste-reduction program that was the result of a green audit.

— Kravitz is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

For more information, visit:
EcoLogo: www.environmentalchoice.com Green Seal: www.greenseal.org U.S. Green Building Council: www.usgbc.org

Read other articles in our "Green Matters" special report:

  • Team Green: introduces you to a water district that decided to build green, and offers tips on how you can do it, too. It also provides a snapshot of how the solid waste department serving Florida's capital implemented a green demolition of its administration building.
  • Trickle-Down Effect: A story from Chicago shows how one of the nation's largest cities reduced storm-water runoff in its alleys by using specially designed pervious pavement.
  • Low-Impact Leader: our Q&A with Seattle's low-impact development program manager will give you ideas on how to incorporate their trail-blazing solutions into your own plans.
  • Resource List: A list of useful links for organizations and associations that can help you make you're department more sustainable, and planet-friendly.