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Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Greening of the Lab: What Exactly Are Environmental Materials?

Recent Workshop Hosted by Facilities Helps Provide the Answer

By Lyn Hunter

lTo make biscuits, one rolls the dough, cuts out the shapes, and then wads up the remaining dough to make more. Are these leftovers “recycled” or is it just unused material? That’s the kind of question architects and engineers face when attempting to design and construct buildings using green guidelines.

“Manufacturers may tout their materials as ‘recycled,’ when in fact, like the biscuit example, it may just be leftover primary material that’s being used to create new products,” explains Blair Horst, the Lab’s sustainability coordinator. “It’s easy to be misled by the claims industry makes, as standardized metrics are only recently being developed to truly gauge how green their products are.”

What is clearly defined are the rules set forth by the Department of Energy. One in particular requires all new buildings to be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)® rating system for environmentally sustainable construction. Credits are earned in various categories for the use of recycled content as well as materials that are recyclable, compostable, nontoxic, and produced nearby.

To help better discern what vendors are offering and what the DOE requires, the Lab’s Facilities Division hosted a workshop last month for Lab planners and their design and construction subcontractors, as well as representatives from SLAC and Livermore Lab. Eugene Lisa, who represents firms offering environmental materials, led the workshop.

The focus of the workshop was interior materials, an area that hasn’t received a lot of attention in the world of sustainable construction, says Horst. This includes carpets, wall coverings, and furnishings, such as desks, chairs, and partitions.

“Our goal is to help planners learn how to ask the right questions when dealing with vendors, and garner as many LEED credits as possible,” says Horst, who organized the meeting.

Buildings can qualify for four levels of certification, based on 100 possible points: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59), Gold (60-79), and Platinum (80+). The DOE requires a Gold certification for all new federal construction and for major renovations over $5 million. This applies to the Building 74 renovation project, the General Purpose Laboratory, and other new laboratory buildings.

UC sponsored projects, such as the Computational Research and Theory (CRT) Facility and Helios projects, are required to achieve a minimum of a Silver certification. The User Support Building, currently under construction, is required to achieve at least a Silver certification, but may qualify for Gold, according to Project Manager Kirk Haley.

“I think we raised some awareness of and had some successful dialogue on the gap between what the government requires and the private sector is providing,” says Horst. “Our next step is to distribute this information to an even wider audience, including other DOE labs and federal entities.”

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