At a time in American history when the federal government seems to place more value on spotted owls than on economic growth, more and more local businesses now have something environmentally friendly to cheer about.
Constructing an office using the principles of green design, medical electronics designer and maker Dyna Vox Corp. provided a healthier workplace for its employees, custom-designed its offices for the needs of its staff and saved money in the process.
The focus of green design is on employee health and building performance issues, says Gary Gardner, a principal of Garner+Pope Architects, the firm that reworked Dyna Voxs 30,000-square-foot office in Birmingham Towers on the South Side. It involves a variety of decisions designed to inherently improve energy efficiency, indoor air quality and resource conservation.
According to Gardner, the EPA has designated toxins as one of the top five health hazards American workers face in the workplace. The culprits are VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. Found in vinyl wall covering, stains, paints and adhesives, VOCs over time can contribute to cancer and respiratory ailments.
Gardner+Pope Architects employed a two-pronged strategy to minimize VOCs at Dyna Vox. First, the firm used substitute products that reduce landfill waste as well as the amount of VOCs produced. Cellulose is used instead of fiberglass for sound insulation. Partitions are made from recycled plastic soda bottles. What once was a landfill resident has found a new use and, since it doesnt deteriorate, gives off no VOCs. Soybean was used as a substitute for wood trim. It looks the same and was finished with a water-based stain.
The other prong of Gardner+Popes strategy was to improve the quality of ventilation to remove existing VOCs from the air. The firm utilized a one-room design that keeps VOCs from accumulating in small offices that dont receive sufficient circulation.
Not every green office is the same, however. Gardner+Pope worked closely with Dyna Vox president Tilden Bennett to create exactly the office he wanted.
I wanted the office to be open and bright, with window space for everyone, Bennett says. The new office accomplished that. Even though the space is open, its still quiet.
Gardner+Pope also took into account the creative environment needed by an electronic design firm.
Im pleased with the work flow and people interaction, Bennett says. People have more control over their environment. If they need privacy, they have it. If they need to meet in smaller break-out spaces to share information, they can do that, too.
The office designers also factored in the potential need to change. Instead of forcing their client to redrill to attach phone and computer lines if the company arranged its setup, a power and data wiring system was suspended on the ceiling.
Operating costs for reconfiguration were reduced by approximately $1.75 per square foot, Gardner says. This system enables Dyna Vox to reconfigure offices much faster.
Whats the bottom line? Unlike most environmentally motivated improvements, green design costs the customer no more to institute than a conventional one, unless, of course, you want your rainwater collected and used in your septic system or geothermal heating introduced to your office. In fact, youre more likely to save money.
Says Gardner: By utilizing an intelligent combination of open and private offices, we were able to increase occupancy of the space by 20 percent, reducing their overall space requirements by 6,000 square feet, which will save them about $120,000 per year.