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Going “Green” in Your Dental Office

Issue: Summer 2009
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Do Green Design and Sustainable Design mean the same thing?

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, there can be a subtle difference (e.g., green products specified for a sustainable project). Green Design often implies an interest in design that protects people’s health and well-being (e.g., indoor air quality enhancement, use of “natural” products, safer environments for people with allergies, asthma, or MCS). Sustainable Design often implies an interest in design that protects the global environment and the world’s ecosystems for future generations (e.g., alternative energy sources, rain forest protection, resource depletion). The terms Green Architecture, Environmentally Responsible Design, and Environmentally Conscious Design are sometimes used to imply an interest in both green and sustainable design.

What is LEED?

LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a rating system and certification program for new commercial, institutional, and high-rise residential buildings that was developed by the US Green Building Council. Projects that are registered with the USGBC and comply with their rating system may be awarded Silver, Gold, or Platinum certification. Currently under development are rating systems for commercial interiors and existing buildings.


Why should I go “Green”?

The design, construction, and maintenance of buildings have a tremendous impact on our environment and our natural resources. There are more than 76 million residential buildings and nearly 5 million commercial buildings in the U.S. today. Together, these buildings use one-third of all the energy consumed in the U.S., and two-thirds of all electricity. By the year 2010, another 38 million buildings are expected to be constructed. The challenge will be to build them smart, so they use a minimum of nonrenewable energy, produce a minimum of pollution, and cost a minimum of energy dollars, while increasing the comfort, health, and safety of the people who live and work in them.

Further, buildings are a major source of the pollution that causes urban air quality problems, and the pollutants that contribute to climate change. They account for 49% of sulfur dioxide emissions, 25% of nitrous oxide emissions, and 10% of particulate emissions, all of which damage urban air quality. Buildings produce 35% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions—the chief pollutant blamed for climate change.

Traditional building practices often overlook the interrelationships between a building, its components, its surroundings, and its occupants. “Typical” buildings consume more of our resources than necessary, negatively impact the environment, and generate a large amount of waste. Often, these buildings are costly to operate in terms of energy and water consumption. And they can result in poor indoor air quality, which can lead to health problems.

Green building practices offer an opportunity to create environmentally sound and resource-efficient buildings by using an integrated approach to design. Green buildings promote resource conservation, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation features; consider environmental impacts and waste minimization; create a healthy and comfortable environment; reduce operation and maintenance costs; and address issues such as historical preservation, access to public transportation, and other community infrastructure systems.

The entire life cycle of the building and its components is considered, as well as the economic and environmental impact and performance. U.S. Department of Energy. Green Buildings. Retrieved October 7, 2002, from http://www.sustainable.doe.gov/buildings/ gbintro.shtml

Green building practices also lower worker compensation (cleaning agents can cause employee illness) claims, which in turn, will lower your worker compensation premiums, and decrease absenteeism. And, last but not least, it is the socially responsible thing to do.

How do I begin?

There are many Web sites that can provide both an overview of green/sustainable design and links to more in-depth information. The following provide a starting point:

Green Design Network

This site provides a database of more than 600 green building resources, a directory of regional organizations, products and companies, plus news items and academic papers. www.greendesign.net/

Top Ten Sustainable Architecture WebPages

Ten Links organizes web pages by profession for easy reference. This provides an easy starting point for research on sustainable architecture. www.tenlinks.com

The above information was excerpted from http://www.idec.org

 How can you help do this in your new office?

Use carpet companies that are reclaiming carpet and recycling it in the making new carpet—eliminating landfill waste.

Use fabrics in your waiting room, consult, and business office chairs that use post-consumer recycled or post-industrial fiber. Also, use fabrics that offer superior durability, cleanability, odor resistance, and liquid impermeability, such as “Crypton Green,” which will extend the useful life of furniture.

Look for products that are “cradle to cradle”—a system that handles a product from creation through disposal. Use fabrics and wallcovering that use water-based inks, contain no heavy metals, and are formaldehyde-free in the printing process.

Use low-odor, low-VOC, quick-drying acrylic paint that ensure that their chemical and particle emissions meet acceptable indoor air quality standards, such as ECO Spec from Benjamin Moore or Harmony Interior Latex Coating from Sherwin-Williams.

Go digital to eliminate photochemical waste.

Use energy saving lights and make use of an electronic timer systems that will automatically turn down lighting inside, turn on lighting outside, reduce the heating/cooling systems at the end of the workday, and to do the reverse in the morning.

If possible, ask flooring installers to use adhesives with low-VOC emissions.

Select biodegradable, nontoxic cleansers. Other positive features to look for include neutral pH, vegetable-based surfactants (if any), and concentrates.

Work with your realtor and builder to consider regional land-use patterns and impact to the watershed and wildlife habitats.

Design for flexibility with regards to future changes.

Optimize the building to use solar strategies and energy efficient HVAC systems. Use cleaner power sources and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Provide collection bins for recyclable materials and require the contractors to develop a construction-waste-management plan.

Seek out nontoxic materials from local, renewable, and sustainable-acquired resources that minimize waste and pollution from manufacturing, installation, and maintenance.

Select durable finish materials that do not require frequent stripping, waxing, or oiling. Consider whether a high-gloss shine is necessary.

Did you know?

That insurance companies are starting to recognize “Green”? Green interiors are a better risk. When insuring your building, if you are going green, make sure that you inquire about “green update coverage.” Also, insure for replacement cost coverage or you will only get actual costs if there would be a fire.

On a last note:

Sustainability involves sharing education and knowledge to find new, environmentally responsible ways of doing business, because…we’re all in this together.