No doubt, you’ve heard of a concept called the “tragedy of the commons.” It originally saw the light of day in Garrett Hardin’s essay of the same name in the Dec. 13, 1968 issue of Science magazine. The characters in this story are “the commons,” a parcel of land — a shared community resource — where farm animals are permitted to graze freely, and the farmers who send their animals to graze there. Being rational, the farmers realize that it’s in their best economic interest to send as many animals as possible to the commons. The outcome is an overgrazed, worthless piece of land that’s no longer suitable for its intended purpose.
The moral of the story is that unfettered freedom to act can destroy that which permits freedom to be exercised. Some would argue that the terrestrial environment upon which life here depends is a form of “commons” and that our freedom to do as we please is already starting to make a mess of things. Exploring, with any significant credence, every facet of that belief system here in this monthly column is a monumental task. Thank goodness there’s not enough space available to do it all. Let’s tackle only one aspect of the environmental issue — the building in which you work — as we search for practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that can help you prove to the community that your plant isn’t taking part in environmental destruction. Remember, we search the Web so you don’t have to.
Go to the source
In 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council, a not-for-profit organization, was formed for the purpose of developing standards that, if applied universally, are intended to minimize human impact on the environment. Those standards are the centerpiece of a certification initiative called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). How well your plant’s design and operation meets the standards determines how many points of partial credit it earns toward the 85-point maximum. An aggregate of 34 points is merely the ante needed for an existing building to be minimally recognized as a LEED-certified facility. Earning your way into the silver category requires 43 points, gold needs 51 and platinum calls for 68 points.
Applied to a building or project, the standards address site sustainability (14 points), efficiency of water use (5 points), energy consumption and its effect on the atmosphere (23 points), the materials and resources used in the construction (16 points), indoor air quality (22 points), and innovative operation and maintenance (5 points).
Green your building
Any existing building is eligible for LEED certification. Just because the program typically is applied to offices, retail outlets, service shops, libraries, schools, museums, churches, hotels and multifamily dwellings doesn’t mean that a manufacturing plant is out of the running. The same rules and guidelines apply, and they’re outlined in a document titled “Green Building Rating System for Existing Buildings - Upgrades, Operations and Maintenance.” It’s a PDF of 84 pages that explains the intent, the requirements and potential technologies and strategies that can help you collect the credits needed to certify. Pay a visit to the U.S. Green Building Council at www.usgbc.org and enter the number 221 in the search box at the upper right. After that, the link you should select is called “USGBC: LEED for Existing Buildings.” You can find your way from that point on your own.
Beyond the Land of Enchantment
The great state of New Mexico regards going green as a priority, as evidenced by the fact that the state commissioned the publication of a LEED guide designed to help building owners in that state achieve LEED Certification and to explain the certification process to other interested parties. Because the LEED program is national in scope, I’d be surprised if a significant fraction of the 114-page document is so state-specific that you couldn’t use it at home. Developed by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the “How-To Guide to LEED Certification for New Mexico Buildings” is available at www.preservationnation.org, where you enter the word “villagra” in the search box at the upper right side. Then, hit the link to something called the “Villagra Building Case Study.”
So much of the LEED material you’ll find is aimed at new construction or the commercial/office/residential markets. Strictly speaking, that material isn’t relevant to our daily lives. It’s a bit more difficult to find material about industrial plants that can claim the certification that contributes to profitable manufacturing operations. However, digging and mucking about in that chaos we call the Web turned up a few noteworthy examples you might be able to emulate. Start with the a case study about General Motors that was posted by the Environmental Sciences and Services Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The GM Delta Township Assembly Plant claims to be the largest, most complex manufacturing site to earn the gold LEED certification. This four-page PDF details what the facility did to garner credits in each of the LEED categories. There are too many innovations to detail here, though. You’ll need to read it on your own at www.michigan.gov, where you’re going to enter the words “leed delta” in the search box.
A case on hazardous waste
If your plant used 170,000 MW per year, 3 million gallons of water per day and paid utility bills of between $20 million and $25 million, you’d be interested in reducing your carbon footprint, improving your sustainability and adding a few bucks to the bottom line in the bargain. That’s already happening at semiconductor plants. The next article is a bit light on specifics, but if your plant generates a lot of hazardous waste, you should read the brief case studies at the extreme bottom, which show how one chip maker is recycling quite a bit of those wet nasties needed to make integrated circuits. Point your micromouse at www.semiconductor.net and enter the word greening in the search box. Look for the article titled “The Greening of the Semiconductor Industry.”