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Why the next frontier for green building is manufacturing

From Crain’s Chicago Business: Conjure an image of a factory and smokestacks come to mind. “Green” building isn’t in the picture. But in fact, factories around the world are going green at a remarkable pace. Today, there are 500 million square feet of green factory space, including pace-setting construction, here in Chicago.

Why? Green manufacturing saves big money in the long run. Manufacturers do well by doing good.

Evidence for this trend is in a new report from the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED, the world’s most widely used green building rating system. According to LEED in Motion: Industrial Facilities, there are more than 1,775 LEED-certified industrial facilities, a figure projected to soon double to more than 2,710 industrial facilities, which would comprise an additional 737 million square feet of factory floor space.

LEED is not a government mandate. It is a voluntary, private-sector-driven program that has helped make workplaces healthier and more energy efficient. Factories and buildings attain LEED certification by demonstrating superior performance through the use of sustainable design and construction materials and practices.

Office buildings have long been exemplars of LEED certification. But manufacturing plants, industrial facilities and product factories also have become a cornerstone for the international green building industry. The growing adoption of LEED in this sector has given corporations another tool to achieve high-performing business operations and positively impact occupant health, reduce water and energy use and increase cost savings, all at the same time.

The boom in LEED manufacturing facilities reflects the changing nature of manufacturing itself. Today’s newest factories no longer make yesterday’s products nor do they fit the stereotype of the dark, dirty assembly lines that gorged on fossil fuels.

The USGBC’s LEED program, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is spreading among manufacturers of legacy products as well. The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Trenton (Mich.) South Engine plant became the world’s first engine plant to achieve LEED Gold. Because of its design, annual CO2 emissions were lowered by 12,000 metric tons—equal to the energy use in nearly 1,000 homes—and annual new energy use was reduced by 39 percent, saving $1.25 million a year.

Here on Chicago’s Far South Side, Method’s soap factory is the first packaged goods manufacturer to achieve LEED Platinum—the highest level possible—thanks to its wind turbine, “solar tracking trees” (solar panels that follow the sun) and the world’s largest rooftop farm, a 75,000-square-foot commercial greenhouse set to produce 500 tons of food annually.

LEED buildings lower operating costs, create a higher return on investment and lead to higher resale and rental rates. One leading manufacturer saw a 33 percent savings on energy costs after changing a building’s design to pursue LEED certification. LEED also contributes to the larger U.S. economy. By the end of 2018, USBGC’s 2015 Economic Impact Study conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton, estimates that green buildings could create 3.3 million U.S. jobs and generate $190 billion in labor earnings.

LEED manufacturing sites are now located in nearly every state. California leads the way with 200 followed by Texas with 99 and Illinois with 66. And that’s significant. Manufacturers consume 30 percent of America’s energy.

Credits in the LEED system are determined with constant and direct input from the building industry. In the newest iteration of the rating system, certain credits were adapted specifically to better reflect the needs of the industrial sector.

Professionals in the industry—from architects to contractors—should see the benefits of LEED and use it in manufacturing structures. Sean Hogan of RDK Architects notes that the manufacturing ”industry has traditionally been considered the main contributor to environmental pollution.” But manufacturers are changing their worldview, he says, and are ”actually doing the right thing.”

Construction teams, even on factories, now understand they can save money and also do their part to preserve the planet’s resources.

Mahesh Ramanujam is Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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