(Lexington Minuteman – February 2, 2006)

Imagine a trellis that shades the south side of a building, cooling in the summer and allowing for light and solar gain in the winter. Imagine elementary school children checking instruments in their school lobby that monitor energy savings from the solar panels on their school’s roof. These examples of green building design all within our reach and have been used already in Massachusetts’ buildings to provide a healthier and more comfortable environment in which to live, learn and work.

Buildings consume about 40% of the energy used in the United States and account for a high percentage of air pollutants. Pollution and indoor air toxicity affect children and adults with asthma and other health problems. The construction industry has historically contributed up to 40% of the material that goes into our landfills. Operational functions of buildings are grossly inefficient, using more energy than is needed for heating and lighting. These are all things that must change and have been changing in recent years.

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) has established a set of standards, referred to as Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design LEED™, to inform and guide construction. LEED™ is a tool to trigger ideas, not to rigidly specify action. The LEED™ system is based on a point-rating scheme, which works to recommend areas of improvement, measure compliance and monitor impacts. Specifically, LEED™ new building standards are organized into six broad categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Indoor Environmental Quality, Materials and Resources and lastly Innovative Design. Sixty-nine total points are available with four levels of certification: Certified 26 –32 points, Silver 33 to 38 point; Gold 39 to 51 points and platinum greater than 52 points.

As much as being a rating system, LEED™ serves as an approach to construction (both new construction and renovations) that ensures good planning and upfront cooperation of architects, contractors and client to achieve their common objectives. LEED™ recommends follow through with building commissioning and the development operating cost estimates thereby ensuring that the building once delivered, performs to expectations. Green building concepts lead to reduced operating costs and efficiencies over the life of the building. Interior environments are healthier, with improved air quality and quality of light were workers in green buildings are more productive. Sick time has been reported as 5% less at Genzyme’s new Cambridge building, which meets platinum certification, than at the company’s other facilities.

Learn more at GWAC’s discussion of Sustainable Design February 9 at 7 pm in the Cary Library meeting room. Understand the benefits of green design and how easy it is becoming to incorporate green concepts into building construction.

The Lexington Board of Selectmen upon the recommendation of the Permanent Building Committee adopted a Sustainable Design Policy this fall. To the extent possible all renovations and major projects over 5,000 square feet, undertaken by the Town should conform to LEED™ Silver standards. The proposed renovations of the School Administration Building i.e. the ‘White House” and the new DPW building will both be designed under this policy. The Harrington and Fiske schools both have elements of green design. Harrington would probably meet Silver standards and Fiske could likely meet the standards for Gold certification.

The concepts associated with the construction of the new Fiske School exemplify the application of green design, starting with the demolition of the old building. Much of the old structure, the concrete was pulverized on–site and used in the foundation of the new building. Both reinforcing steel and structural steel were recycled along with many other materials. The site design will include a ground water recharge system to prevent water run off. Plants, native to New England will be used to minimize dependence on watering and chemical fertilizers. Site irrigation that is provided will be provided by on-site wells Energy efficiencies will be built in. Classrooms will be equipped with daylight dimming sensors and occupancy sensors. As in Harrington, there will be a geothermal heating and cooling system.

As the Town gains experience with sustainable design, we should consider ways to incorporate these principles into our residential and commercial buildings. The energy saving promise of green construction affords great opportunity for the new homeowner.

Our commercial zones were largely built out decades ago. Demand for increased value in our commercial areas has been accompanied by requests for increased density. Should we not consider a way to accommodate that density increase in return for ensured sustainable design that will benefit future generations?

Did You Know: In 2001 Mass. adopted the nation's first standards to cut global warming emissions from power plants. Now Gov. Romney wants to water them down. Read our next column for the arguments for and against his proposals.

This week’s column is guest authored by Phil Poinelli and Jeanne Krieger.

Brought to you by Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition. Contact us at