Not since the oil crisis of the '70s has the concern for green design been so prevalent. Some say that Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth brought to the fore the impending danger we are facing today of the destruction of the planet and extermination of many animal species as a result of rising temperatures. Our polar bears are dying at an alarming rate, and several islands are being consumed by the rising seas brought about by the melting of icebergs at the poles.


Actually, Gore left some important data out of his research: buildings are responsible for approximately 48% of all greenhouse emissions and 68% of electricity consumption, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. In addition to these alarming numbers, buildings generate 35% of carbon dioxide, which is the primary cause of global warming. Energy issues have been everywhere in the news lately, and concerns about rising gasoline costs and utility rates are two of the most pressing issues for all of us. Unfortunately, we are highly dependent on fossil fuel resources, and the amount required to build and operate our living and working structures is rising dramatically.


It is estimated that if the growth trend continues for the next 20 years, US energy consumption and greenhouse emissions will increase by approximately 40%. The health of our planet and our well-being are seriously compromised at this juncture. Former President Bill Clinton announced at UCLA on August 1, 2006, that "we have to reduce about 80% of our greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 to 15 years. We all know now that climate change is occurring more rapidly than we had previously thought. We see it in the meltings occurring everywhere, on our own snowcap mountains, in the Tibetan glacier, and in the Greenland ice caps that contain 8% to 10% of all the fresh water on earth. And if it continues to melt at the present rate, sometime in the next 40 years or so, we'll lose 50 feet of Manhattan Island, America's most expensive real estate currently." At this juncture we have no choice we must do it!


What Can I Do?

"What can I do?" is the question many mail center managers are asking. Let's face it: unless you are in the process of new construction, most mail centers are in existing buildings. However, you will be surprised to know that each one of us can still make a huge contribution and help to improve this worrying scenario of devastation and extermination.

In case you are in the process of new construction and your company is searching for a new site, there is no doubt that retrofitting an older building would be the best green alternative. Unfortunately, most of us like new things new cars, new homes and we miss the opportunity to find value in the process of retrofitting. Many green alternatives can be implemented if a responsible and knowledgeable architect is engaged from the beginning. I will be addressing this issue in future articles.


For most of us in existing edifices, one of the most important factors to be addressed in the production of green design is improvement of indoor quality. Just a brief example: regarding that "new car" smell that we all like so much it can be hazardous to your health, according to The Ecology Center, a Berkeley, California environmental group. The Ecology Center says that toxic chemicals such as bromine, chlorine and lead found in car interiors give off harmful fumes for three years, as reported in the Chicago Tribune.


Improve Indoor Environmental Quality

In accordance with EPA standards, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) refers to the quality of the air and environment inside buildings, based on pollutant concentrations and conditions that can affect the health, comfort and performance of occupants. Good IEQ is an essential component of any building, especially a green building. This includes many factors such as temperature, light, sound, gas passing from equipment and furniture and many others.


Look around the desk you are leaning on, the chair you are sitting on do you know whether they are constructed of sustainable materials? You probably have no idea, right? I wouldn't either. If you are in the process of designing a new mail center, is the furniture the mail sorters, carts, stools, mats you are choosing in compliance with United States Green Building Council (USGBC) standards? Ask the building manager to make sure that the furniture you are using or are in the process of purchasing is approved by the USGBC. What makes up common office furniture? You will be surprised to find out that most of the furniture makers use adhesives and materials that give off fumes noxious to our health.


Low VOC Paint

In the process of new construction or renovation, you can always ask the contractor to provide wall paint that is low in volatile organic compounds (VOC) and not harmful to humans. According to the EPA, indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air and is considered one of the top five hazards to human health. One of the major factors is the quality of the paint and some of the finishes used. Paintings with zero or low VOCs are more durable and less toxic for the environment and our health.


Lighting System

How about your lighting system? This is an easy and simple step that can be done at any stage. Are they all fluorescent lamps? Most commercial lighting systems use fluorescent lamps nowadays. If you don't have them yet, make sure to provide your mail center with them soon. Incandescent lightbulbs are more costly to operate, and trading them for fluorescents can generate savings of up to 30%, as an incandescent lighting system also creates a great amount of heat. Bills are underway in California, Connecticut, New Jersey and North Carolina to eliminate the use of incandescent bulbs by 2010. Compact fluorescent lamps are about three to five times as efficient as standard incandescent lamps and can last about 10 to 20 times longer. To gain the most efficiency, use current and proven equipment technology and install fluorescent lamps in places where they can be integrated with the working areas, available daylight and switching or dimming controls. If you have a maintenance manager in your building, s/he can help you in the selection process; otherwise, just inform your manager of ways to save money in the operation of your center.


Heating and Cooling

Another very important aspect in green design and a crucial element in indoor environmental quality is called thermal comfort. How many times has the issue of "I am hot" or "I am cold" happened simultaneously for two people standing or sitting side by side? Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC systems) account for 39% of the energy used in commercial buildings in the United States. A well-designed and maintained HVAC system can produce savings of approximately 40% to 70%, according to the industry, and most importantly, it will produce comfortable places to work and live. The EPA has developed minimum energy efficiency standards for Energy Star products. EPA Energy Star categories include appliances, HVAC, mailing machines, fax and copying machines, office equipment and lighting. Well-insulated walls, ceilings, windows and flooring help to maintain the temperature of the room and this way save money in heating and cooling the building.


Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Do you recycle or dispose of printer and copier ink or toner cartridges? And how about your fluorescent lamps? According to, nearly 650 million lamps are thrown out each year. Those things,  once dumped in our landfills, will survive us by many centuries. We can count of having them there a thousand years from now amazing, isn't it? Did you know that just in 1995 alone, recycled toner cartridges kept more than 21,000 tons of trash out of landfills?


The US Building Council suggests that in the operation of office equipment to "identify special maintenance agreements." Maintenance agreements are standard practice in the building industry. Take-back programs refer to programs in which the product manufacturer "takes back" scrap material and/or packaging associated with its product. Green leasing is a new but dramatic shift in the traditional perspective of leased equipment. Under a green lease, the product manufacturer is responsible for the disposition of the product at all times. Thus, when the customer no longer requires the use of the particular product or requires an updated model, the manufacturer is obligated to reclaim it and refurbish it or disassemble it for recycling as appropriate. This approach necessitates a revision of administrative services. It also requires a basic redesign of products in order to allow for future disassembly and upgrade. This has the potential to be cost-effective for manufacturers and customers alike. It is also extremely resource-efficient. Green leasing is a great program for equipment and technology that rapidly becomes obsolete. Most certainly ask your building manager about this opportunity.


At this point, considering the severity of the planet's condition, what is necessary are new alternatives to our traditional energy sources. We use too much energy from fossil fuels. Many other sources are available and not yet fully explored. In the United States, more than 90% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels, according to a 2002 report by the EPA. A great deal of what we do is dependent on fossil fuel our cars to our plastic products to agriculture are dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. Maybe putting into place some of the measures mentioned, the small collective acts that each of us do can save our planet. Be aware of such actions as carpooling to work and using products free of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) because they destroy the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful UV rays. Be certain that you can make a significant difference in your operation just by implementing these ideas.


Vera Angelico, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a licensed architect in New York and Michigan that specializes in mail center design. Vera is the President of TAYLOR Systems Engineering Corporation and can be reached at 212-867-5849 or