Editor's Note: Last month, we covered the necessary steps to take in order to green your mail center if you are in the process of new construction. In this issue, we will examine some alternatives for a mail center in the process of renovation.


A friend told me the other day that she is sick and tired of constantly feeling pressured by this subject of global warming and saving the planet. I know that some of us feel the same way. On the other hand, if you look around, the weather is changing all over the world. Something negative is happening to our environment, and it is absolutely necessary that we proceed in a different way.


It is time to be innovative. It is one of those times when our way of living seems to be causing problems. Being green contributes to turning the situation around. The way to fix it is to find the silver lining in this cloud.


Last February was Fashion Week in New York City, and the top designers Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney, Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Versace worked to provide eco-friendly alternatives, with fabrics made from bamboo, hemp and the pulp from pineapple. Even the makeup artists were using brushes made of recycled materials! So there is hope.


If there is something that can bring a quick return on our investment, it is clearly in the building industry. In the last issue, I mentioned that our buildings (commercial, industrial and residential) and their construction are responsible for consuming one-third of our total energy, two-thirds of our electricity and one-eighth of our water, according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).


Buildings should be designed to meet occupants' needs for thermally comfortable, well-lit, well-ventilated spaces. It is important to remember that, no matter what position you occupy in the company, from management to hourly employees, what you are looking for, essentially, are ways to improve air indoor quality and increase comfort, productivity and safety for all workers, and in this way, save energy.


The options implemented for a "green renovation" will most certainly depend on the extent of the reconstruction of your mail center. I will cover some basic principles to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of an overall approach. Let's take look at the most important factors in any renovation operation: Indoor Air Quality and Energy. How can the quality of the indoors be improved, and how can energy be saved?


Indoor Air Quality

Three important steps you can bring to the design/construction team:

  1. Watch out for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air and considered to be one of the top five hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes as they release low-level toxic emissions into the air for years after application. The source of these toxins is a variety of VOCs that were, until recently, essential to the performance of the paint. Nowadays, water-based paint products can avoid all these problems. High VOC levels are also due to materials used in cabinetry or manufactured wood products such as laminate, particleboard, hardboard siding and treated wood.


  1. Furniture If you are in the process of buying new furniture, make sure that it complies with LEED requirements. Several mail center manufacturers in the market have well-designed equipment available that uses sustainable materials. Now, if you also need to break some walls or include more office space in your renovation, Steelcase has designed a new
    system called Pathways Privacy Wall, a 10-foot-high steel-frame reconfigurable wall and the entire structure can be economically (and easily) disassembled into component materials for recycling. And it contains 30% recycled materials to begin with.


  1. HVAC (central heating and cooling) Inadequately operating HVAC systems and humidification devices can also be a major source of poor indoor air quality. A well-installed and maintained system is of utmost importance. Inefficient ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by bringing in insufficient amounts of outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources.



Saving energy reduces the use of natural resources as fuel, the need for additional power plants to generate electricity, and the energy and emissions associated with using these fuel sources. The leading fuel source for heating is natural gas, although fuel oil and electricity, including heat pumps, are also widespread, and the predominant method of cooling is with electricity.


Five easy but important steps to save energy:

  1. HVAC (central heating and cooling) Energy in buildings provides for lighting, appliances, equipment and service hot water. It is also used to condition interior spaces with ventilation and temperature control. Energy used for temperature control provides heating, cooling and circulation. Energy performance also includes the sizing and efficiency of the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Poorly operating central heating and cooling systems can be extremely costly.


  1. Purchase Energy-Efficient Office Equipment Energy Star is a government-backed program that signifies superior energy efficiency. When shopping for new computers, printers or copy machines, look for the Energy Star logo. Many of the newer machines have power savers built into them, but it is still best to turn copiers, printers, monitors and fax machines completely off when not in use.


  1. Lighting Improved illumination leads to increased visibility, which is an important consideration for a wide range of buildings, from factories to warehouses to grocery stores or other retail establishments, and it can create a safer facility while saving energy. An energy audit at the Hong Kong headquarters of Star TV, News Corp.'s Asian broadcasting subsidiary, found that removing one out of every three fluorescent tube lights about 1,300 in all would trim its CO2 emissions by 18,000 pounds a year.


  1. Flooring If you need to replace your flooring system, it is good to know that vinyl floors release dioxins from PVC when they are created, and let loose other harmful particulates when buffed. There is PVC-free recycled rubber flooring material available in the market that would be an excellent choice with a great side benefit: fewer slips and falls.


  1. Another great solution for saving energy is to use a radiant floor, a tubing system embedded in a concrete slab. Most of our buildings run on forced-air heating, which stirs up dust and allergens. Radiant floors cut down on heat loss through infiltration and use the thermal mass and conductance of concrete to spread heating and cooling throughout the floor to maintain a constant, even temperature.


  1. Innovative Ways to Save Energy For the restrooms, a new hand dryer has been developed from Dyson's Airblade that does its job in half the time (12 seconds) and with half the energy (1,400 watts) of conventional dryers.


And, after all this, don't forget to ask your architect to include a dedicated area for large bins for paper, bottles and magazines for recycling.

I told my friend that as we implement more ways of living that support life on the planet, maybe we won't have to keep hearing about global warming anymore.


In the next issue, we will explore options for implementing green solutions for an already existing place.


Vera Angelico, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a licensed architect in New York and Michigan who specializes in mail center design. LEED Accredited Professionals have demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building practices and principles and familiarity with LEED requirements, resources and processes. Vera can be reached at 212-867-5849 or vangelico@aol.com.