Building knowledge

The minds behind SN&R’s new sustainable office building

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

When we first started the Green Days section in SN&R two-and-a-half years ago, I had a meeting with Dennis Rogers, senior vice president of the North State Building Industry Association. Dennis was thrilled SN&R was working on a green building on Del Paso Boulevard, because he knows what a cheap guy I am. If I was actually willing to spend money on green innovations, he joked, then they were probably ones the building industry could support, too.

All joking aside, Dennis told me the building industry needs to play a leadership role in the green-building movement, because builders have the experience to know the difference between what was reasonable and cost-effective and what was pie-in-the-sky.

I have to admit Dennis has a point. Some green innovations, such as solar panels and pervious pavement, just didn’t fit our budget. On the other hand, there were many green features, such as LED lighting and energy-efficient heating and cooling, that made sense when we ran the numbers.

In the early stages of our building design, architect and green-building expert Bob Chase organized an eco-charrette that, in addition to our design team, included experts from utility companies, the building industry and the city of Sacramento. Of course, we discussed our own building project, but we also brainstormed ideas about how to improve the process of constructing a green building in Sacramento.

We were lucky to have access to such experts, and with their help, were able to identify the sustainable practices that make sense for Sacramento’s climate. Even though we were on a tight budget, many of their ideas were incorporated into our building, such as reusing existing materials, using recycled materials, a cool roof, whole building fans, dual-flush toilets, a waterless urinal, skylights and LED parking lot lights.

Over the past four years, we have learned just how difficult and complicated infill development can be. We faced setbacks, breakthroughs, rigid environmental testing—not to mention the banking meltdown! I’ve developed more empathy for developers, construction workers, building inspectors, city council members and members of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. It makes me wonder how developers can sleep when they are building a huge office complex without signed leases.

Creating green infill buildings is critical if we are going to move to being a more sustainable city. Writing the checks instead of just writing the stories has been a great learning process for us at the paper. We are looking forward to using that knowledge to help us do a better job, spark innovation and make it easier for others to go green.