Wow … who knew?

Day one in SN&R’s new green 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.

We’ve been in our green building on Del Paso Boulevard for one day as I write this column. Wow, who knew how cool going “green” could be? Now I realize what the people at SMUD were trying to tell us.

When I say “us,” I mean myself and News & Review director of nuts and bolts, Deborah Redmond. She managed our building project while juggling her day job working with our business, design, human resources and IT departments. Deborah says her title is fitting, because she works on the operational parts of the newspaper. Or could it be that the director of nuts and bolts is the correct title for someone who has been married to me for 26 years?

But I digress. I was talking about the people at SMUD. Deborah and I wanted to get a better idea of how to convert a broken-down old supermarket into an energy-efficient green office for our staff. We had done a lot of reading about green buildings. The problem was that we had too many ideas, and no clue about which ones would make sense.

SMUD’s Savings by Design Program is available to help business owners in this exact situation. Stephen Oliver, manager of the Savings by Design Program, told us that we’d made a good decision by coming to see them at the beginning of the planning process.

Brian Sehnert, an architect at SMUD, walked us through the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) checklist. Even though we eventually chose not to certify our building, that checklist was an incredibly valuable guide. As a result, we added a shower to our building to encourage bicycle riding. We included water-saving dual-flush toilets and a waterless urinal. We recycled much of our construction waste and used recycled materials in parts of the building. And we chose energy-efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems.

Jim Parks and Dave Bisbee of SMUD introduced us to some innovative lighting technology. As a result, we have lower levels of lighting in our building. We incorporated solar tubes and provided task lights at the desktop. We also have LED lights in our parking lot.

Jim Barnett, SMUD’s photovoltaic program manager, strongly encouraged us to incorporate skylights in our new building, and advised us on where to put them. He gave us the idea of replacing the garbage cans under our desks with recycling cans.

Barnett said something that really stuck with me. He said that energy saving, while important, is not the most important reason to do a green building. He explained that while energy costs are a small percentage of most companies’ total costs, the big advantage is employee morale. Green buildings encourage both productivity and attendance. Employees just seem to feel better in green buildings. And after one day in our building, I’m starting to see what he was taking about.