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Building the principles that sustain us



Sustainability. The term seems to be everywhere -- in institutions of higher learning, in the workplace and in the broad spectrum of popular media. And it's likely that CORE Colorado's recent Sustainability Opportunities Summit in Denver, the largest business sustainability conference in the Rocky Mountain region, has contributed mightily to spreading the word and guiding people to best sustainability practices. This year's summit attracted the usual wide variety of participants - from business to academia to the public sector - all looking to come away with new strategies and tools to measurably advance sustainability in their enterprises and by extension benefit the entire global community.

But nowhere has the surge to achieve sustainability principles been more evident than in the areas of building design, construction, operation and maintenance. At times, it seems that that the number of LEED certified buildings of all kinds is expanding almost exponentially. (LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is the accepted gold standard for measuring the "greenness" of buildings.) Building owners and real estate developers are seeing that LEED certification results not only in a hugely positive environmental impact and translates to a multiplicity of energy cost savings, but LEED status has now arrived at the place where it is a competitive and marketing necessity.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the overall green building market (both non-residential and residential) is likely to more than double from $36 billion to $49 billion in 2009 to $96 billion to140 billion by 2013. Since its inception in 1998, the USGBC has grown to encompass more than 14,000 projects in the United States and 30 countries covering 1.062 billion square feet of development area.

In Colorado, a leader in energy efficiency initiatives, one of the most significant LEED achievements is the 2010 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification of the Colorado Convention Center (CCC). At 2,300,980 gross square feet, the CCC is the largest convention center successfully certified under LEED-EB and moreover the largest building in the world to earn some level of LEED certification.

The Colorado Convention Center's success story began with an extraordinary commitment to green principles demonstrated by our business and government leaders. In Denver, city leaders headed by now Governor John Hickenlooper, had a tremendous willingness and aim to make Denver one of the most sustainable cities in America. The Convention Center, as a flagship site in the city, was a natural center piece of this vision and plan.

As a result of their vision, the Colorado Convention Center underwent a $310 million major expansion in 2004 that doubled the size of the facility to its current 2.3 million gross square feet. During the renovation many green elements were installed under the design direction of Denver's world-renowned Fentress Architects, also designers of the original CCC structure.

Following the expansion, the CCC began implementing sustainable practices and put in place a range of environmentally-friendly policies aimed at increasing energy efficiency, conserving water, reducing waste and assisting meeting and event planners with hosting carbon-neutral gatherings.

Finally, in August 2010 with the help of outside Project Director UHG Consulting, expert in the intricacies of LEED documentation and solely devoted to managing the complex LEED process, the Colorado Convention Center was able to formalize its many, already established, sustainable initiatives, successfully complete the process, and was awarded LEED green building certification from the USGBC.

Colorado is also a leader in new green construction, buildings that are designed from the outset to meet LEED criteria. A prime example is the new RSF (Research Support Facility) on the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) campus in Golden, designed by Denver's RNL Design. The RSF office building is so energy efficient that its 800 occupants consume only the amount of energy generated by renewable power on or near the building. With its high-performance energy efficiency features and its use of beetle-kill pine and recycled and reclaimed building materials, RSF easily qualifies for LEED's highest Platinum rating.

The practice of sustainability principles in our business and personal lives, whether on an environmental, economic or social level, is critical to our well-being. We simply must manage our consumption of resources and balance environmental health with how we grow economically to survive as a planet. Considering what's at stake, Colorado's commitment to leadership in clean energy and environmental health and CORE Colorado's ongoing dedication to promoting sustainable business practices deserve our high praise and solid support.
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Darren Johnston

Darren Johnston is Principal and Co-Founder of Boulder, Colorado-based UHG Consulting (www.uhgconsulting.com), a full service sustainability consulting firm specializing in design, administration and support of sustainability initiatives ranging from waste reduction to LEED certification. UHG recently helped the Colorado Convention Center obtain LEED certification, making it the largest facility in Colorado to earn the distinction from USGBC. UHG's services include LEED consulting, property audits, energy audits, waste audits, project management, and green building. Mr. Johnston can be reached at djohnston@uhgconsulting.com.

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