Plante & Moran reached capacity at our downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., location two years ago.
Anticipating further growth, and on the heels of the office's 20th year as part of the Grand Rapids community and the firm's 85th year in business, we decided to relocate our Grand Rapids facility a few blocks north.
Given the firm's commitment to sustainability, it was a natural solution to sign a long-term lease with The Christman Co., a construction-management expert skilled in erecting sustainable buildings. This resulted in a state-of-the-art, 34,000-square-foot space that recently received LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Gold certification for commercial interiors.
It has also resulted in happier, more environmentally aware staff.
WHY BE GREEN?
Plante & Moran occupies two of the building's five floors and shares the building with owner and builder Christman, which broke ground on the $11.5 million building in the fall of 2007 and completed the project one year later. From the beginning, the facility was designed and built to seek LEED certification.
Grand Rapids leads the nation in the number of LEED-certified projects per capita. The vast majority of new commercial buildings in our community are green. Frankly, it seemed unthinkable for us not to pursue the certification. Moreover, we knew it would be important for our staff and as part of our efforts to recruit the best and brightest. While there were economic considerations, we realized quickly that the benefits outweighed the costs.
FEATURES AND FUNCTIONALITY
Our office received LEED certification for our sustainable use of energy, lighting, water and materials, as well as incorporating a variety of other sustainable strategies.
The office space includes energy-efficient heating, ventilation, cooling, lighting and water systems to minimize environmental impact. During the first year of occupancy, our office saved about 42 percent on water and sewage through the use of water-efficient plumbing fixtures. About 75 percent of the building's occupied areas receive natural light from the floor-to-ceiling exterior windows, which means that we often don't even have to turn on the lights in our offices or conference rooms. We also employ a green housekeeping program that precludes the use of cleaners high in volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, to protect the health of the occupants and environment. Moreover, furnishings, carpeting and paint were low in VOCs, which makes the space more comfortable for staff that may have asthma or chemical sensitivities.
In addition, we recycled 50 percent of all construction waste, and re-used more than 50 percent of furnishings in the new office, donating the rest to local nonprofits. We also used locally made and recycled materials to minimize transportation and energy costs.
When we initially embarked upon this initiative, we were aiming for Silver LEED certification. However, as the project crept closer to completion, it became clear that we were only a point or two away from achieving Gold-level certification. There were a few areas that qualified but had not yet been documented. We also decided to purchase Energy Star appliances. That put us into Gold territory.
Still, there was a learning curve. We had to educate ourselves on some of the green features, as well as the business case for embracing them. Some staff - like our real estate and construction and corporate real estate teams - were already well-versed in sustainability; the rest of us quickly got up to speed.
IT PAYS TO BE GREEN
Green design has paid off in many ways, from savings in energy costs and reduced impact on landfills, to the less obvious, such as recruiting and staff pride. Although it's been over a year since the move, we continue to hear positive feedback from staff and clients alike.
Going through this process has also made us all more mindful of the environment around us. Recently, a staff member was in the kitchen enjoying yogurt with a plastic spoon. "What are you doing?" another staff member asked, incredulous. "We have real spoons in the drawer!" A year ago, a plastic spoon would have gone unnoticed.
Our LEED certification also has served as an inspiration to other Plante & Moran offices. We'll be able to apply the lessons learned throughout this process as we retrofit existing office space or plan for new office space. Our Southfield office is currently evaluating the benefits of installing a geothermal pump.
That, I think, is the real benefit - a heightened awareness of environmental concerns, not only within our Grand Rapids office but throughout Plante & Moran as a whole.
Kelly Springer is a partner in the Grand Rapids office of Plante & Moran PLLC. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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