10 Companies Utilizing Green Construction

Many stores built by Starbucks are energy-efficient.
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These days, we often see companies boasting about being "green," meaning they use environmentally friendly methods or products. It's now popular to promote sustainability, so that we preserve resources for future generations. It sounds pretty selfless, but being green is often cost-effective, too, which is better business.

For some companies, it goes beyond just giving you a recycled paper cup for your morning coffee. They're so committed to sustainability (or to saving money) that they're now incorporating green construction in their buildings. This includes major distribution centers, office headquarters and even retail stores.


The U.S. Green Building Council developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, better known as LEED. This rating system measures sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. A building scores points for each category, and it's possible to gain a ranking of Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

In this article, we'll explore some major companies that have started using green construction, all of whom rank in the top 100 of Newsweek's greenest companies list of 2011 [source: Newsweek].

10: Bank of America

Bank of America, one of the largest banks in the United States, also owns one of the newest, tallest and greenest skyscrapers in Manhattan. Completed in 2009, the Bank of America Tower in New York City achieved Platinum LEED certification, the highest level of certification, and the honor of being the first high-rise commercial office building with the distinction.

You can imagine, then, that it has some impressive green features. Air quality was a priority, for instance, as an air filtration system effectively removes 95 percent of particulates. An air monitoring system measures not only carbon monoxide, but also carbon dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and small particulates.


The building also captures rainwater and recycles graywater. The building even has a co-generation plant that offers about 65 percent of the building's electricity. At night, electricity from the plant is used to make ice that is melted for cooling during the day. A vast majority of the waste produced from demolition and construction was recycled or diverted from a landfill. Recycled materials were used when possible in the construction materials, and the building includes a green roof and reflective pavers to offset the urban heat island effect.

9: Walmart

Over the years, Walmart has taken steps toward energy efficiency.
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Walmart doesn't exactly have a reputation for being a conscientious company. In addition to causing controversy with its anti-labor union policies, it has also been criticized for its lack of environmental responsibility, like unsustainable factory farming. However, in the past few years, Walmart has made commitments to improve its sustainability practices. This has included some impressive strides in green construction.

In 2005, Walmart opened an experimental store that included using more recycled materials in construction, as well as energy-efficient methods in operation. One example is using oil from cooking and automotive services to help heat the store. Over the next few years, Walmart also tried out sustainable practices in its distribution centers. For instance, the company has started using solar and wind energy.


Walmart now boasts that it diverts 81 percent of its waste from landfills, and that its goal is true zero waste [source: Azzato]. It's built new stores and distribution centers in 15 regions that are at least 20 percent more efficient than baseline buildings.

8: Office Depot

Office Depot has made a concerted effort to go green since at least 2005, when it began to invest in energy efficiency initiatives. It later achieved Gold LEED certification for its headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., because of updates to the building, including switching to fluorescent lights and adding sensors for lights. The building also uses low-flow aerators for conserving water and designates preferred parking spots for carpools. Materials in the building, such as the carpet, are recycled.

In 2008, the company opened the first LEED-certified retail store in Austin, Texas, which attained Gold status. It pursues sustainability for its new stores by utilizing skylights, reflective roofs and sensors to reduce energy when not needed. The building also has Energy Star-rated appliances and HVAC equipment.


And in 2012, Office Depot announced that its distribution center in Newville, Pa., achieved LEED certification for Commercial Interiors. The distribution center includes low-flow faucets and urinals, as well as an energy-efficient HVAC system. The paint finishes are low-VOC emitting, and the wood products are verified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

7: Hewlett-Packard

Many of Hewlett-Packard's buildings were built with energy efficiency in mind.
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The information technology giant, Hewlett-Packard, has committed to improving its sustainable practices, including green building. One example is the data center the company completed in Hockley, Texas, in 2010. To be energy-efficient, HP employed a photovoltaic solar power system that provides 280,000 kWh of electricity each year. The data center also has a system for reusing wastewater from the cooling process by diverting it to landscaping uses. The materials used to construct the building were largely recycled or locally produced, and the wood was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. In addition, the facility includes bike racks and preferred parking for low-emission vehicles. Because of all these features, the building achieved Gold LEED certification.

Another structure, HP's Customer Experience Center, located in Houston, has Silver LEED certification. HP boasts that it features reused furniture and low-flow water fixtures. It also incorporates energy-efficient lighting, and the waste from construction was largely diverted from a landfill.


To reduce the environmental impact of their offices, HP uses InterfaceFLOR, an environmentally conscious carpet company that uses renewable sources in its manufacturing. What's more, HP offices use the Steelcase Think chair, which consists 41 percent recycled material and is largely recyclable itself.

6: Best Buy

As an electronics retailer, Best Buy administers more than 1,000 stores that soak up large amounts of energy. Consider how many of their products are on display and plugged in -- including TVs and gadgets. One might not consider the company a likely candidate for seeking to reduce its carbon footprint. Yet Best Buy has been recognized for its green efforts, including green construction.

The company has renovated more than 100 existing retail stores to improve its energy efficiency, including providing an upgrade to its lighting. And when Best Buy does build new stores, the company designs them according to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED certification. One of the most significant features is skylights equipped with sensors that automatically turn off the interior lights when the daylight is adequate.


5: Sprint

Sprint's headquarters is located in Overland Park, Kan.
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The telecommunications company Sprint prides itself on its green headquarters. Located in Overland Park, Kan., the headquarters campus spans 200 acres, and Sprint claims it to be among the most environmentally responsible campuses in the United States.

The facility utilizes solar power for signage and a water recapture system that diverts the water for irrigation use, thereby recycling 32,000 kgals of water annually. The campus itself is made of 60 percent green space and even uses a border-collie program for controlling the migratory bird population that is certified by PETA. The company also oversaw the planting of more than 6,000 trees on the campus. To encourage responsible transportation, the campus incorporates priority parking for hybrid vehicles and carpools, as well as a program that assists employees seeking alternative transportation.


Sprint also began a pilot program for LEED-certified retail stores. They opened a retail store in San Francisco that achieved LEED certification with energy-efficient lighting, equipment and HVAC systems. The store also includes low-flow water fixtures, as well as recycled construction materials and furniture.

4: Kohl's

Not many people would guess that the department store Kohl's is the largest solar array host in North America. The company hosts 121 photovoltaic power plants on the roofs of its facilities to provide renewable energy for 119 stores, as well as one distribution center and one photo studio.

As early as 2008, Kohl's made a public commitment to attain LEED certification for all their new stores. These new stores incorporate an energy-efficient HVAC system and lighting and a reflective roof to offset the urban heat island effect. They also include low-flow water fixtures. The construction of the stores uses approximately 20 percent recycled materials, including low-VOC paints, carpet and sealants. And about 50 to 75 percent of construction waste is diverted from landfills.


3: Pfizer

Pfizer has upgraded and renovated many of its facilities.
Dario Cantatore/Getty Images

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer doesn't have a sterling reputation when it comes to pollution and environmental responsibility. But in the past several years, Pfizer has made a commitment to sustainability and green construction. In fact, it's established a Green Buildings Program, making strides in renovating existing construction.

For instance, when Pfizer was renovating a facility in Groton, Conn., the company installed a photovoltaic solar panel system to provide 58 megawatt hours of energy each year. The renovation also included upgrading insulation and lighting. The waste from the renovation was mostly recycled.


When Pfizer converted a warehouse in Ecuador into office space for the company, the company employed green building principles, including skylights and low-flow water fixtures. A solar panel system also heats the building's water. Another example comes from their renovation of a building in Freilburg, Germany, that was more than half a century old. Pfizer incorporated a geothermal energy system for cooling and heating, in addition to revamping the windows to maximize daylight.

2: Starbucks

The famous chain of coffeehouses, Starbucks, boasts about its sustainable practices. In addition to fair trade policies, recycling efforts and 10-cent discount for customers with reusable cups, it's also committed to green construction.

After joining the U.S. Green Building Council as early as the year 2000, Starbucks opened a LEED-certified store in 2005 in Oregon. Since then, the company has continued to open locations using green design and construction. Stores include high-blast nozzles for water-efficient cleaning, as well as low-flow water fixtures. The cabinets consist largely of post-industrial material. Even the floor tiles in some locations are made from recycled material. The construction also incorporates efficient lighting, low VOC paint and FSC-certified wood. Certain locations, such as the Paris Disney location, employ inventive ideas, like using countertop material made of recycled mobile-phone parts.


1: Google

Google offers its employees free bicycles.
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The Internet powerhouse synonymous with Web search is also known for having an impressive corporate headquarters known as the "Googleplex," located in Mountain View, Calif. In June 2007, the company completed its installation of solar panels on the headquarter's campus, with a capacity of 1.6 megawatts and using more than 9,000 solar panels, which provide 30 percent of the facility's electricity needs. And talk about locally produced food -- the café in the Googleplex often takes from the on-campus vegetable garden. These, in addition to numerous other green features, are why the Googleplex achieved Platinum LEED certification, the highest available.

Google's other offices around the world are no exception, as the company has 10 other LEED-certified facilities. Google pursues a healthy environment with low VOC-emitting paints, carpets and sealants, and seeks energy efficiency with Energy Star-rated equipment. Their Hyderabad, India, and Sydney, Australia, locations also have wastewater treatment systems onsite.

For lots more information on green initiatives, see the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

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