If the world of commercial Realtors and construction developers in the Tristate were to raise a collective flag above their ranks these days, the color of that flag would surely have to be green.

Green, as in money and increased revenues, to be sure. The local development scene is as healthy as it's ever been. But also green, as in the environment.

"The market itself has been very strong, perhaps at historic rates over the past two or three years," comments Peter S. Strange, chairman of Messer construction company. "We haven't had a true mega project since the stadium, but the flow is still at dynamic levels."

As the construction market soars, so does the concern for saving on energy costs. Two buzzwords that dominate the industry right now are "green" and "sustainable," explains Messer Vice President Mark S. Luegering. "We're not at the level of global warming in the construction community, but we are engaged in constructing buildings that run efficiently."

Specifically, these are what the industry calls "green buildings." More owners and developers are looking to incorporate energy-saving aspects into their architectural plans, and not because they've suddenly turned into tree-huggers. The numbers show it just makes good economic sense: Over the lifespan of a building, design and construction will account for 10 percent of a given facility's cost, while operations and maintenance will account for 80 percent.

"There's a huge initative here about going green," notes Kenneth M. Murawski, managing director of CB Richard Ellis brokerage services. "It has really taken hold with corporate America, and many companies will now only go into green buildings."

WHAT'S BEHIND THE TREND

It's all about saving money, not pimping for Al Gore. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, commercial buildings account for 37 percent of all energy used in America, 40 percent of all pollution, 68 percent of all electricity, and 88 percent of potable water supplies.
Green buildings implement smart technology and environmental enhancements such as reflective roofs and improved ventilation techniques to lower utility bills while reducing cleaning and maintenance costs. A positive public image, lower insurance costs and qualification for tax rebates and zoning allowances are just added benefits of building to what's called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

The U.S. Green Building Council is the objective third-party that issues LEED certificates, and the rating system has become the accepted benchmark in the industry to obtain green building status (and accompanying tax breaks).

"Green buildings are definitely going mainstream," notes Greg Hutzel, chair of the Cincinnati chapter of the Green Building Council and an architect with BHDP Architecture downtown. "Just in our office here, we have seen an increase in clients who want to achieve LEED certification or, at the least, who want to use LEED as a guiding template."

Companies such as Melink Corporation­"”manufacturers of hood control ventilation systems used to reduce energy loss in restaurants and hotels­"”are finding LEED certification the way to go. The Melink headquarters includes closed-loop water circuits, geothermal heating and cooling systems with pumps, carbon dioxide and light-level sensors, dual flush toilets and no-water urinals, faucets with infra-red sensors and solar power, according to Steve Melink, the founder of the Union Township firm.

ECOLOGY OF OFFICE SPACE

Over in the commercial real estate world, executives at CB Richard Ellis point to Keystone Parke as a stellar example of LEED Class A office space. Marketed under the catchphrase "Green Surroundings, Green Opportunity," the complex includes green roofs, energy-efficient glass windows, parabolic lighting, water source heat pumps and state-of-the-art monitoring systems. In addition, all paints, carpets and sealings are low in volatile organic compounds, which improves indoor air quality, which can in turn lead to reduced sick days.

"Green is the only way new buildings are going to be built," predicts William A. Schneller, vice president for office properties. "It's the same as in 1955 and 1956, when air conditioning became required. If you didn't have AC, then you were functionally obsolete. Going forward from now, if you're building buildings that aren't green, you are functionally obsolete."

Three buildings on the Keystone Parke campus at I-71 and Dana Avenue in Norwood will offer 460,000 square feet of space­"”the first building is to be completed this fall. Neyer Properties is the developer, PDT the architecture firm. "Dan Neyer, the owner, is committed to building green buildings," observes Murawski.

"This phenomena is in its infancy," Schneller adds. "Within two years, every company in Cincinnati will be looking for this kind of [green] building for its long-term usage plan."
 
ANIMAL PLANET

Even non-profits are getting in the LEED spirit.

Take the Cincinnati Zo'™s new Harold C. Schott Education Center, an $8.4-million showpiece built to LEED standards that includes a 4,500-square-foot Discovery Forest tropical habitat and three-story circular atrium as well as classrooms and offices. Turner Construction Co. teamed with the Glaserworks architecture firm to build the facility, which features window, heating, fan and fog systems tied to the building's automated controls to reduce heating and cooling costs. Waterless urinals and low-flow plumbing fixtures reduce water consumption, as well. And a large photovoltaic solar panel helps provide power to the building.

"This facility is about the future," says David Jenike, vice president of education and facilities at the zoo. "It is about sharing the wonder and joy of nature with generations to come. The use of sustainable design in the construction of the center reflects our conservation mission, as well."

Beyond striving for LEED certification status, construction firms are also finding new ways to recycle on site.
"Three or four years ago, we helped start the first construction recycling program," explains Messer's Strange of the Worker Resource Center's "Building Value" program, yet another signal that the construction community cares about the environment. "Instead of staying in the habit of tearing something down and throwing it in a dumpster, we give these people a call and they come in" to salvage materials.