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InsulStar Chosen as a Top Ten Green Product 04/30/09

What are Vendors Doing to Help Libraries GO GREEN? a lot

(Courtesy of Wanda Urbanska)

Six years ago, Joe Frueh, director of sales at the premium institutional furniture manufacturer Agati, started getting questions from library clients and designers about the green properties of his products. “It used to be the odd question,” he says—the occasional query about how or where a product was made. Today such information is “a regular part of the discussion.” However, in the not-too-distant-future—maybe 15 years from now—Frueh expects this line of questioning to go away entirely. Sustainable, eco-friendly products are “just going to become the norm,” he says.

Likewise, Coleen Gagliardo, vice president of marketing for the library supplier Gaylord Brothers, projects “tremendous growth” in the green segment of her business, which is fast-growing but accounts for just a fraction of the overall pie. To that end, in 2007, Gaylord assigned a product manager to become the company’s resident “green expert”—the person who stays current on rules and regulations and helps guide company purchasing decisions. “Green products still carry a price premium,” Gagliardo notes. “But as we build up volume, those prices will go down.”

So while green products are rapidly becoming the new "gold standard" of American building, furnishing, interiors and design, significant challenges exist for most everyone on the ground who makes purchasing decisions—especially in today’s straitened economy when public dollars are often stretched to the limit and going green can carry an initial price premium of 20% to 80% above a conventionally produced equivalent.

Libraries lead the way

Despite the cost differential, many believe that it is incumbent upon libraries to show leadership with environmental innovation and education, serving in their traditional role as beacons of the community. "Libraries are the most visible and accessible of all public buildings," says William W. Sannwald, author of Checklist of Library Building Design Considerations (ALA Editions), the 2008 edition of which contains substantial material on green design. Libraries, he says, "need to take a lead in not only exhibiting and explaining green design techniques," but in practicing sustainable design in the built environment.

"What differentiates a green library from a conventionally built library is that it’s been designed and built from a systems perspective," says David Johnston, a green building consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. That means that "the building is designed to minimize fossil-fuel dependency so that it maintains the temperature and humidity to protect the collections and provide comfort for the occupants."

LEED certification standards for new public buildings and major renovation projects have set the bar for institutional construction. Forward-thinking municipalities, such as Houston, San Francisco, and San Jose to name a few, are pushing the envelope by mandating LEED as the standard for major new projects. But even without government mandates, clients have come to expect green buildings.

Furnishing, fixtures and interiors

"Our clients are requesting that we get LEED certified or LEED silver certified," says Mark Schatz, principal with Field Paoli Architects in San Francisco. Green design, he says, "has become part of the vocabulary that architects have to have." Features that help build that vocabulary into a coherent building plan—and accumulate the all-important points to achieve LEED certification—include windows with low-emissivity glass, high-performance insulation, recycled and recyclable flooring materials and wall coverings, mechanical equipment with economizer cycles and water-conserving plumbing fixtures.

On the question of ventilation, for instance, Schatz has seen what he calls "a sea change" in thinking over the last decade. In the recent past, he says, "people were afraid of operable windows. Concerns about security overrode concerns about sustainability." But, he predicts, operational windows will not be optional for much longer as future building codes will be written to incorporate strict energy standards that specify such features.

In Norfolk, Virginia, planning is now under way for the construction of a $50 million public library complex that will be "as energy-efficient as possible, following LEED guidelines," according to Troy Valos, assistant archivist for special collections at the Norfolk Main Library. Valos is working with library director Norman Maas and a team from the city to ensure that the new Slover Main Library—slated to break ground in 2010, with a projected completion two to three years later—will be as green as possible.

"Our goal is to become the most technologically advanced library in the country," Valos says. Among the many unique features of the project is the incorporation of an 1899 neoclassical former post office and federal court building—the former Seaboard Building, which currently serves as the central library—into the complex. (The new and existing structures will be connected by a recessed glass atrium and courtyard.) What’s more, a new planned light rail line feeding into downtown, with a station to be located directly across from the library complex, will create multiple synergies, not the least of which is increased foot traffic. "We see this library as becoming the nexus for the entire community," says Valos.

The Norfolk team has before them the heady— albeit nerve-wracking—job not only of making wise design decisions, but of selecting appropriate furnishings, fixtures, and finishes for the new complex. To supplement advice from architects and designers, many procurement professionals refer to such websites as www.buildinggreen.com and www.greendepot.com, for product information and screening. David Johnston’s newly launched website, www.greenbuilding.com, which is slanted toward residential construction, offers a primer for those wanting to learn the green basics.

Increasingly, companies themselves have begun providing those green basics to customers. Gaylord Bros, for instance, has set up a webpage called "Everyday Green" providing detailed product information. Jodi Accumanno, the company’s product and catalog manager, who oversees the green lines, says the company scrutinizes vendor claims before taking on new products that are billed as green.

Built to last

Both Agati and Gaylord Brothers offer built-to-last lines of furniture, which are never the least-expensive short- term option but offer "life-cycle" savings. "We call it legacy furniture and warranty it for 10 years," says Joe Frueh. In 2008, Agati switched to water-based top coats on the furniture to further reduce the output of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in its products’ finishes. However, Frueh says, "the greenest thing about Agati is that we make everything in the USA." The company’s furniture is milled and manufactured in upstate New York, which provides multiple benefits include reducing the carbon cost of shipping product from overseas. In the past, says Accumanno, customers "used to shy away from the eco-friendly concept." But today she finds it exciting to see "how designers have embraced green products," making ones that appeal to almost everyone.

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