Employees heading to the cafeteria in USG's new headquarters in Chicago are waking up to something besides a shot of caffeine in their morning coffee. As their organic java is served in eco-friendly, soy-based cups and they mix in their cream and sugar using recyclable “spudware” utensils derived from potatoes, they start realizing just how thoroughly ingrained sustainability is within their workplace. It's those smallest of green details combined with more significant environmental elements that should earn the office LEED-CI Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Nearly 1,000 employees moved into the 300,000-sf office in March, occupying 11 of the 18 floors of a new steel and glass high-rise (with partially vegetated roof) in Chicago's revitalized West Loop. The project involved a Building Team of home-grown talent, including Chicago firms De Stefano+Partners (building design), The Environments Group (commercial interior architect), and Pepper Construction (interior contractor).
The Building Team's mandate was to create an office that maximized occupant comfort and minimized environmental impact, all for a lower cost per square foot than in USG's previous headquarters. Among the project's successes were reduction in energy use (by 30%), water use (by 25%), and total square footage and footprint per occupant (by 10% ). This was achieved with a mostly open-space floor plan that's quieter and more comfortable than in the company's former closed-office arrangement.
Naturally, USG used some of its own building products (many of which were manufactured regionally), including Sheetrock-brand gypsum panels, which are low in embodied energy. USG's Halcyon and Mars ceiling panels were used to absorb and dampen sound (along with a sound-masking system) to help quiet the open-space environment. The panels also reflect natural light throughout the entire office, providing daylight to 100% of employees, 97% of whom also have outside views. Cubical walls are kept low and private offices have abundant glass to further open views and capture light.
Many of the other products used throughout the office have high recycled content and are low in VOCs. Nearly all office equipment bears the Energy Star logo. Low-flow plumbing fixtures account for reduced water usage. And of course, there are those earthy coffee cups and utensils raising eyebrows—and awareness—in the cafeteria.