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Next-generation green industrial buildings

Three breakthrough projects provide a glimpse into the future of green industrial facilities.

November 01, 2008 |
The planned $26 million, 162,500-sf joint headquarters and distribution facility for Testa Produce Inc. and JAB Produce Co. in Chicago is designed to be one of the greenest industrial buildings in the nation. 

If there was one building sector that had the most to gain from the green building movement, it might just be the industrial market. Industrial buildings, particularly manufacturing plants and warehouses for perishable goods, are heavy-duty users of energy and precious land. These facilities often operate 24/7/365 and house hundreds, even thousands, of employees performing repetitive tasks under less than desirable conditions. In some cases, the equipment in these facilities consumes vast amounts of water and energy, generates tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and exhausts noxious fumes.

Despite the potential to increase operating efficiencies and reduce costs, downsize their environmental footprint, and improve employee satisfaction and performance, the industrial sector has been slow to catch on to the green building movement. Of the 14,911 projects registered with USGBC’s LEED green building rating program, a mere 155 are classified as industrial buildings, representing just 1% of all LEED projects. And only a handful of those projects are actual manufacturing plants or so-called “perishable” warehouse and distribution facilities.

However, a small but growing number of industrial companies are starting to realize the benefits and operational savings that can be gained by implementing sustainable design, construction, and operation practices. These firms are employing industrial-strength green approaches that go beyond replacing inefficient light fixtures and recycling waste. They’re rethinking every aspect of their facilities and operations with an eye toward sustainability.

To consider the possibilities for greening the next generation of industrial buildings, we look at three projects that represent the three largest sectors of the industrial buildings market—perishable warehouse/distribution centers, dry warehouse/distribution centers, and manufacturing plants.
Perishable warehouse/distribution center
The the Testa/JAB headquarters and distribution facility incorporates dozens of cutting-edge green technologies. A. Biodiesel tanks for fleet fuel B. 67,000-sf vegetative roof C. Rooftop solar arrays for domestic hot water D. Vertical green screens for shading E. Permeable paver sidewalks made of “smog-eating” photocatalytic cement F. 400 kW wind turbine, supplying 6-8% of the building’s total annual energy use G. Bioswales collect and filter rainwater runoff H. Runoff drains from bioswales into a detention pond I. LED canopy fixtures for parking lot illumination

Testa/JAB Headquarters

Chicago, Ill.

Peter Testa and Steve Serck often refer to themselves as “two guys building a warehouse.” Spend a few minutes with the long-time friends and business associates, though, and you’ll quickly realize that the description is just a modest spin for what they really have in store for the Chicago wholesale produce industry.

Testa, a third-generation produce distributor, and Serck, 18 years in the biz and following in his grandfather’s footsteps, are teaming up to build a perishable warehouse facility on Chicago’s Southwest side that will look and function like no other such facility in the U.S. If the 165-foot-tall wind turbine at the front entrance doesn’t hint at Testa and Serck’s bold intentions, then the facility’s distinctive sloped green roof and parking-lot PV array most definitely will.

“Customers and visitors will know immediately that this is not your typical warehouse,” said Testa in an exclusive interview with Building Design+Construction, referring to the planned 162,500-sf, $26 million joint headquarters and distribution facility for Testa Produce Inc. and JAB Produce Co. If all goes as planned, the facility will open in the first quarter of 2010 with enough sustainable credits to achieve LEED Platinum status—a first for a perishable warehouse facility. “We want our clients and customers to think that JAB and Testa are forward-thinking entities that they should be doing business with,” said Testa.

At a time when most industrial companies struggle to justify the cost of simply switching out energy-gobbling metal halides for high-efficiency fluorescent fixtures, Testa and Serck are investing heavily in numerous green technologies and sustainable practices in an effort to set a new standard for industrial buildings and separate their companies from the competition. The new facility will not only provide much-needed warehouse space for planned growth and a healthy work environment for their employees, it will also serve as a vital marketing tool in an industry that is swiftly moving to more sustainable practices and products.

“The agricultural industry was at the grassroots of the whole sustainability movement, when farmers started organic growing 20 to 30 years ago,” said Serck, president of JAB Produce, which will occupy about a third of the new space. “Today, many of our clients, whether they be grocery stores, restaurants, or hotels, want these products and want to do business with a vendor that is environmentally conscious. We’re looking to take that mindset to the next level.”

The Testa/JAB facility will be one of the first industrial facilities in the country to use LED fixtures exclusively to illuminate the warehouse and refrigerated spaces, providing 50% energy savings over conventional metal halide high-bay fixtures. Because high-bay LED fixtures are not yet commercially available, the design team is adapting an LED fixture made for exterior applications (Beta LED’s Edge canopy fixture) for general illumination of the freezer, cooler, and dock spaces. The configuration places 10 LED luminaires per freezer/cooler aisle and will provide an average horizontal illumination of 23 foot candles, which is on par with the output from a standard T5 fluorescent fixture design, according to Kali Wildey, lighting engineer with the project’s architect Epstein, Chicago. “Plus, using LED reduces the potential for food contamination because it contains no mercury, unlike fluorescent,” says Wildey.

The same LED fixtures will be used for exterior building and parking lot illumination, as well as in the office space for accent, decorative, and individual task lighting (T5s and T8s, in conjunction with solar-tracking skylights, will provide office ambient lighting).

Nearly all of the office heating and cooling needs will be provided by a ground-source heat pump system comprised of 25 wells, each 650 feet deep, bored beneath the parking lot, where a temperature of 50-55°F is maintained year-round. Fluid pumped in and out of the wells takes on this moderate temperature, resulting in less energy required to raise the fluid temperature for heating or to lower the temperature for cooling.

The facility’s 67,000-sf intensive green roof will help insulate the cold warehouse space from the sun, reduce urban heat island effect, and minimize stormwater runoff. Most of the rain water that does run off the rooftop will be collected in cisterns and harvested for flushing the facility’s low-flow urinals and dual-flush toilets. The remaining rain water will spill over the sloped portion of the green roof, down a vertical green screen of climbing plants into a rain garden, where plants, gravel, and soil with naturally filter the water.

Run-off from the parking areas and driveways will be collected and filtered in bioswales that surround the property and then drained to a detention pond. The facility will drain no run-off into the city’s storm-sewer system. These water conservation measures, along with the use of low-flow faucets and showerheads and native landscaping, will reduce water consumption by 78%.

The building’s exterior aesthetic, with its distinctive striped, sloped green rooftop, grape-vine-covered green screens, and brick pavers in the parking lot, will visually express the movement of rain water, says Rael Slutsky, VP and principal designer with Epstein. “Our clients had a conviction to create a building that was the ultimate in sustainability, and our goal was to deliver a facility that captured that vision,” says Slutsky. “Our design solution is a building that represents itself as a visual diagram of its major sustainable components.”

Other sustainable energy devices are prominently displayed. The massive, 400 kW wind turbine—the tallest in the Windy City—is sited in front of the building where its image will be reflected in the pond. Nearby, an array of photovoltaic “trees” will be planted prominently for all to see—and use, if they want to recharge their electric vehicles.

“Employees and visitors will even pass under a living green screen to enter Testa’s main lobby,” says Slutsky. “Visitors will be engaged with the green features.”

Every little detail of the project, down to the “smog-eating” photocatalytic cement pavers specified for the sidewalks and the salvaged steel members that will support the parking lot PV array, is being scrutinized with an eye toward sustainability.

“Just about every major sustainable technology that’s out there is going to be used in some form in this building,” says Walter Nelson, VP and project manager with Epstein. “It’s going to be a showplace for sustainability.”
Dry warehouse/distribution center
Hunter Industries’ LEED Gold distribution center incorporates an aggressive daylighting scheme that eliminates daytime electrical lighting use. A. White packaging within the racking system, white painted walls, and white-faced insulation help reflect all available daylight. B. 4x8-foot,

triple-glazed daylight harvesting units have integrated T5 fluorescent fixtures and light and motion sensors that turn off or dim the electrical lights based on the activity within the space and the daylight levels.
Hunter Industries Headquarters

San Marcos, Calif. 

As a manufacturer of landscape irrigation equipment for the residential, commercial, and golf course industries, Hunter Industries is well aware of the growing demand for more-efficient and sustainable systems and technologies. The company is constantly tinkering with its irrigation technology and launching smarter controllers, sensors, and sprinklers to reduce water consumption.
  The Hunter facility’s rooftop is covered with 140 photovoltaic arrays that provide nearly 190 kW of power annually (top). The PV units are integrated with the daylight harvesting units (above), eliminating the need for thousands of rooftop penetrations—a major source of leaks.
  A green screen along the south façade of the Hunter facility will support plant life to help reduce solar heat gain and minimize the scale of the building. The wave-like design adds architectural interest to the expansive exterior wall.
  Palm trees surround the Hunter facility's entrance.

Naturally, Hunter looked to apply the latest approaches in sustainable design and construction when developing its new headquarters and distribution facility in San Marcos, Calif. The 139,000-sf, LEED Gold facility, designed by San Diego-based Smith Consulting Architects, incorporates a number of cutting-edge sustainable industrial approaches and serves as a good example of how to green a dry warehouse facility.

Because lighting is typically the largest energy consumer in dry warehouse and distribution applications, daylight harvesting is an attractive solution for companies looking to reduce ongoing operation expenses and improve the work environment. At Hunter’s 95,000-sf distribution component, natural light provides 100% of the daytime lighting needs for the entire facility.

Even the deep, narrow aisles between the center’s 32-foot-tall storage racks get plenty of daylight, eliminating the need for electrical lighting during daytime hours, according to Gary Baker, LEED AP, VP of design services with Smith Consulting Architects. “The high-quality, spectrally correct, natural lighting deep in the warehouse space not only saves an enormous amount of energy in electric lighting, but also reduces eye strain and creates a safer warehouse environment for Hunter’s employees,” says Baker.

At the heart of the daylighting scheme are 162 triple-glazed daylight harvesting units with integrated T5 fluorescent fixtures and light and motion sensors that turn off or dim the electrical lights based on the activity within the space and the daylight level. The 4x8-foot units, supplied by Daylight Technology, San Diego, provide diffused, natural light and virtually eliminate solar heat gain. Each unit is designed to illuminate approximately 1,200 sf of interior space to 50 foot candles at a ceiling level of 30 feet. Because the Hunter facility has much higher ceilings (48 feet) and a dense rack environment, the team had to virtually double up on the number of units.

“To get the ideal natural light levels deep within the warehouse aisles we had to align the daylight harvesting units along the rows and increase the density of the units,” says Baker. “It was a substantial investment by the company, but the payback for the daylighting is just two years. That’s great, considering Hunter owns the building and will occupy it for years and years.”

Hunter has even committed to using white packaging within the racking system to help reflect all available daylight. White-faced insulation at the warehouse ceiling and white painted walls also play a key role in maintaining a bright environment. “Good daylighting involves many individual components,” says Baker.

To cool the warehouse space, the building relies on natural ventilation. Intake fans on the north side of the building push cool air into the warehouse space and through the open racking aisles. As the air moves through the aisles it warms and naturally rises, making its way to the south side of the building, where it is exhausted through the roof. This natural ventilation system maintains a temperate environment without the need for a costly air-conditioning system.

Hunter wanted to utilize every square inch of available warehouse rooftop space for solar harvesting, but such a large-scale installation was found to be cost prohibitive. The solution: install a private system to provide supplemental power for the facility and lease the remaining rooftop space to San Diego Gas & Electric for use as micro PV power plant.

In all, 140 PV arrays cover the rooftop, providing nearly 190 kW of power annually. Hunter owns and operates an 84 kW system, which provides 100% of the electricity to support the lighting needs for the office space, saving the company $35,000 annually and resulting in a payback period of just five years. SDG&E owns and operates a second 102 kW system that routes the renewable energy through the Hunter facility and back to the power grid for use by the local community.

Baker says the utility lease approach is a great solution for industrial companies that want to do the right thing but cannot afford costly solar harvesting technology. “There are millions and millions of square feet of unused industrial rooftops that could generate unlimited megawatts of renewable energy,” says Baker. “It’s a win-win. The utility gets affordable and secure real estate on which to install solar panels, and the building owner gets a few bucks back.”

While the leaseback rate is marginal ($4,000-5,000 annually), Hunter was able to realize cost savings in volume PV purchasing and installation, since it was installed by the same contractor. “It’s also a feel-good for the company,” says Baker.

Manufacturing plant
The LEED-registered National Alabama Corp. railcar manufacturing plant in northwest Alabama will have a number of green features. A. Highly reflective roof membrane B. 2,000-foot-long roof monitor for maximizing daylight C. 100% natural ventilation D. Rainwater harvesting for irrigation

National Alabama Corp. railcar manufacturing plant 

The Shoals, Ala.

From an environmental perspective, it’s not easy to tread lightly when building a manufacturing plant that spans nearly a mile and takes up two million sf of heavy industrial space. That’s just what a Building Team is attempting in the Shoals region of northwest Alabama, where Canadian railcar manufacturer National Steel Car Ltd. is building a $350 million plant for its newly formed subsidiary, National Alabama Corp. When operating at capacity, National Alabama Corp. will have a production rate of 8,000-10,000 cars per year, or about 40 cars a day, and will employ 1,400-1,600 workers.

The LEED-registered facility, designed by the Albert Kahn Family of Companies, Detroit, in collaboration with process engineering partner CKGP/PW and Associates, Troy, Mich., will not only improve the railcar manufacturing process, but also minimize impact on the surrounding landscape, reduce water and energy consumption, and provide a healthy work environment for employees.

The Building Team’s plan centers around creating the most optimal layout and operational flow for the manufacture of railcars.

“We’d gone through a number of iterations, but ultimately we came back to what we already knew but wanted to reinforce in a systematic way,” says Peter Lynde, PE, LEED AP, Kahn’s director of research and technology and principal on the project, which is being constructed by a joint venture between W.G. Yates, Jackson, Miss., and Walbridge, Detroit. “The most efficient way to manufacture a rail car is in a long linear process, because rail cars don’t turn that easily. It’s that simple.”

The resulting configuration is a long, narrow facility that spans about 4,200 feet on a 668-acre site. The facility is divided into three separate operations—fabrication, construction, and finishing—each with dedicated locker rooms and food service facilities to avoid having employees walk up to half a mile to their workstations.

The design team took advantage of this slender configuration to engineer a natural ventilation system that relies on 100% outside air.

“Many large industrial facilities today are air conditioned, or at least partially cooled,” says Lynde. “That’s an enormous capital and operating expense when you’re cooling two million square feet of plant. We’re using techniques that allow for the natural buoyancy of heated air to be displaced by fresh air entering through louvers at a low level on opposite sides of the building and exiting through louvers and roof-mounted exhaust fans at the high point of the building.”

Motorized dampers, controlled by a building management system, will automatically open to increase natural air flow during warm weather and close to prevent air infiltration during cold weather. This natural approach will reduce ventilation system annual operating costs by 70% over a tempered air-conditioning system and save 4.5 million kWh of annual electrical use.

Lynde says the application of natural ventilation to a manufacturing plant of this size would not be possible with a standard box-shape plant, especially in hot and humid Alabama. “This technique is most effective for plants that are long and narrow, where you can have louvers along both sides of the plant and relatively short distances to the high points of relief,” he says.

The plant’s north-south orientation enhances the effectiveness of natural ventilation by facing the narrow portion of the building toward the hot southern exposure, minimizing solar heat gain, and the wide portion toward the prevailing breeze, optimizing the natural air flow.

The narrow building configuration also benefits the project by allowing daylight to reach the deepest areas of the plant. A 2,000-foot-long daylight monitor runs the length of the roof over the construction area in the central portion of the plant. The monitor will provide abundant indirect daylight in those places where most of the employees work. Additional daylight will be captured by tinted windows on the south and west façades.

Integrated lighting controls and light sensors will automatically dim or shut off the high-bay electric light fixtures based on daylight levels. Lynde says the team considered skylights but ultimately chose the monitor approach because it could meet both the daylighting and natural ventilation goals (fans and louvers are incorporated into the monitor).

“We’re reinventing a pioneering design from our founder, Albert Kahn, who partnered with Henry Ford to build the first automotive production plants,” says Lynde. “In a plant of 100 years ago, you would have had a glass monitor with operable windows providing both natural light and ventilation.”

Of course, there have been improvements to Kahn’s time-tested approach to efficient plant design. For instance, the team is implementing advanced fume-collection technology that will minimize noxious fumes in the facility. The approach replaces traditional truss-level, centralized air cleaners with smaller unitary systems.

“The railcar fabrication and assembly process is extremely weld-intensive, and can release quite a bit of fumes into the air,” says Lynde. The unitary approach involves placing welding fume collection at the weld station, where the fumes have a much better chance of being collected. The air is captured, filtered, and then returned to the plant clean.

Proven strategies for greening industrial buildings

Short-term payback (five years or less)

•  High-efficiency light fixtures (T5s, T8s, or LEDs)

• Daylight harvesting with skylights, clerestories, and motion/light controls

• Highly reflective roof membrane

• Natural ventilation

• Peak-shaving strategies for building and process equipment

• Increase R-value of building envelope (insulation, enhanced wall assemblies)

• Advanced energy management and control of refrigeration/freezer systems

• Design vestibules for high-traffic exterior doors (not dock doors) to minimize loss of conditioned air (for perishable warehouse applications)

Long-term payback (more than five years)

• Rooftop solar harvesting for power, heat, or domestic hot water

• Rainwater harvesting for irrigation or flush water

• Vegetative roof

• Low- or no-flow plumbing fixtures

• Heat/cold capture from process water for use in building HVAC systems

• Geothermal wells to heat/cool office and lobby space

• Geothermal wells to heat/cool water for process applications

• Ice storage system coupled to refrigeration system for office air conditioning (for perishable warehouse applications)

No cost payback, intangible benefits

• Rooftop space leased to local utility for solar installation

• Driver waiting area with amenities to reduce truck idling

• Designated break areas with outdoor access for employees

• Enhanced ventilation/fume collection systems

Australia develops green rating tool for industrial facilities

Last month, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) launched the pilot phase for its Green Star Industrial program—the world’s first green building rating tool designed specifically for the industrial facility sector.

The new program is based on GBCA’s Green Star green building rating tool and includes many of the standard credits in the base program, in addition to a dozen or so sector-specific credits, including:

Designated smoke-free break areas for employees. One credit is awarded for projects that incorporate a designated no-smoking break area. The space must be at least 430 sf and include indoor and outdoor components. The outdoor space must be 30% landscaped and provide sun and wind screens.

Close proximity to major cargo transport services. Up to two points are awarded for projects that are within six miles of a major cargo service—including airports, seaports, railway stations, or rail yards—and within three miles of a major freeway entrance/exit.

Natural ventilation to counteract build-up of indoor pollutants. Up to three credits are available for projects that include naturally ventilated spaces or mechanically assisted naturally ventilated spaces at rates greater than the national standard for mechanical ventilation. Additional credits can be attained by implementing enhanced ventilation approaches in indoor dock loading bays and garages.

Reduced industrial process water use. Up to five points are available for projects that reduce discharge into the municipal sewer system based on an average-practice benchmark through approaches like black water treatment.

Minimal noise pollution. One credit is awarded for projects that minimize noise penetration through the building envelope.

The tool also includes benchmark calculators for energy consumption, public transportation, potable water use, sewage use, land use, and landscaping. Each project must meet minimum conditions for each of these components.

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