Wow … who knew?

Jeff vonKaenel

We’ve been in our green building on Del Paso Boulevard
for one day as I write this column. Wow, who knew how cool going
“green” could be? Now I realize what the people at SMUD
were trying to tell us.

When I say “us,” I mean myself and News & Review
director of nuts and bolts, Deborah Redmond. She managed our building
project while juggling her day job working with our business, design,
human resources and IT departments. Deborah says her title is fitting,
because she works on the operational parts of the newspaper. Or could
it be that the director of nuts and bolts is the correct title for
someone who has been married to me for 26 years?

But I digress. I was talking about the people at SMUD. Deborah and I
wanted to get a better idea of how to convert a broken-down old
supermarket into an energy-efficient green office for our staff. We had
done a lot of reading about green buildings. The problem was that we
had too many ideas, and no clue about which ones would make sense.

SMUD’s Savings by Design Program is available to help business
owners in this exact situation. Stephen Oliver, manager of the Savings
by Design Program, told us that we’d made a good decision by
coming to see them at the beginning of the planning process.

Brian Sehnert, an architect at SMUD, walked us through the LEED
(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) checklist. Even though
we eventually chose not to certify our building, that checklist was an
incredibly valuable guide. As a result, we added a shower to our
building to encourage bicycle riding. We included water-saving
dual-flush toilets and a waterless urinal. We recycled much of our
construction waste and used recycled materials in parts of the
building. And we chose energy-efficient heating, cooling and lighting

Jim Parks and Dave Bisbee of SMUD introduced us to some innovative
lighting technology. As a result, we have lower levels of lighting in
our building. We incorporated solar tubes and provided task lights at
the desktop. We also have LED lights in our parking lot.

Jim Barnett, SMUD’s photovoltaic program manager, strongly
encouraged us to incorporate skylights in our new building, and advised
us on where to put them. He gave us the idea of replacing the garbage
cans under our desks with recycling cans.

Barnett said something that really stuck with me. He said that
energy saving, while important, is not the most important reason to do
a green building. He explained that while energy costs are a small
percentage of most companies’ total costs, the big advantage is
employee morale. Green buildings encourage both productivity and
attendance. Employees just seem to feel better in green buildings. And
after one day in our building, I’m starting to see what he was
taking about.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.