Green buildings make employees see red

Employees have to make a lot of changes in order to work in a green building

Forget about having your own printer, coffee pot or a mini-refrigerator in your office. Heck, you can forget about having your own office, too, because you'll probably get assigned a modular desk in a big, open space.

That's what it's like to work in a green data center. IT workers are finding that they have to make sacrifices for the greater good of cutting back on energy usage in these facilities.

Operators of the nation's greenest data centers say it takes time for employees to get used to working in environmentally friendly ways.

"It takes a lot of marketing and education" to get employees used to working in a green building, says Chris Long, director of health, safety and sustainable development at the Environmental Protection Agency's facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

"We have a very highly educated workforce, and what we found is that when people do have the data, it makes a difference," Long says. "They find out that it makes a difference if they turn off their computer screen when they are out of the office. Some of us even have motion strips that turn off our computers when we leave the room."

Most green buildings don't look like typical office buildings. They often have stark, modernistic designs and are made of Space Age materials.

That's what employees discovered at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md., which opened in June. NSOF recently earned a coveted gold certification through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

"There's not a lot of color in the finish of the building. We asked the architect to give us a high-tech feel, and it feels very industrial. But employees would like more color," says Paul Pegnato, project manager for NSOF.

NSOF is unusual because it has a "green" roof, with soil and plantings on top of the building. Most green buildings have drought-resistant plants rather than a conventional lawn.

"Our landscaping is 80% to 90% natural wildflowers and native plantings. People don't drive up and see this beautiful green lawn that's associated with an office building," Pegnato says. "But by using natural plantings, we're able to reduce fertilizers running off into the Chesapeake Bay. And we're reducing the amount of mowing required, which reduces noise pollution and fuel usage."

Inside, green office buildings are typically large open spaces with mountable wall systems and modular furniture. That requires a culture shift for employees used to having their own offices.

"We use a lot of open space," Pegnato says. "Employees that came from private offices or had two or three people in an office now have to work in a large space. It's been a little hard for them to get used to that."

The Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA) has taken the same approach with its new data center at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb.

"Every floor has a large open area, where all the office space is configured with furniture, kind of like a Dilbert cubical," says Lt. Col Ron Dunic, chief of headquarters transition programs for AFWA.

Another difference is that green buildings typically don't have electric outlets in the walls. Instead, they use in-floor boxes to provide power and data communications.

"These in-floor boxes can be picked up and moved fairly easily," says Bruce McCauley, chief of construction management at Offutt Air Force Base. "This makes it easier for us to reorganize the office space in the future by just moving the re-mountable partitions."

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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