July 30, 2006
By Petra Breyerova
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The recent boom in construction of "green" buildings has pushed St. Louis into the nation's top 10 cities with the highest number of green developments.
Green buildings, broadly defined, are designed to minimize the impact on the environment by conserving water, timber, energy and other resources. And with rocketing energy costs and increasing efforts to reduce global warming, experts says construction of these buildings will continue to grow locally.
Although the greatest activity in green buildings development traditionally takes place on the coasts, the movement has swept St. Louis in the last year, said Punit Jain, who chairs the St. Louis chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.
In 2000 the council, a nonprofit group that promotes the industry, introduced a national rating system for green buildings called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In the U.S. there were 515 LEED-certified buildings as of July 24.
With nine LEED-certified buildings, St. Louis ranks seventh on the list, according to the council's June survey. In 2004 there was one certified building in the St. Louis area.
To receive the LEED certification, green projects must be first registered with the Green Building Council. A building can be certified only after it is completed and meets all required criteria. It's estimated that between 75 percent and 90 percent of registered projects eventually get certified, Jain said.
In July there were 43 registered or certified projects in the St. Louis area. By the end of 2007 the St. Louis area is likely to have 60 registered or certified buildings, Jain said. By comparison, Chicago tops the list of registered projects with 92. It has 10 certified buildings, according to the June survey.
"Chicago and St. Louis are unique for the Midwest. … They seem to be following the trend closely tracking with the East and West coasts," said Brendan Owens, director of LEED Design and Construction at the U.S. Green Building Council, based in Washington.
Globally, there are 560 LEED-certified and more than 4,200 registered building projects that create about 563 million square feet of green commercial space. The global market for green building products and services reached $7 billion in 2005, and the figure represented 37 percent growth over 2004, according to the council.
The activity at local architecture firms mirrors the growing demand for green buildings.
The St. Louis office of Cannon Design, a Grand Island, N.Y.-based architecture and planning firm, had no clients requiring LEED-certified buildings three years ago, and now has three in the St. Louis area -- Centocor Inc., St. Louis University and Washington University School of Medicine -- said Jain, who doubles as associate vice president for Cannon.
Ralph Bicknese co-founded St. Louis-based Hellmuth & Bicknese Architects 3 ½ years ago to focus on green developments because "that was where the market was going to," he said.
In 2003 the company was involved in two local green projects. Today it's working on seven, Bicknese said.
Clients who demand green buildings also have become more diversified. Hellmuth & Bicknese didn't work for municipalities two years ago, and today the company consults for two. Wildwood and Cottleville are planning new green city halls, Bicknese said.
The boom in green buildings has moved hand in hand with initiatives to create a local biotechnology center. But interest in green buildings is now moving from biotech and science companies to large corporations that want green headquarters, said Thomas Taylor, general manager of Vertegy, a subsidiary of Overland-based Alberici Constructors formed last year to advise clients on building green. Vertegy has consulted on more than 20 green projects, 12 in the St. Louis area.
One of the largest green buildings now under construction in the St. Louis area is the corporate headquarters of pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts Inc. on the University of Missouri at St. Louis campus. The 330,000-square-foot, $50 million project is LEED registered and scheduled for completion in spring 2007.
Not all certified buildings have the same level of energy efficiency. LEED is a point-based system to measure how environmentally friendly a building is. The more energy efficient a building is and the fewer resources it uses, the higher the score.
Points are awarded for elements such as design, natural lighting, energy efficiency and water-use reduction. Structures that go beyond the minimum are given silver, gold and platinum ratings.
Last year, Alberici's headquarters won the platinum certification, one of 17 in the country with that designation.
Green construction appears to be moving beyond the fad stage. Companies used to develop green buildings for marketing and promotion reasons, but such buildings are becoming a necessity with rising energy prices, said Chris Hulse, associate with Gateway Commercial, a Clayton real estate and consulting firm.
Although costs have been cited as an obstacle to green projects, architects and builders now say it doesn't have to be more expensive because of new materials and technologies, and greater experience in the construction of these buildings.
If green elements are integrated into the design at the beginning of planning, they can fit any budget, Jain said.
The St. Louis area also has its first local incentive program for green buildings. In June, AmerenUE and U.S. Green Building Council's regional chapter announced a joint program to award $120,000 in grants to owners or developers of projects seeking LEED certification.
While St. Louis is earning praise for building green, the recognition could be short-lived.
"Green buildings will (one day) become the norm," said Paul Todd Merrill, senior project engineer and LEED certification director at Clayco, an Overland-based builder.
"Building green will not be a big deal anymore; it will be a normal course of practice."
Here are the U.S. cities with the most LEED certified projects.
Portland, Ore., 16
Grand Rapids, Mich., 11
St. Louis, 9
Austin, Texas, 6
San Francisco, 6
Source: U.S. Green Building Council, St. Louis Post-Dispatch