In 2000, when architects Goettsch Partners were approached to design a 1.5 million-square-foot office building in downtown Chicago, they were tasked with creating a building that would have a positive impact on the developer's bottom line, not one that would reduce impact on the environment. Developers constructing spec office buildings have had little motivation to consider the long-term implications of their methods and materials, typically leaving sustainable design up to the companies that build-out the spaces they lease.
Now savvy customers and LEED-CS, a new core-and-shell certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, are giving commercial developers plenty of incentive to help protect the planet. When it was completed in 2005, the Chicago office building at 111 S. Wacker Dr., designed by Goettsch Partners, was the first building to achieve LEED-CS Gold certification. The new certification is awarded to office buildings based on points earned for sustainable design in energy efficiency, access to public transit and building envelope construction.
The building boasts a green roof made of hardy grasses, reused caissons and foundation walls, low-flow plumbing, programmable light switches, and low-emissions finish materials – including Sherwin-Williams no-VOC Harmony® coatings, which were used on the interior.
The environmentally sensitive design evolved as the architects and developer John Buck Co. weighed the benefits of it, well before LEED-CS was offered. The developer initially prioritized real estate performance and aesthetic design over sustainability and at first wasn't convinced that tenants would pay a premium for leasing a green building, but according to Goettsch Partners' Matt Larson, the developer nonetheless decided to take a sustainable approach "because it was right."
The developer's foresight has paid off. It widely promotes its LEED certification to attract tenants – including posting a copy of the official certificate at the building's reception desk – and recently sold the building at one of the highest dollar-per-square-foot prices of any building in Chicago.
"I think tenants recognize the importance of the sustainable design," says Larson. Clearly, so do more and more commercial developers and their architectural firms. Since 111 S. Wacker earned its LEED-CS Gold certification, an additional 150 office buildings across the country have followed suit.
The "green" momentum is just beginning, says Larson. "What will be great is when everyone simply adopts sustainability as a natural and expected part of the design process."