Are Green Buildings Really Green?

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Another "Green Building" is under construction in North Reno. It's the "Somersett Town Square," a commercial building that will soon house retail shops and restaurants.

They're calling it "green," like so many other recent additions to area, but is this new "green" building trend here to stay? Or is it just a marketing trend to make people think developers care about the environment?

We spoke with the UNR Environmental Affairs Manager who told us about a practice called "greenwashing," and he gave us an example. He said it would be like if a company such as Exxon Mobile put solar panels on the roof of their headquarter building.

"Greenwashing is sort of painting a fine green veneer over something that is fundamentally not good for the environment. That is something we try to avoid," said Sagebiel.

So, in the case of all these so-called "green buildings" under construction, what is the real deal? Are they a trend, like so many other environmentally-friendly breakthroughs, bound to fade away? Remember the ozone layer? What happened to that crisis?

"You don't hear about it because it's not a problem. We stopped killing ourselves and all of the sudden, everyone forgot about it," said Sagebiel.

But Professor Sagebiel says we won't soon forget about green the new development in Sommerset. It's certified by the U.S. Green Council Bureau's Leed project, which Sagebiel says has the top reputation when it comes to earth-conscious building. The project engineer gave us a tour.

The construction project included seperate recycling bins to divide up materials landscaping with native plants and low-water requirements. Inside, "solatubes" will help light the new building...and special CO2 monitors will keep track of indoor air quality and measure the exact usage of water, gas, and electricity.

"The buildings have a better envelope. They use less energy, so long term, it's going to cost the building less to be operated," said project engineer, John Hauenstein.

From a business perspective, bringing in the "green" is always the goal...and even our environmental specialist had to admit, these "green buildings" are about as green as they come.

"It's the artistry in many cases, the intangible feel of a building that is really designed to live within it's world, within it's environment," said Sagebiel.

Green buildings are certified on a point system. They get a certain number of points for certain qualities of the building, such as lighting or heating properties. The numbers are then the numbers are combined to give it a rating. The Sommerset building we visited today was given the rating of "silver."