BIRMINGHAM -- Holly Kaiser wants her firm to walk the talk when it comes to sustainable building and leaving smaller carbon footprints.
So the architect invested her green, opened her own firm two years ago and built an energy-efficient office for her Studio 5 firm that includes low-voltage lighting, sustainable fly ash drywall, insulation made from recycled blue jeans and other green products and technology.
"I have a strong desire for sustainability in architecture," Kaiser said. "The only way I felt I could do this was to go on my own."
Green office spaces -- both renovated and newly constructed -- are springing up around the country. New York-based green consultant Liza Dunn said the trend is rooted in a desire to appeal to niche consumers and to save money in lean times.
"It's a way to market yourself," Dunn said, "and I don't see anything wrong with that."
Going green is the "natural byproduct" of an economic downturn, she said, because reducing consumption and reusing items are "part of the belt-tightening process."
The cost of constructing an environmentally-friendly office space varies.
One major overhaul would entail reconstructing a poorly insulated space. Though it's "a huge energy-saving measure over a longer term," Dunn said, "it's not always realistic. If you're renting a space, you're not going to start pulling down walls and insulation."
Some measures require an initial outlay that will pay off over the short-term. Compact fluorescent bulbs are more expensive than regular light bulbs, but the cost of lighting them is nominal. Other measures, such as shutting down computers overnight, will reap an immediate return in energy savings.
Multi-faceted work approach
Similar energy enhancements make their way into the projects Kaiser's six-person staff designs for clients. The Studio 5 name comes from the spokes Kaiser emphasizes in her work: sustainability, design, planning, imaging and landscaping.
"The goal is to have minimum waste and minimum recycling," she said.
Retrofitting an existing banquet facility illustrates the multi-faceted approach Studio 5 takes, Kaiser said. She is using recycled materials for the wall coverings, low-impact landscaping, energy-efficient lighting, and creating marketing brochures and other communication tools that use soy-based inks and require less paper.
Efforts to reduce waste and conserve energy pay off, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, which promotes Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
LEED-certified buildings perform 25 percent to 30 percent better than non-LEED buildings in terms of energy use, according to the council.
"Buildings are the single largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 39 percent of emissions in the U.S.," said Michelle Moore of the building council. "Every new building coming out of the ground today should be built green and every existing building should be retrofitted."
Studio 5 also promotes energy-efficiency by offering classes for building operators and homeowners who want to know more about LEED standards.
Wide variety of clients
The firm handles work for a wide variety of clients, many of whom are drawn to the energy savings, earth-friendly focus and innovative designs.
Kaiser is working with Detroit Receiving Hospital to create a new boutique after completing a lounge for doctors, according to hospital fundraiser Juanita Wade.
"She did a makeover of an area that had not been done since the 1940s," Wade said about the lounge. "It was just gorgeous."
The new boutique is scheduled to open at the end of August and Wade expects another beautiful and functional space to emerge.
While the economy continues to sputter, Kaiser markets Studio 5 to existing and potential clients and would like to add another dozen or so employees to her staff when business picks up.
"We've planted a lot of seeds," she said. "It's just a matter of companies releasing work. It could be a lot busier and we have a lot of future work, so we're not dead in the water."