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Going green with Kimberly-Clark

Published on Posted in Industry

When it comes to buildings, new and old alike, sustainability is no longer simply about design. it’s also about ensuring high-level, ongoing, and environmentally sound operations.

When MGM Resorts International began work on CityCenter—an 18-million-square-foot complex of resorts, residential towers, stores, and conference space in Las Vegas—there was no question that the company would be building green. Like a growing number of developers, MGM Resorts knew that sustainable structures don’t just use energy and other resources more efficiently, but they also cost less to operate. The real question was how to best build green.

“Every building has an aspiration to be environmentally responsible and sustainable, but too often the finished product is a good-performing building rather than a high-performing one,” says Cindy Ortega, SVP and chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts.

Yet CityCenter—which opened in 2009—bucked that trend. It’s a whopping 38% more energy-efficient than more traditionally designed Las Vegas resorts. MGM Resorts achieved this by not simply incorporating sustainability, but by integrating it. For example, the residual heat created by on-site power generation—which otherwise would be wasted—is used to heat water for CityCenter’s kitchens, bathrooms, and pools.

High Aspirations

What makes this holistic approach to green building possible, says Ortega, is LEED. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED—which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—is a third-party certification program that promotes and recognizes best-in-class green building practices. Projects satisfy prerequisites to earn points and achieve different levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum).

Since LEED’s launch in 2000, more than 58,000 commercial projects spanning 10.7 billion square feet, plus another 140,000 residential units, have participated in the program. “The idea behind LEED was to create a system so that the design process itself would create a better building,” says Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO, and founding chairman of USGBC.

“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were seeing a lot of buildings leveraging technology to be constructed quickly, but the downside to that was that we replicated bad practices very well,” adds Fedrizzi. “With LEED, you have to be more deliberate and think about how systems interact with each other. Once people started doing that, it made for a lot of higher-quality buildings.”

While LEED initially applied to new construction, subsequent certification programs have been developed for existing structures, homes, and even neighborhoods. This expansion has enabled more stakeholders to integrate sustainability into the buildings they use and operate.

In February, for example, Kimberly-Clark Professional achieved top-level LEED Platinum certification for its existing headquarters building in Roswell, Ga. For Kimberly-Clark—best known for global brands like Kleenex and Scott—going green in its facilities was a natural step in its overall pursuit of sustainability.

In 2012, Kimberly-Clark became the first major towel and tissue manufacturer in North America to introduce products made with more-rapidly renewable alternatives to traditional fiber, such as wheat straw and bamboo. “Striving for and achieving LEED Platinum certification for our headquarters is a fantastic way for us to live our mission, which is to help businesses create exceptional workplaces,” says Kim Underhill, global president of Kimberly-Clark Professional.

The Georgia headquarters building, which was renovated to meet LEED standards, has achieved a 30% reduction in water consumption (thanks to low-flow plumbing fixtures) and a 13% savings in energy consumption (thanks to sensor-activated lighting systems and other upgrades). Other benefits are less tangible, but potentially significant.

“Not only are sustainable operations in line with our values, we also believe that sustainability offers us a competitive advantage,” says Tim Feeheley, vice president, Kimberly-Clark Professional North America. “That’s why it is top-of-mind in everything we do, from our own operations to product innovation, to customer experience.”

Core components

Breakthroughs in materials are also playing a role in the creation of high-performing green buildings. Consider, for example, cement, a core component of the concrete that is indispensable in construction. Producing one ton of cement generates one ton of carbon dioxide—an environmental toll that adds up, with cement production accounting for some 5% to 6% of all carbon emissions. Another core component of concrete is water, lots of it. That’s a natural resource that increasingly, and worrisomely, is in short supply.

Looking to reduce the environmental impact of concrete, BASF Corp. leveraged its global network of research facilities—10,000 employees strong, operating with an annual R&D budget of more than $2 billion—to develop more sustainable concrete mixes that result in a smaller environmental footprint. The result of that effort, the Green Sense Concrete mix optimization program, was used to determine the proportions for the EF Technology Concrete supplied by Eastern Concrete Materials Inc. in the construction of New York City’s One World Trade Center, set to open this year.

The reduced CO2 emissions from the World Trade Center concrete mixes (compared with a reference concrete mix) are equivalent to the emissions content of approximately 1.7 million gallons of gasoline. The water savings associated with the optimized concrete mixes is equal to 1.1 million half-liter bottles of water. And because the optimized mix requires less energy, there were savings there, too—equivalent to nearly 30,000 barrels of oil, or enough electricity to power 2,100 residential U.S. homes for a year.

“Buildings are responsible for a lot of CO2 generation and energy demand, and that’s something we want to partner with our concrete producer customers to minimize,” says Michael Fletcher, commercial segment manager at BASF’s Center for Building Excellence, a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, engineers, architects, and sustainability experts that are tackling green construction challenges and educating builders on emerging practices and products. “At the same time, you can’t sacrifice performance. We wanted to develop a way to optimize concrete that reduces environ- mental impacts while meeting or exceeding performance targets. “That’s the beauty of the Green Sense Concrete solution. And it is the beauty of other building materials that are, and will be, evolving. The key is to look at what that material is made out of, and how you can make it so that you drive sustainability and the wellness of every- one who occupies the building.”

Real-time dashboard

LEED, too, is evolving, shifting its focus from design to performance—the idea being that a LEED Platinum building shouldn’t just be built to LEED Platinum standards, but also should continually operate to those standards. “What you need is some sort of dashboard that tells you in real time how the building is performing,” says Fedrizzi.

That’s the goal of the LEED Dynamic Plaque, a project that USGBC has been working on for the past two years that will soon enter trials. In lieu of an ordinary LEED plaque noting the date the building was certified, the LEED Dynamic Plaque uses real-time data and digital graphics to show how the building is actually performing in terms of energy, water, waste, and other criteria.

“If a LEED Platinum building is operating as a LEED Gold building, people are going to recognize that,” says Fedrizzi. “We see this spurring them to ask, ‘What’s going on, what systems need maintenance, what changes need to be made?’ and then doing what they need to get back up to speed.”

View the original advertorial in Fortune Magazine.

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