Taimur Burki

Smoke stacks, visible pollution, dust, grime and dire working conditions—this is what many people think of when you ask them to picture a factory. But today’s factories look nothing like what you picture when you think of the Industrial Revolution. Today factories are often automated, encapsulated, with state of the art controls to minimize and manage hazards, staffed by an expert workforce and—they are LEED certified. Green factories do exist. Intel alone has approximately 7 million square feet of certified LEED manufacturing space.  The industrial sector as a whole has another 300 million square feet of manufacturing in the process of certification. We need to rethink the myth that factories can’t be green.

Why would you want a green factory, and why would you want to use LEED?

It’s very simple.

As you drive down your environmental impact, you often find large cost savings. LEED is fabulous tool that can help you both reduce the environmental impact and the cost associated with running a factory. When you consider the size and scale of industrial faculties and today’s business models, we are talking about millions of dollars in savings and conservation on a truly massive scale.

Take the Intel Corp. plant in Chandler, Arizona, for example. Based on our initial design, we projected that we would spend millions on energy use annually. So we went back and reconsidered our building envelope, our water use, optimizing our mechanical system, our heating and cooling and more. And we calculated that we would save almost a million dollars a year in energy cost. Our payback on the up front investment needed to make these improvements? Less than two years. In any industry that depends on reducing the cost per unit for production in order to stay competitive, saving millions in energy costs is a very big deal.

Energy costs are directly tied to water costs too, because you spend money to pump it in, energy to move it around your facility, for onsite treatment and finally to eliminate it via the sewer—that’s four places where we need to pay for energy to move water through our facility. (Ozzie Gonzalez of CH2MHill is going to cover this in detail in Myth #5. Stay tuned!) By reclaiming process water, using a closed loop system and reducing our use of potable water we can save significant energy costs and cut our demand for potable water in half. And in a state like Arizona, that savings makes a very big difference to our company and to our community.

You could argue that the industry was using energy modeling to design and build manufacturing facilities before LEED, but the truth is the most people weren’t developing flexible models or tools that would allow you to see your variables and in turn, how your design could be optimized by changing these variables. LEED is a useful tool because it helps drive that level of flexibility, detail and customization. I don’t have to create my own methodologies or tools—LEED makes my life easier when I don’t have to recreate the wheel.

Let’s look at four additional green building impacts that go beyond what we directly manufacture and make a positive impact on our environmental footprint:

  • Recycling: In most cases and locations there is no legal requirement to recycle. But if we want to be a LEED certified facility, that means we have an incentive to recycle and we can set goals to help us divert waste from local landfills. We’ve even gone so far as to tie employee bonuses to environmental performance goals.
  • Green cleaning: Janitorial chemicals and associated wastes are potential issues for buildings that operate on an industrial scale. By purchasing and using green cleaning supplies and methods where possible, we can reduce our liability, waste management and disposal costs which ultimately saves us time and money. 
  • Materials and supply chain: Just picture how much flooring or carpeting material goes into an Intel facility or any industrial facility, or imagine how many walls we paint for each building on our campus. The manufacturing industry can transform our very suppliers by asking for low or no VOC paint, for carpeting and flooring materials that contain recycled content and don’t off gas from toxic adhesives. 
  • Infrastructure for our site: Five to six thousand people work on a single Intel campus seven days a week, and we need to provide parking for close to 2,000 cars. Designing facilities that encourage car pooling, biking to work and electrical vehicle charging reduces this impact.  In addition, the parking lots provide real estate that can be used for solar charging as well as shade coverings for employee vehicles. Finally, large parking lots usually mean light poles, trenches to run cables and transfer electricity to each parking spot, monitoring systems and a grid system for all of the light poles. Instead, you could put in stand-alone poles that are solar powered, reducing both energy and infrastructure costs.

There is natural desire to be the industry leader and that drives innovation. As a member of the USGBC LEED User Group: Industrial Facilities, this innovation is on display and shared openly at our meetings. For example, at Intel, our goal is to divert 90% of our solid waste from landfill, but Unilever recently blew me away when they achieved a third-party certification of over 100 zero waste facility. It’s just a matter of time before that becomes the expectation, so I’m a proponent of learning about what works, and being a part of the USGBC community helps everyone get better.

The first LEED user group was established at Greenbuild in Toronto, which just happened to be on my birthday. It was an awesome present—joining a group of other industrial and manufacturing companies to share knowledge, performance data and to teach each other how to improve our buildings. What I want most for 2015 is for more companies to join the LEED User Group: Industrial Facilities

If collectively as industry peers we took just 1% of our time to share information, together we could have a big impact and see major rewards for our businesses. Factories can be green, together we’re adding 300 million square feet of LEED space. Come and join us. 

Check out the other articles in our series on the "Five myths of using LEED for manufacturing" and hear from industry experts: