Richard Verstegan 5 a.m., March 12
- Community Blog
Amping up the Corporate Ante: Conservation Beyond Compliance
Voted several years running by Fortune Magazine as one of the country’s best companies to work for, DPR Construction aims to be more progressive than its competitors, continually pushing the envelope. For instance, it earned a LEED platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) last year with their Shoreham Place Office. What sets the DPR facility apart from the 11 other LEED platinum certified buildings in the County, however, is that it’s the first commercial net zero building, producing the equivalency of its annual energy needs from renewable sources. In fact, first year out of the stocks its rooftop PV panels generated 12,000 excess kilowatt-hours (kWh).
The experienced green building professionals at DPR know that being “green” is no longer a novelty. A company committed to staying ahead of the curve, their newly established Innovation Group lead by former SoCal regional manager, Jim Washburn, serves to accelerate “the adoption of innovative ideas and initiatives on a national level.” By voluntarily plunging into the growing green market and assuming industry leadership, they are developing a cost effective delivery model that results in 90% of their annual sales volume being generated from repeat customers and in projects, including their award winning green LEED/net zero projects, being completed under budget.
Although this achievement is certainly commendable, it should be noted that they selected to use potable water in their toilets rather than diverted greywater or roof runoff and although they designed a cistern to collect greywater from onsite showers (for which they earned LEED credits), they are not currently utilizing it. If the technology didn’t exist, I’d have few faults to cite. But it does, and has, which begs the question as to why DPR didn’t also aim to fulfill its non potable water needs by incorporating roof runoff collection and greywater diversion systems into the high profile project as the country's first LEED platinum building did more than ten years ago. As SDG&E’s newly constructed 27,000 square foot LEED platinum Innovation Center on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard currently does.
With only three percent of the planet’s water fit for human consumption, it seems incomprehensible to be flushing any portion of that down the toilet. I learned the basic premise, “Don’t Shit Up Stream from the Drinking Hole,” in Girl-Scout-Wilderness-Etiquette 101. Yet, we, an evolved civilized populace of a ‘developed’ nation living in the new millennium, take dumps in water we could otherwise be dunking our tea bags in.
I’d suggest that perhaps I was missing something vital, which does happen, if it weren’t for the likes of the town of Avalon on nearby Catalina Island demonstrating good sense in utilizing seawater—not drinkable H2O--in its toilets. If it weren’t for the fact that many green buildings—even long before but certainly since the establishment of the USGBC and its associated incentive credits—have already employed stormwater roof runoff reclamation and greywater reuse systems as conservation measures.
With an average annual rainfall of only 16 inches, there admittedly isn’t much roof runoff in these parts to collect, comparatively speaking. That doesn’t mean catchment and reuse of the little there is shouldn’t still be required since water is, after all, a commodity most of us pay for, twice over. According to the County’s Department of Public Works, a 1,000 square foot roof can harvest 600 gallons of roof runoff from an inch of rain. The 9,600 gallons a full 16 inches of rain per year would generate consitutes15% of the average San Diego family’s annual water usage.
The EPA estimates that the average American family uses 400 gallons of water every day—all potable, 27% of which goes down the toilets, 21% of which is discarded from laundry machines. Households produce –on the average--approximately 82 gallons of greywater, (or 30,000 gallons a year), from laundry facilities alone and flush away ~ 70 gallons each day. Commercial entities such as hotels, hospitals and gymnasiums, obviously, produce mucho greywater. Whereas rainfall may be in short supply in San Diego, greywater’s a plenty.
A 2010 climate change survey conducted by the San Diego Foundation demonstrated that citizens are concerned about global warming and want local governments to address the issue by leading the State in implementing proactive measures that would curb anticipated effects, the foremost voter concern being dwindling water resources. California Code of Regulations Title 22 allows reuse of recycled water in toilets and the USGBC grants points for water conservation as well as for greywater reuse. Yet, neither the City’s Green Building Standards (900-14) nor the County’s mandate water conservation/greywater reuse technologies to be utilized in non government construction projects, not even in the large commercial projects conducted by the top consumers. Both policies are strictly designed to promote resource consumption efficiency in the construction industry through expediting plan review and permit issuance. Neither entity has assumed an aggressive proactive leadership role in ensuring the State accomplishes its resource conservation goals within the next eight years by amping up the corporate ante.
The San Diego region has many 303(d) designated impaired waterways including 20 some odd beaches, the most common cause of impairment being fecal bacteria. San Diego is also a non attainment area for clean air standards. The Clean Air Act set pollution reduction mandates and established penalties for transgressors. The Resource Conservation and Recovery as well as the Waste Reduction and Prevention Acts have similar standards and fees. But, no such penalties exist that would serve to address the massive amounts of water streaming off urban rooftops when it does rain here carrying pollutants into eroding stream beds, or the huge surges of greywater plummeting unchecked into the overtaxed and aging sewer systems. EPA’s nonpoint pollution prevention program simply encourages the use of “best management practices (BMPs)”, so the County and City do the same. The installation of gutters, cisterns or rain barrels remains voluntary.
According to the Oakland based Pacific Institute, greywater diversion systems can potentially reduce domestic water consumption by up to 50%. Low cost two-way valve diversion systems can easily be installed allowing users to adjust the knob thereby directing drain water into the sewer lines, into toilet tanks or to outdoor irrigation systems. The City of San Diego Development Service Division conducts instructional workshops for a $60 fee to those interested in learning how to tap into their own greywater by structuring reuse systems onsite.
A little conservation among the large commercial and institutional consumers like hospitals, hotels and gymnasiums, however, would go a long way. The EPA citing a study by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority calculates that hospitals consume up to 350 gallons of water per patient each day, mostly for showers and BM disposal. Hotels are also water hogs, consuming up to 400 gallons per day per room.
When more than 90% of the local water supply is imported from as far away as the Colorado River, it seems logical that self professed progressive leaders like DPR would initiate excellence in water conservation standards as well in the realm of renewable energy. If the company, ranked the 7th largest builder of hospitals-- 20% of whose utility bill is related to water and sewer costs, can demonstrate several times over cost effective net zero green construction, I’m guessing they can devise a cost savings water reuse and conservation system model for their clients. With or without government mandates.