for National Geographic News
Photo sensors dim lamps when sunlight is bright enough to read by. Conference- room chairs are made from recycled seatbelts. Water collected from the roof is used to flush toiletsexcept the urinals. They're waterless.
Welcome to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) office in Santa Monica, Californianamed the greenest office building in America.
Situated in a busy commercial area, a stone's throw from the city's popular Third Street Promenade, the three-story clapboard building looks like a larger version of the swanky California beach bungalows next door.
But step inside, and you will soon understand why the U.S. Green Building Council has given the building, which opened officially in December last year, its highest green rating.
Three multilevel, lighthouse-style atria with environmental sensors distribute sunlight and fresh air throughout the 15,000-square-foot (1,400-square-meter) structure, which houses 36 lawyers and scientists. There is no main air conditioning. Each office has its own advanced heating and cooling system that shuts off when windows are opened.
The structure uses 60 to 75 percent less energy than a typical office building.
You might expect an office of the NRDC, an environmental organization with more than a million members, to be green. But it's hardly the only one.
Green building is booming. One expert estimates that more than U.S. $30 billion is now being spent on constructing hundreds of green buildings worldwide.
"This is a big market transformation," said Drew Wesling, a project manager at Matt Construction in Santa Fe Springs, California, who also runs the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. "Green building is here to stay."
Buildings have an enormous impact on the environment. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, they consume 40 percent of the world's energy, 25 percent of its wood harvest, and 16 percent of its water.
The U.S. Green Building Council is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization of architects, designers, and engineers. They define a green building as "environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work."
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