Web Exclusive: Walking the Talk

July 1, 2009
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Greenpeace has been campaigning since 1971 to safeguard the environment and neutralize global warming. In 2000, when Bill Richardson, deputy executive director of Greenpeace USA, was charged with overseeing the design and construction of Greenpeace’s new environmentally friendly offices on the edge of Chinatown in Washington, D.C., he set out to make sure that Greenpeace was “walking the talk,” as they say, with regards to its own carbon footprint. With the help of Ken Wilson of Envision Design, Richardson went above and beyond in the “green” renovation of the new office space on the 600 block of F Street near the metro stop Gallery Place/Chinatown.

Looking to reduce Greenpeace’s energy consumption and minimize its contribution to global warming, Richardson selected responsible building materials and utilized an open floor plan for more-efficient heating and lighting. Doors made of compressed straw and VOC-free glue were specified as were countertops made of recycled yogurt containers and energy-efficient lighting with sensors that dim overheard fixtures on sunny days. Greenpeace’s new offices are equipped with solar panels on the roof that heat hot water and supply electricity, and any additional energy needs are supplied by wind farms.

In addition, the main lobby floor and staircase at Greenpeace were installed with reclaimed wood flooring from Aged Woods Inc, in York, Penn. Since 1984, Aged Woods brand flooring has been providing the green-built community with precision-milled wood floors recycled from old barns that were torn down and destined for the dump. Proper drying in a kiln before milling assures a stable, bug-free floor, and the look of Aged Woods reclaimed flooring adds authentic, rustic character to the Greenpeace space. The natural look, resulting from a century or two of weathering, was more than ideal for the Greenpeace offices, which are housed in a handsome, turn-of-the-century brick building.

“The developer took a row of five turn-of-the-century buildings, gutted them and connected them,” Richardson said. “It’s a mixed-use building now. We used the old wood because it was going into an old building. We liked the idea that it was reclaimed wood and had a great environmental story, but we also liked that it fit in with the character of the building. When you walk in, it looks like the wood floor has been here forever. It looks great.”

Greenpeace USA purchased 1,310 square feet of Aged Woods reclaimed wood flooring in Antique Oak for the main lobby floor and 28 stair treads and risers. This product is a mixture of red oak and white oak, resulting in a hard, durable floor with minimum patina, and planks that range in color from light to medium brown. The ¾-inch-thick planks range from 2-4 inches in width and 18 inches to 12 feet in length. The installation at Greenpeace was done by Flooring Solutions Inc. in Sterling, Virginia, in a traditional nailed-down fashion.

The selection of reclaimed flooring by Greenpeace could not have been a better fit since wood floors are one the most environmentally friendly flooring options available. Wood floors use less energy and water in production than other flooring options, they come from a sustainable natural resource and have a life cycle of up to 100 years.

“Aged Woods Antique Oak is a great product,” said Wilson, principal of Envision Design. “We like the look and the philosophy behind it. Because of the worn look it almost tells a story. People find it interesting. The building is a little over a hundred years old and in a part of town which was mostly abandoned at the time, but it had lots of character. The reclaimed wood flooring adds to that feel. It appears to have been there all along.”

As it turns out, Richardson and Greenpeace liked the Aged Woods reclaimed wood flooring so much that they purchased an additional 614 square-feet almost six years later. The developer purchased an additional building to connect to the original five, and another staircase was needed for access. The second installation was done by Potomac Floor Covering, and the same Antique Oak was specified for a consistent design scheme.

With the recent explosion of the green building movement, Richardson and Envision Design’s selection of reclaimed wood seems visionary. In fact, had the Greenpeace office been a more-recent renovation and looking to obtain a LEED certification, the specification of Aged Woods reclaimed wood flooring may have contributed to both Materials and Resources credits 3 (Materials/Resources Reuse) and 5 (Regional Materials). And on March 8, 2007, Washington, D.C.’s Green Building Act of 2006 went into effect requiring compliance with the LEED Green Building Rating System for both public and private projects.

Still, LEED rating system aside, the renovated office has beautiful, environmentally friendly wood flooring to greet guests in the main lobby, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Greenpeace is walking the talk in the heart of our nation’s capital.

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