NEW YORK — In the concrete jungle of Manhattan stands a paragon of green: the new Hearst Tower, rising from the original Hearst building’s historic facade.
Ninety percent of its steel is recycled. It uses 26 percent less energy and 10 percent less water than a conventional office building. Sensors detect when a room is empty and automatically turn off the lights and computers.
“From the very start, we looked at this as a home renovation,” said Brian Schwagerl, who oversees sustainability initiatives as the publishing giant’s director of real estate and facilities planning.
Hearst Tower is at the vanguard of a movement to cause as little ecological impact as possible in new construction.
In September, it became the first “green” office building in New York certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization that administers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Hearst Tower was given gold status, the second-highest award available.
The LEED program evaluates buildings on six criteria: the sustainability of the construction site; the building’s water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality; and the project’s overall innovation and design process.
Green momentum gathering
Today, there are about 1,000 buildings like it nationwide, and 6,000 more are under construction, the council estimates.
That’s a drop in the bucket of a nation of more than 5 million office buildings, according to the U.S. Energy Department’s Smart Communities Network, but the movement could get a big boost if the federal government signs on.
The Senate included a Green Buildings initiative in the energy bill it passed last month and earmarked $100 million in grants for local governments to upgrade their own buildings.
If the initiative survives in the House, several measures to improve the sustainability of the federal government’s half-million buildings would be overseen by a new Office of High-Performance Green Buildings in the General Services Administration.
New federal projects would be held to green standards, and as many as 8,000 existing buildings would be in line for lighting retrofits and renovations to increase energy efficiency, for example. And the Energy Department’s headquarters would get a solar wall to generate electricity.
The measures would have a major impact on energy conservation, said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the initiative’s sponsor. On average, federal buildings consume 40 percent more energy per square foot than private buildings and require more than $3.5 billion for energy costs, he said.
At Hearst, art gets into the act
Lautenberg said his programs would lead to improved air quality and lower utility bills, but as can be seen at Hearst Tower, they can also help create a more pleasant place to work in general.
It begins with natural light that makes workers more productive, Schwagerl said. Light pours in where Esquire, O (The Oprah Magazine) and Cosmopolitan are produced.
“The CEO has a great view, but everyone has a great view at the Hearst Tower,” he said.
The stylish desks, with closet and mirror, are made from sustainable wood, but Lynn Goldstein-Garguilo’s favorite thing is the filtered fresh air.
“When you work in a conventional office, it’s either too hot or too cold,” said Goldstein-Garguilo, executive assistant to Hearst’s publishing director. “Over here, you just feel healthy. The air quality is amazing.”
Even the art is sustainable. One of the installations, a two-story waterfall called “Ice Falls,” uses rainwater drained from the roof. It is saved in a 14,000-gallon tank in the basement and circulates to help cool the building.
Google gets on the green bus
The “green building” movement is about more than just buildings, though. It also encompasses how people get to those buildings.
At its main campus in Mountain View in California’s Silicon Valley, Google buses 1,200 employees to work daily and offers a $5,000 rebate to employees who buy hybrid cars.
The transportation measures supplement a conservation effort in which Google draws power for its buildings in part from 9,000 solar panels — the largest corporate installation in the country. The company is partnering with the Environmental Resources Trust, a nonprofit group, and said last month that its goal is be “carbon neutral” by the end of the year.
“When we announced that we were putting solar panels on our roofs, we received many e-mails from our employees asking, ‘How can we put panels on our roofs?’ ” said Robyn Beavers, Google’s manager of corporate environmental programs.
The initiatives do help Google burnish its environmentalist credentials, but “it’s also good business,” Google co-founder and President of Technology Sergey Brin said.
“We want to save money on our energy because energy is an important cost to us.”
Anne Thompson is NBC News’ chief environmental correspondent. Alex Johnson of MSNBC.com contributed to this report.