The Right Shade of Green
The goal of sustainable design in
transfer stations is to move the
A good definition of sustainability is “the act of balancing the environmental, social, and economic needs of the built and natural environments for present and future generations.” These principles can be applied to every type of project, including the design of transfer stations and other waste facilities.
The status quo is no longer acceptable. Transfer stations and material recovery facilities (MRFs) can be environmental stewards by minimizing their impact on the environment. There are many ways to do this, including decreasing the demand on energy and virgin materials. This presentation will examine different options considered and incorporated at a number of transfer stations to implement sustainable facilities. The presentation will review the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System for New Construction and Existing Buildings. The LEED rating system provides stakeholders with a template to show progress with a wide variety of measurement tools. Implementing a sustainable option at a transfer station or MRF can result in greater impact than similar actions at many commercial buildings.
Project owners begin by evaluating whether to aim for LEED certification. Because there are significant costs associated with applying for and receiving this official certification, some project owners decide to proceed with this goal while others work to incorporate sustainable features, using LEED criteria as a guide, but opt to not submit a project for review and certification. The result in both cases is a more sustainable facility.
This presentation encourages incorporation of sustainable design principles to the extent that best serves your project, whether or not you choose to submit for LEED certification. The LEED for Existing Buildings criteria encourages operators to implement green operations and track energy efficiency and environmental improvements, which are components of long-term sustainability of facilities with or without certification. The key is for the owner to clearly define the role of sustainability in a project early on, so the design can incorporate appropriate options and explain their associated benefits.
The variety of projects reviewed in this presentation were successful because they involved integrated design that brought stakeholders and design disciplines together to identify resources, options, and synergies to determine the best approach for each project. Each project chose to focus on and incorporate sustainable options that best fit their objectives, site, and location.
While LEED certification is a worthy goal, projects that fall below the qualification requirements or those that choose not to submit for certification still promote progress when sustainability objectives are maintained through construction and operations.
Some credits and sustainable options are more important than others when calculating the carbon footprint of a facility, which provides yet another way to measure improvement over the status quo.
The bottom line: Project owners should think beyond LEED when defining a sustainable program for their facility or operations.
Why a Sustainable Transfer Station?
There are many reasons transfer stations are becoming more “green”—in new construction and existing operations alike—because it is the right thing to do; because this part of the industry wants to lead by example. We are the educators; we want to see how far we can go, and, in some cases, simply because state, county, or local governments require LEED certification for new facility projects.
There are important benefits derived from operating a sustainable building. Facilities that incorporate environmentally friendly features can rely on renewable resources and reduce disruption of ecosystems. At the same time, the economic viability of sustainable facilities results in lower operating costs and increased occupant productivity. The direct results are an enhanced quality of life and the promotion of health and safety.
For many years, the industry designed and built facilities looking only at the present and not considering the future. Value engineering reviews examine how to build cost-effectively but don’t examine long-term impacts from decisions that focus only on the “now.” Relevant questions include some of the following:
- Are selected building materials produced locally?
- Are the resources used replaceable?
- Is there a brownfield site that would work rather than using a greenfield site?
- Have we considered facility energy needs, including the use of skylights/daylighting for natural lighting?
- Can the facility produce power for other facilities?
It is time to think about how we design transfer stations and how we can minimize a facility footprint and its environmental impact while reducing long-term operating costs and possibly helping other facilities. Can a transfer station provide restorative design—contributing to nature rather than being degenerative? Can a transfer station have a positive environmental impact while performing its essential functions?
Sustainability also plays an important role in ongoing operations and maintenance. Energy efficiency and other options to keep operating costs in check can be enhanced through employee education. The people who operate a transfer station have the best opportunity to identify better or more efficient ways to save money. Making sure employees feel engaged in this process and understand the importance of green choices on the bottom line is the ongoing program success.
Improvements to the ongoing operations can be as simple as putting air-monitoring gauges on tires to ensure proper inflation for improved mileage, purchasing green cleaning products, or switching to better shipping practices and green product purchasing. Even changing out the landscaping by selecting plants that require less care, less water, and less fertilizer can reduce a facilities carbon footprint. Install more energy efficient light bulbs, improve ventilation near sorters, or switch to renewable power source.
The results may come through trial and error, as new products emerge that are not proven in all environments. Ideally, as even these small changes are tracked, a facility will recognize results and educate others on how to implement continuous improvements. Audits of energy and water usage are another way to take this a step further and can result in identification of additional sustainable opportunities.
There are a number of ways to measure the level of sustainability in a facility and its operations. Measuring current operations is an important first step to track improvement and identify areas to focus on and new ways to look at existing business practices. One of the most popular methods to measure components of sustainability is that created by the USGBC LEED certification process. The mission of the USGBC is to promote the design and construction of buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work. Since its founding in the mid-1990s, the USGBC has helped integrate building-industry sectors, lead market transformation, and educate owners and practitioners. The LEED certification system was created to facilitate positive results for the environment, enhance occupant health and financial return, and to define green by providing widely accepted standards of measurement and to promote whole-building, integrated design processes.
Today, there exists a family of LEED standards. Of these, three are most applicable to transfer stations and MRFs: LEED for New Construction (NC), Core and Shell (CS), and Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (EB).
LEED certification in every category is based on points given for a variety of actions and design features that incorporate sustainable elements into a project. To become LEED-certified, a project must have 40–49 points; LEED Silver projects require 50–59 points; LEED Gold projects require 60–79 points; and LEED Platinum projects require 80 or more points.
LEED 2009 for New Construction requires evaluation of the
- Sustainable Site features, from storm water pollution prevention through light pollution (up to 26 points)
- Water Efficiency, from water consumption to innovative waste water treatment and landscaping (up to 10 points)
- Energy and Atmosphere, which considers energy consumption and green power (up to 35 points)
- Materials and Resources, from material reuse to recycling of construction waste and ongoing recycling participation (up to 14 points)
- Indoor Environmental Quality, from air quality and controls implemented during construction to employee comfort (up to 15 points)
- Innovation and Design Process, which includes process and design innovation (up to 6 points)
- Regional Priority Credits, sustainable improvements important to a specific region (up to 4 points)
LEED for Existing Buildings looks at performance standards for operation, rather than design and construction. The categories include:
- Exterior and Site Maintenance
- Efficient and Optimized Energy Use
- Environmental Product Purchasing
- Wastestream Management
- Indoor Environmental Quality
- Green Housekeeping
- Water Consumption Standards
One of LEED’s greatest challenges is to address the perception that good design does not necessarily equate with good performance. As part of LEED 2009, buildings seeking LEED certification will need to submit operational performance data on a recurring basis as a precondition to certification. Projects can comply with the performance requirement in one of three ways:
- The building is recertified on a two-year cycle using LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance.
- The building provides energy and water usage data on an ongoing basis annually.
- The building owner signs a release that authorizes USGBC to access the building’s energy and water usage data directly from the building’s utility provider.
The USGBC anticipates this requirement will create a data stream on LEED-certified building performance that can be used by owners and operators to optimize their building performance and promote the establishment of energy-efficiency goals over the life of the building.
Sustainable return on investment—This evaluation tool can help identify the impacts of different options that go beyond costs. For example, when evaluating different HVAC systems, Sustainable Return on Investment can incorporate comparison of impacts to air quality, aquatic and or biological impacts, noise, vibration, odor, aesthetics, land use, energy, infrastructure, construction, and cultural resources, among others, in addition to evaluating cost factors. This level of evaluation ensures that the final equipment or system selected will have the smallest environmental footprint while enhancing operations from the perspectives of efficiency and cost.
Resilience is another way to measure sustainability—This is based on facility and equipment selected for long-term viability. While adding resiliency to facility design or upgrade, projects may require additional up-front costs for a more durable product. Designing facilities or selecting equipment with a long life contributes to sustainable development.
Carbon footprint measurement—This establishes a baseline “footprint,” then tracks the facility’s impact on this footprint due to changes in facility equipment, systems, and operation changes. Establishing and tracking a carbon footprint encourages continuous sustainable improvement.
Green job initiatives—These require tracking the number of new sustainable employee functions. It should be noted that there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “green job.” This is an area of widespread interest and support, including potential access to stimulus monies and grant funds.
By implementing green design and operations, transfer stations and MRFs can provide benefits beyond those associated with traditional operational standards, including reduced operating costs, increased public acceptance, improved worker productivity and health; enhanced safety for employees, workers, and users; and new opportunities for green job creation.
A facility does not have to be LEED certified to be green and sustainable. The overriding goal is to encourage sustainable development and operation. If a project owner chooses to pursue LEED certification, that is good; if not, but the owner still wants to develop a sustainable project, that is also a valid choice. It is more important to be willing to ask whether there are better ways—greener ways—to build and operate a facility. We are in the midst of an evolution about the way we think about traditional design and operations. The times call for being open to new ideas and creative solutions. Considering all options opens the door to determine the “right shade of green” for your facility. Through an evaluation process, helps to narrow down the best areas to improve without binding yourself to the LEED process, or even discouraging sustainable development and operations because of the up-front costs associated with pursuit of LEED certification.
Green building legislation—Not only has the federal government been a prime proponent of LEED and other sustainable building initiatives, but an increasing number of states and municipalities have adopted green building mandates to encourage green building for both public and private interests. This is being reinforced by numerous stimuli including grants, tax incentives, and the creation of special financing districts. Even in tenuous economic circumstances, there is a recognition that sustainable building is an important investment in the future.
The following sections describe real projects that considered registering for LEED NC but chose to not pursue formal LEED registration, incorporating sustainable design in the process instead and using the LEED guidelines for reference, ideas, and as a checklist for sustainable development. Each continues to improve the long-term sustainability of its operation. Whether or not to pursue LEED certification is a frequent topic of discussion when selecting design features for transfer station and MRF operations. The projects described below all embraced sustainability as a key part of the design process, and, as a result, each is the right shade of green to serve its community.
Phoenix North Transfer Station
The Phoenix North Transfer station is located north of Phoenix, in the Arizona desert, near a historic and scenic wash, with native desert plants and a residential neighborhood looking down on the site. The design objective was to create a facility that minimized its footprint, protected native vegetation, was energy efficient, cost effective, and provided a positive experience for workers and visitors, while complementing the surrounding desert environment. The design was developed through a series of workshops that explored stakeholder ideas and presented options for evaluation. The result was a facility designed to incorporate the sustainable features best suited to its desert location. The scenic wash was protected, and the planners embraced protecting and preserving cacti and other native plants at the site, even creating an inventory of plants and a plant salvage and relocation plan. The site featured many full-grown Saguaro cacti, which produce the Arizona state flower when they blossom each spring. The cacti disturbed by construction were carefully relocated. To further preserve the desert habitat, the natural rock excavated during construction was used to line drainage basins. The native plant relocation effort included 98 cacti and 22 trees.
Energy-efficient features included a solar system with roof-mounted solar batteries; a solar power inverter; building power grid tie equipment; solar-powered parking lot lights; high-efficiency heating and ventilation systems; and lighting controls in administrative areas.
Overhangs were incorporated into the facility design to provide additional shading and cooling, while natural daylighting was used extensively throughout the facility. Additional conservation features included use of all-steel framing, roofing, and wall panels that included approximately 90% recycled content; high thermal mass walls; fly-ash content for all concrete; daylight-controlled lighting systems, including translucent wall panels and roof skylights; and interior finishes featuring recycled material content.
Ensuring that the facility would provide the public with a pleasant experience was important in the design process. The recycling area includes misted ventilation directed near the sorters and additional use of natural daylighting. The facility incorporates an education area and viewing gallery with a walkway between the material sorting area and the transfer-station tipping floor to enhance public understanding of facility operations. There are inviting outside walkways and education areas. Finally, the scale systems are automated to increase efficiency and reduce idling times.
Montgomery County South Transfer Station
The Montgomery County Transfer Station in Dayton, OH, exemplifies reuse, reuse, and reuse—as it has evolved through several forms of operation to manage solid waste for the county over the past 40 years—from incinerator, to transfer station, to a diversion facility. Today, Montgomery County continues to use the original framework and building from the original incinerator. As the processing, wastestream, and users have changed, the county has adapted to meet the needs of the future, leading to benefits not always foreseen.
The latest improvements include major modifications to the traffic routing and self-haul facility to meet increased demands in these areas. Major site improvements included moving the entrance road to a different side of the site, construction of a new scale house and addition of automated scales for commercial haulers, a new software tracking system, and a new public transfer station. The process began with a series of design charrettes to evaluate different layouts, configurations and sustainable design features. The county decided to reuse an existing tire storage canopy by re-creating it as a recyclable drop-off canopy and changing the location of recyclables drop-off to in front of the scales. The result was significant time savings through reduced queuing time for users. The fueling facility, including storage tanks, pumps, and dispensers, was reused and relocated onsite.
The county considered applying for LEED certification but chose to focus on incorporating as many sustainable design features and components as possible. The new administration building exemplifies sustainable design, construction, and ongoing operations. The old administration area dated back to the late 1960s. The new facility incorporates extensive daylighting and views, with separate lighting controls down to the office/cubicle level. A high-efficiency heating, ventilating, and cooling system was installed with separate controls for each space to maximize efficiencies. The system includes carbon filters to eliminate any diesel fumes in the administration building. An education and conference room was added with audio-visual equipment, and cameras are located throughout the site. The county hopes to use live shots of facility operations during presentations of their educational programs.
The transfer station addition included translucent panels to add daylighting and allows for the number of lights to be used on bright days to be reduced.
The new public transfer station allows for increased diversion of tires, yard waste, white goods, metals and construction and demolition debris, with plenty of space to allow for peak usage and natural lighting for improved safety. This area of the facility is all under cover.
The county employs a sustainable operations approach. It has implemented an anti-idling policy that limits the idling of any heavy equipment, tractors, or pickup trucks to five minutes or less. It has also installed halogen light bulbs in the administration areas and uses reusable serviceware in onsite kitchen operations. The county has installed recycled tire mulch in the landscaping around the transfer station. This past spring, the county ran a promotion allowing residents who wanted to trade in gas-guzzling lawn mowers to receive a discount on a new electric mower The county works hard to educate all users on the benefits of green cleaning, reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility
The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County (Districts) strives to lead by example with sustainability features incorporated into its Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility. The design for this facility began in 1999, a few years after the formal LEED-certification process was in place. The Sanitation Districts reviewed the LEED certification requirements in comparison with their sustainability objectives and decided to continue to develop an aggressively sustainable facility without pursuing LEED certification. The process included consideration of environmental impacts, site development, minimizing resource use, and maximizing use of earth-friendly, recycled materials.
The new MRF is adjacent to the Puente Hills Landfill. The districts strive to be good neighbors and promote and protect the environment, including contributing to a wildlife habitat that was developed adjacent to the landfill, complete with horseback-riding trails. Because the MRF sits at the bottom of a steep hill, stormwater controls included channels to stabilize the slope, a retention pond with weirs to allow solids settlement and to control the flow rate. The stormwater runoff from the facility roofs, site, roads, and parking lots is treated to remove oils, sands and contaminants and the flow rate is dissipated prior to leaving the site. Irrigation is provided with 100 percent reclaimed water.
The Puente Hills facilities were designed to blend into the surrounding commercial neighborhood. Reclaimed water is used for water closets and urinals. High-efficiency lighting, heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning equipment was installed with extensive controls to minimize energy use. The specifications were more efficient than those required in California Title 24, Energy Efficiency Standards. The efficiencies provided exceed those mandated in ASHRA 90, a prerequisite for LEED New Construction. Installation of 500 skylights dramatically reduces the demand for artificial lighting. Finally, for indoor air quality, California Title 24 recognizes ASHRAE 62—Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, which fulfills this LEED credit.
The Districts targeted materials and products manufactured with recycled content for facility construction, including steel, translucent panels (including aluminum extrusions), carpet and backing, HDPE toilet partitions, acoustical ceiling tiles, and insulation.
Low-emitting adhesives and sealants used in the project were requited to comply with VOC limits established by the South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 1168.Paints were specified to meet the Greenseal Standard for VOC emissions. Paint products selected were compliant with VOC regulations while carpet products met the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Green Label specifications for low emissions.
Beyond construction, the Districts practice sustainable operations. The Puente Hills MRF is currently operating entirely from power generated from landfill gas, effectively off the grid. The front-end loaders are dual-fuel and can operate on diesel fuel or liquefied natural gas, and transfer trucks operate on clean, compressed (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG), five transfer trucks are LNG, the street cleaners operate on propane and CNG. The automated scales reduce queue and idling time, while rapid roll doors used at the MRF entrance and exit for packer vehicles minimize litter, odor, and noise. The Sanitation Districts promote education at the facility, using an enclosed walkway with a viewing area above the transfer and material processing areas to provide real time viewing of operations. All site buildings collect recyclables and smoking is not allowed inside any of the buildings or near the doors, both of which are LEED requirements.
To identify the best sustainable solution for your project, a stepped charrette process that includes all potential stakeholders and technical experts has proven to be an invaluable starting point. The following summarizes the key steps to get a project on the path to sustainability:
- Set goals and priorities for the project. For example, is water conservation or minimizing land use the highest priority?
- Use established priorities. Identify specific “green” measures in energy conservation and efficiency, indoor environment, air quality, outdoor environment, resource efficiency, and comfort of building occupants. These discussions should include all disciplines and key stakeholders to recognize the variety of views and influences as well as approaches. For example, the installation of additional glazing for daylighting or views may require a larger heating or air conditioning system.
- Apply measurement tools, metrics or USGBC LEED criteria.
- Evaluate costs and benefits of “green” options and risks to select the “right shade of green” for your project.
- Implement your approach through the design, construction and commissioning of your project.
- Continue into operations with life-cycle management, identifying ongoing improvements.
A new paradigm that includes a focus on sustainability is changing our approach to design, construction and operation of transfer stations. We must be prepared and willing to innovate further and plan for future generations—moving beyond just meeting current challenges.
The criteria for USGBC LEED for New Construction and Existing Buildings are excellent resources, whether or not a project pursues formal certification. Sustainable business practices influence the market and encourage vendors to develop more environmentally friendly and energy efficient products. LEED criteria provides a great measurement tool for sustainable projects. If one chooses to go this route, great. If another sustainable approach is selected, that’s great, too. The goal is always to strive for continuous improvement.
Author's Bio: SWANA member Debra L. Frye is a project manager with HDR at Kansas City, MO.
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