In the Driver's Seat

Feb. 1, 2003
Diane Wintroub Calemenson

Honda takes a design cue from its environmentally sensitive automotive products and earns a gold LEED™ rating for its new facility.

American Honda's Northwest Regional Facility in Gresham, OR, a suburb of Portland, is an administrative office, technical training and parts distribution center. Opened in October 2001, Honda's 212,888-square-foot facility sits on a 17.15-acre site overlooking the Columbia River Gorge. Just as Honda's gas/electric hybrid, the Insight, is on the cutting edge of environmentally sensitive automobile design, so too is this regional facility on the edge of green design for industrial buildings. Honda's environmentally sensitive and fuel-efficient products, like the Insight, inspired the idea to use green building methods within the development of the Northwest Regional Facility. As a result of this commitment to the built environment, the facility was awarded a Gold Leadership in Environmental Energy Design (LEED™) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). In fact, this is the largest mixed-use facility of its kind to receive a gold rating, the second highest rating awarded by the USGBC. "Once Honda decided on a green building, they were only content going for the gold," says Robert Thompson, principal, Group Mackenzie, Portland, OR. "Because this was the first industrial facility to pursue a gold LEED rating, it presented us with a number of challenges, not the least of which was creating a balance in the building between the environment and functional use for Honda."Group Mackenzie was already in design development when Honda made the decision to go green. Fortunately, Mackenzie was able to incorporate environmental design methods into the existing building plan. The greening of this new facility encompasses almost every aspect of the building's design, construction and operation including building systems, interior finishes, landscaping, lighting and furniture.* Construction ProcessDuring the construction process, a target of 50 percent recycling of construction waste material was set. However, 99.8 percent of total construction waste was actually recycled. In an effort to reduce harmful emissions and to lower the amount of fossil fuel used by trucks bringing products to the site, more than 20 percent of the facility's building materials came from within a 500-mile radius of Gresham. Structural steel throughout the facility has a minimum of 90 percent recycled content.* HVACThe office area is heated and cooled with a passive system that brings outside air into the building via vents placed around the perimeter of the exterior. The concrete slab in the office area is depressed by 18 inches, thus allowing for the installation of a raised access floor. This raised floor permits outside air to pass under the office space, where it is either heated or cooled and then pressed up into the office through grilles that are flush with the finished floor. After circulating in the room, the air is drawn up via chimneys and expelled through large turbines on the facility's roof."This system really takes advantage of the winds we have around Portland," explains Thompson. "So, the need for electrical fans has been greatly reduced, and as far as heating goes, it's much more efficient to have the heat rise naturally from the floor than to force it down from the ceiling area."* LightingIn the office area, each window features a light shelf, positioned at 90 degrees to the window glass, to bounce natural daylight up onto the ceiling and then down into the workspace. Daylight is supplemented by ambient light fixtures suspended from the ceiling that cast a softer, more diffused light onto the ceiling, which is then reflected down onto the work stations. In addition, the office lighting is zoned and controlled by an intelligent system that dims or brightens the light fixtures as daylight levels increase or decrease.Motion detectors in the warehouse automatically dim the lights in aisles where there isn't activity. The warehouse also has 120 skylights that allow the use of natural daylight. The skylights, along with white reflective insulation on the walls, provide enough light for work without needing artificial light.* Furnishings and FinishesMost of the fabrics used on furniture in the facility have 100 percent recycled content and are 100 percent recyclable. In fact, some of the fabrics are so green they are biodegradable. In the future then, these fabrics could be ground down and used as mulch. Other examples of green furniture products include chairs made from recycled car seat belts; chairs that use recycled bottle caps and car bumpers for all their plastic components; conference tabletops that are composed of crushed sunflower seeds in resin for an attractive wood burl appearance; and work stations with a minimum 48 percent recycled content.Interior finishes range from wallpaper made out of recycled telephone books to flooring made from recycled rubber tires. In the restrooms, glass tile accents are made from recycled glass bottles, and the wall tiles are a combination of recycled wood and fiber chips in a resin base. Restroom floor tiles are composed of recycled un-fired ceramic.Maple wood flooring in the lobby is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which verifies that the wood was obtained from forests that support the production of wood on a sustainable basis. Carpet in the office area is composed of 100 percent recycled face yarn and backing. The carpet itself is also 100 percent recyclable, meaning that when the time comes to replace the carpet, it can be sent back to the mill for recycling, instead of being sent to a landfill.Interior paints throughout the facility are VOC-free. Thus, indoor air quality is healthier for employees.* Landscaping and Water SystemsRainwater runoff, or gray water, from the 135,000-square-foot roof is collected in a 90,000-gallon underground tank. The water then goes through a filtration system and is used to irrigate the facility's landscape and to flush toilets. The pond located in front of the property uses water that is continuously recycled with a pump.A mix of wild grasses and wild flowers, called Eco-lawn, was sown in areas that would normally be landscaped or covered with manicured lawn. Eco-lawn grows to a height of eight inches and only requires mowing twice per year. Many native and drought resistant plants were also used in the landscaping to reduce the amount of water needed for irrigation."The plants are watered by a drip irrigation system," says Thompson. "The system runs for three years to establish the plants and then it is no longer needed. So the irrigation system will be turned off sometime in 2004 or 2005."Because the site of Honda's new facility was originally a nursery, many trees were relocated during construction and subsequently re-planted for landscaping. Furthermore, some 4,500 square feet of space behind the warehouse is reserved for expansion. In the meantime, however, the land is dedicated to raising Noble Fir seedlings, which do not require irrigation. Once the trees mature, they will be donated to local charities, which can then sell the trees at Christmas for fund-raising. Honda has embraced the environmental design of its new facility and is showcasing the building to area developers and corporate executives. A signage program explains the different elements of green design incorporated throughout the building, and Honda associates have taken it upon themselves to create committees to support activities such as recycling, waste reduction and energy efficiency.

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