Bright Idea: A Youth Emergency Shelter Earns Green-Building Certification
For nearly two decades, Park Place Outreach ran its emergency shelter out of one of Savannah, GA’s signature Victorian homes. Then about five years ago, the organization’s leaders decided they couldn’t stay in the drafty old building any longer.
“We knew energy costs were going to be going up,” says Executive Director Linda K. Hilts. “The goal was to make [our] building sustainable, make it cost-efficient, make it a healthier building for the kids to be in.”
To ensure that it was really meeting those objectives, the organization didn’t want to just switch out a few light bulbs. They chose to raise $500,000 to buy and renovate their next building using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines, or LEED. The move, Hilt says, has enabled Park Place to triple its shelter’s size while reducing its carbon footprint and cutting utility costs in half.
“We realized that to get the most savings and reduction in environmental impact, it was worth it to us to go the extra distance and become a LEED building,” she says.
The voluntary LEED certification program operated by the U.S. Green Building Council requires applicants to meet certain standards when it comes to the building materials they use and the design choices they make. For Park Place, becoming LEED certified meant installing low-flow plumbing, building skylights to take advantage of natural light, switching to energy-saving appliances, and re-sloping the building’s roof so they could use rain water to irrigate their grounds, among other changes.
Hilts says that taking an environmentally conscientious approach fits well with Park Place’s philosophy of helping the surrounding community.
“We helped restore an area in Savannah that was starting to fall into disrepair so we were part of that community,” she says. “But we’re also part of that community when we’re working with the youth, and we’re trying to help them restore parts of their lives back and helping them restore their connection with their family.”
Smaller Steps for Everyone
If it doesn’t seem like LEED certification is in your agency’s future, there are smaller steps you can take to reduce your environmental impact and, ultimately, save your agency money.
“Every little change helps the environment and cuts operating costs,” Hilts says.
Hilts recommends that agencies considering environmentally friendly changes to their building work closely with their board of directors. More sustainable choices like compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-emissions paint can cost more than regular bulbs and paint, but will lower your utility bills in the long run. Here are some specific ideas you can propose:
- Caulk around windows to reduce the amount of air that seeps in or out.
- Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, like compact fluorescents or halogens.
- Take advantage of natural light as much as possible.
- Use environmentally friendly paint and insulation.
- Switch to energy-saving hot water heaters and appliances.
- Install low-flow toilets and showerheads.
- If you’re due for a new roof, talk to a roofer about changing the slope of your roof to promote better drainage that can help water gardens.