While manufacturing might traditionally conjure images of huge, smokestack-laden factories, a 2011 report from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and the Pratt Center for Community Development finds that in today’s economy, the manufacturing landscape has changed.
The report, “The Federal Role in Supporting Urban Manufacturing,” finds that today’s manufacturing largely consists of “decentralized networks of small, specialized firms, many of which are hidden in plain sight in America’s urban areas.” The report calls on the federal government to help states and localities support these small, urban manufacturers as a way to build stronger urban economies.
A number of manufacturers and developers are already doing their part by renovating older industrial buildings, thereby not only creating jobs for city residents, but also improving the efficiency of these older facilities.
New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard is a national model for this kind of development. The 300-acre industrial cluster, which includes about 45 buildings dating back as far as the Civil War era, was the preeminent ship-building facility in the country during World War II. But when the nonprofit Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. (BNYDC) took over the management of the Navy Yard in the 1990s, and began to fill it with small, light-industrial, creative-class manufacturers, it found that the roads, water and sewer lines, electrical works, and piers were all in need of repairs.
Over the last six years, more than $200 million of public money has leveraged more than $500 million in private investment in the yard, says Andrew Kimball, president and CEO of BNYDC. When BNYDC surveyed the tenants, it learned a surprising fact: At least 30 of the businesses were green manufacturers.
“We decided to really focus all of the public money for infrastructure and the private money for new building to make the yard as sustainable as possible,” Kimball says. That investment led to a number of improvements. Some were relatively inexpensive additions, such as solar-powered trash compactors, bike racks, and a waste-management plan that reduced carter truck traffic by 90 percent. Others were big-ticket items, such as an installation of the country’s first wind-solar street lamps manufactured by one the yard’s tenants. While the lamps cost more per pole than traditional street lamps, the Navy Yard saved $600,000 in installation costs by eliminating wiring from pole to pole, allowing the developer to save money in the first year. The Navy Yard also spent $100 million to renovate existing structures, adding new roofs and energy-efficient systems such as windows, lighting, and controls.
BNYDC also decided that any new building in the yard would be mandated to meet at least LEED Silver standards. (Industrial buildings fall within the regular LEED for New Construction or Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating systems. So far, 375 industrial projects have earned LEED certification globally, with an additional 1,026 in the pipeline as registered projects.) The yard now has 12 new buildings—either in design, in construction, or completed—that are set to meet LEED Silver standards.
The first of the new buildings, the 90,000-square-foot, LEED Gold–certified Perry Building, was finished in 2009. The three-story industrial building, leased by an art-restoration company, has New York City’s first permanent installation of building-mounted wind turbines, as well as a photovoltaic array, a rainwater-capture system, and a recycled-aluminum skin. In November, the yard opened BLDG 92, a LEED Platinum–certified exhibition and visitors center housed in a restored 9,300-square-foot residence with a 24,000-square-foot modern extension. And this year, the Green Manufacturing Center, an adaptive reuse of a 220,000-square-foot machine shop, designed for green manufacturers, will go into construction.
In another urban industrial project—the renovation and expansion of the Posty Cards factory in Kansas City, Mo.—the owner’s commitment to green building was key to the architect’s high-performance, LEED Platinum design. The manufacturer expressed interest in turning the factory into a LEED building before design commenced.
“Our first meeting was not a design meeting, it was a LEED meeting,” says Christopher Mitchell, AIA, principal of Kansas City–based McHenry Schaffer Mitchell (MSM) Architects. “We used LEED as a program element. It was so integral that you couldn’t pull things out.”
Although the expansion doubled the building size from 20,000 to 40,000 square feet, the new facility will use only 5 percent more energy. The expansion features an efficient thermal envelope and utilizes cost-effective insulated metal panels as an all-in-one enclosure that includes insulation and vapor barriers. When a geothermal mechanical system proved to be too expensive due to the site’s location on a riverbed, the team switched to a variable refrigerant volume system, the next-most-efficient option. A 44-kilowatt PV array, discounted with incentives, provides 11 percent of the building’s energy. In all, the building is 32 percent more efficient than a baseline building.
The central element of the expansion, an exterior courtyard situated between the original structure and the addition, provides daylight and views. Features such as rain gardens, native plantings, and an 8,000-gallon rainwater-harvesting tank earned the project all of the LEED water-efficiency points. And simply staying in an urban environment and renovating the facility earned the team 21 of the 26 sustainable-sites credits.
Because the sustainable elements of the $6.5 million project were integrated so deeply into the project, Mitchell says that it’s difficult to identify their cost premium. The architects estimate that the payback on the investments will take about 12 years.
Posty Cards’ story is resonating in Kansas City both because of its timing—it entered design in 2009, after the economic crash, and was completed in November 2010—and because of the business’s small, family-owned operation, Mitchell says. When others see that a small company was able to achieve a LEED Platinum renovation, “They think, ‘Well, maybe our business can do that as well.’ ”
While ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston’s 200,000-square-foot, LEED Platinum–certified processing facility in Delhi, La., was not an urban project, but it may have been just as valuable to its part of Louisiana, which has seen few new jobs in the past century. And its rural location presented its own challenges.
“Manufacturing sites of this scale are typically in fairly rural areas,” says Patrick Leonard, manager of the portfolio existing buildings practice at Paladino and Co., the Seattle-based sustainability consultant on the project. “It’s easy to come up with a shiny new [green] office in Seattle, when you’ve got all the recycling amenities, all the supply chains, and everyone knows what green building is. You try and do that in rural Louisiana and you’ve got a big supply-chain-engagement exercise on your hands.”
The facility’s design and construction teams turned that challenge into an opportunity. Because there is no local sewage plant that is equipped to handle the facility’s waste output, an on-site biogas plant processes wastewater used to clean sweet potatoes (the facility’s primary output). Microbes digest bio solids in the wastewater, creating methane gas that feeds the facility’s boilers. This biogas meets about 20 percent of the plant’s gas needs, offsetting the cost of on-site sewage treatment. Similarly, with little recycling infrastructure in the area, the team bought a chipper to turn construction wood waste into landscape mulch, and crushed the concrete waste for use in the roads and parking lots. Those solutions helped the team stay within a tight budget that allocated only about 0.5 percent of the funds for sustainable features.
The team also made reducing energy demand a primary focus, using high-efficiency lighting and equipment, energy-recovery features, a white roof, and rigorous commissioning to make the plant 40 percent more efficient than industry standard.
Because manufacturers are used to optimizing the efficiency of their operations, they’re quick to catch on to both the LEED framework and sustainability in general, Leonard says. “People get the terminology, they just need to set a path and start working towards it.”