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Wachovia’s New Form of Green

Wachovia Corp. is set to go green—and in a big way. The Charlotte, N.C.-based banking giant has set itself an ambitious agenda. It plans to build at least 300 financial centers by the year 2010, all according to strict environmental standards.

“This is just one more way we are acting in local communities to make a measurable and immediate impact,” said Frank Newman III, COO for Wachovia’s Western Banking Group. Wachovia Corp. has 3,400 banking offices in the United States.

The green-building initiative is one component of Wachovia’s overall environmental strategy, which includes commitments in the areas of climate change and forest protection. The company has set a goal of reducing its absolute carbon-dioxide emissions 10% by 2010 from 2005 levels by applying green whole-building standards and improving the energy efficiency of its existing portfolio.

The program will start in Southern California, with the opening of eight banking offices in November. The move comes as Wachovia begins a major push in the Golden State, where it operates only a few locations. But the scope of the green program extends nationwide. Wachovia estimates that by the end of 2008, every new financial center it opens throughout the United States will be built to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) specifications.

In addition, the company is building a 1.2 million-sq.-ft. office tower at its Charlotte headquarters in in accordance with LEED certification standards. The state-of-the-art facility will include such sustainable elements as a vegetated roof and rainwater-harvesting system for site irrigation.

The new banking centers will reduce energy use by at least 20%, decreasing harmful greenhouse-gas emissions by 6,000 tons. The facilities will consume 25% less water than conventionally built branches, and use low-toxin building materials.

Greenspeak: Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is energy that is produced from sources that replenish themselves naturally. The five most often used renewable sources are hydropower (water), solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. Renewable resources are seen as having inherent environmental benefits compared to conventional electricity, which is a significant source of air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Renewable energy is part of Wachovia’s green program. The company will purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset the power use of the units and boost investment in renewable energy.

Wachovia plans to implement an employee recycling program in each branch for paper, plastics, aluminum and glass. The branches also will feature preferred parking for low-emitting vehicles and bike racks, and offer commuting information, such as transit maps.

For Wachovia, building green has a definite payback: a 20% reduction in operating costs the first year due to energy savings.

“The centers will have a 35% reduced lighting and power requirement, which is significant,” said Chris Hamilton, principal, Callison, Seattle, which is designing Wachovia’s green prototype.

Specific energy-reducing features include super-efficient heating, air-conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) systems and a customized lighting-control system whereby the lights close to the perimeter windows automatically dim or shut off in relation to the available daylight.

The company expects to save up to $80,000 in construction costs for each branch compared to a traditionally built one, partially through the use of environmentally friendly materials, including panels made of wheat straw, a farming by-product that is typically wasted. The panels, highly insulated and mold-resistant, are prefabricated offsite, reducing construction time by an average of three weeks.

The interior of the green prototype will be similar in appearance to Wachovia’s new format that debuted in Irvine, Calif., last March. It has a warm upscale, residential look, with clean, streamlined spaces and soft, natural finishes.

“It’s all about accessibility, functionality and transparency,” Hamilton said. “We used less signage and fewer materials to uncomplicate the visual mess that you find in so many banks. We wanted to make the space soft on the eye and easy to navigate.”

The adaptation of the format to LEED specifications was largely a matter of changes in the building infrastructure and material selection.

“It’s more how the project is put together in total,” said Martin Hill, principal, Callison. “There is a bigger emphasis on renewable and recycled materials in the green branch. The original design intent is intact.”

Small Steps

Set goals. That is the first step retailers that are thinking of going green should take, according to Sandie Pope, associate principal, Callison, Seattle.

“There are so many different categories inside the whole sustainability spectrum that it’s important to have clear goals so as not to feel overwhelmed,” she said. “Also, set goals that are realistic. Think about ways you can make an impact in your stores.”

For example, in a remodel, one goal might be to recycle all waste created from demolition.

“With that in mind, you would go out and find a contractor that is willing to work on this,” Pope said. “You could extend this goal throughout construction and, when the store is built, have an on-site recycling program. But you have to set your goals at the outset.”

A store doesn’t have to be built new from the ground up or gutted to go green. Remodels, Pope said, offer significant opportunities for going green, From painting walls with low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints to replacing carpet with carpet tile or a renewable material such as linoleum or cork to changing out lamps to more efficient sources, there are many ways an existing store can reduce its impact.

“Some of this is just common sense,” Pope said. “There is no reason to leave the lights on all night. Install sensors. Small things can make a big difference.”

The buildings will be oriented in such a way as to minimize heat gain from the sun. Consequently, less energy will be required to cool the space and counteract the heat gain.

“The placement of a building is critical to make sure that the design works to reduce energy,” Martin added.

Pilot: Wachovia is participating in USGBC’s LEED’s volume-certification pilot. The program is intended to provide a portfolio solution to chain retailers by allowing them to have their prototype buildings LEED certified, as opposed to individual-location certification.

“Wachovia will move to certify its base concept as one of the program’s first prototypes to be certified,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said that Wachovia’s decision to pursue LEED certification is in keeping with its commitment to being a good neighbor and contributor.

“Any company can say it has a sustainable philosophy,” he added. “But there is a credibility factor associated with LEED certification, which is a good benefit. Also, Wachovia wants to be very transparent, honest and straightforward about how it communicates to customers. LEED certification follows along with that. It enhances their entire brand identity.”

© 2014