Don't count Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Torrance as among the businesses likely to be hurt by heating and electricity bills this winter.


Though natural gas prices are projected to be more than 50 percent higher than last year, Toyota North America Inc. has a 624,000-square-foot green campus, which means double-coated glass windows, a solar electric generating system and other energy-savings advances. The cost of heating the two-building South Campus has been reduced by $2.2 million annually and as energy costs soar, the savings are expected to be even greater.


"We try to be good stewards of the environment," said Mark Yamauchi, facilities and strategic planning manager at Toyota Motor Corp.'s U.S. headquarters. "Now, we're saving more money."


After years in which the green movement advanced in fits and starts, green buildings are making significant advances in corporate America as executives eye both public relations and bottom line advantages.


As energy costs keep rising, the adoption of green building standards in California and other states has helped lower the cost and increase the availability of green building materials, technology and expertise.


That has lowered the premium that owners pay for a green building to as little as 1 percent to 5 percent over regular construction costs, shortening the time it can take them to reap the benefits of lower energy costs. There's also the cachet that comes with owning or leasing such a building.


The number of planned projects registered with the U.S. Green Building Council, a group that certifies green construction, has doubled over the past year to 1,700, about 300 of which are in California.


"It's no longer a fad," said Darr Hashempour, vice president for energy solutions at PinnacleOne, a Los Angeles construction management firm that works on green building projects.


Construction roadmap
The building council, a non-profit group that promotes energy efficiency and green building, has established a rating system for certifying whether a building is actually green. To become certified requires a certain number of points in categories such as water and energy efficiency, indoor air quality, site selection, materials, and innovation in the design process.


Some environmental groups have criticized the council, saying that its ratings system is too lax. But it's also credited with providing owners, architects and builders with a road map on how to improve on traditional construction methods.


At Toyota's green campus, at least 90 percent of the waste material generated during construction was recycled, including reusing asphalt from demolition to pave the construction road. About 90 percent of the steel used in the construction is from scrapped cars, and the interior finishing wood was harvested from certified sustainable forests.


Meanwhile, lighting costs are reduced by skylights and motion sensors that shut off lights in unoccupied sections of the buildings. And instead of a conventional air conditioner, the buildings use a gas-fired absorption chiller that uses water instead of chemical coolant to prevent formation of greenhouse gasses.


Sitting atop the roof is a 536-kilowatt photovoltaic solar array that covers 53,000 square feet of rooftop and provides about a fifth of the power to electrify and cool the building.


Non-potable water is used in the buildings' low-water toilets and low-water landscaping, reducing consumption of more expensive and valuable drinking water by 80 percent.


Without the innovations, Toyota would have expected annual energy costs of $2.2 million for each the two buildings, which house sales and marketing. Instead the costs are $1.1 million. The company would have expected to spend $3.8 million on water for each building; it is now spending $728,000.


The nation's largest green building project involves 44 buildings on nine campuses of the Los Angeles Community College District, at a cost of $2.3 billion.


The buildings will buy 15 percent to 25 percent of their power from sustainable sources such as wind or hydroelectric and generate 10 percent of their own power on site, using solar panels and fuel-efficient micro turbines. The first building could be finished later this year.


"When we started our project in 2002, there were only 10 certified green buildings completed in the nation. Now there are hundreds," said architect Bharat Patel, a principal at the Santa Monica office of DMJM who is working on the Community College project.

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