Island offices ‘go green’ in a big way
Victor Bell, owner of Environmental Packaging International, gave away a house that shared a lot with his company’s offices.
Then, two Jamestown firms – S. Barzin Architect and Mary Meagher Designs – created a plan for a new building that focused on “green [design] and good craftsmanship,” Bell said.
Two years later, the space once occupied by the old house is now occupied by a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-registered “green” building, which serves as the headquarters for EPI.
Visitors to a recent open house, sponsored in part by Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, discovered a building that is heated and cooled using geothermal energy.
The system requires two 384- feet-deep wells, according to Bell, from which water is circulated through piping, taking advantage of the ambient temperatures of the ground in both the summer and the winter.
The result, Bell said, is “no oil bill and no gas bill.”
“I get one third of the cost of constructing the geothermal system back on my taxes,” he said.
Bell, who has dedicated his professional life to sound environmental practices, said that he wanted to show that one can build a green building and make it beautiful for a reasonable price.
The electricity costs spent on running circulating pumps and heat pumps are offset by solar panels and a wind turbine that, when fully employed, will not only produce enough power to supply electricity for all of EPI’s needs, but a reverse meter will allow EPI to sell power back to National Grid, according to Bell.
Even now, he said, without the full use of the energy provided by the panels and turbine, his “energy cost for the first month is one third that of the old building.”
The installation of solar panels and a wind turbine was completed with a no-interest, 10-year federal loan that is paid for with revenue from energy cost savings over seven years, Bell said.
Natural lighting is supplemented by light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, which provides 70% of artificial illumination, according to Bell.
“In the conference room, for example, there are nine LED fixtures providing 100 watts of light per unit at an equivalent cost of one 35-watt compact fluorescent bulb,” he said.
Bell conceded that the fixtures are more costly than traditional office lighting, but National Grid incentives provide a $40 rebate on each LED fixture.
And, he added, “It is a nice light.”
According to the NESA open house description, “Materials with recycled content were used throughout the offices in the decks, counter tops and tile floors.”
Bell was quick to point out that the cabinets and floors were made of sustainable bamboo.
Four green roofs help with rainwater drainage, as well as cooling and heating, Bell said.
The highest of the four green roofs adds to the quality of life of EPI’s employees – a broader definition of environmental impact – with both its plantings and the open vistas to the Bay.
A picnic table made of recycled plastic provides space to eat lunch or take a phone call, Bell said, and a patio on the ground floor provides space for a vegetable garden.
Dual flush toilets, waterless urinals and “hand dryers that work” promote significant water and paper conservation, according to Bell.
Adding further to the qualityof life features of the new building are “showers for staff,” Bell said.
“EPI is a consultancy specializing in compliance with extended producer responsibility laws for packaging, batteries and electronics...[and] offers a full range of customized regulatory tracking, research and compliance management services,” according to the EPI website.
But to hear it from Bell himself, EPI is simply an extension of the work that he began as the designer of Rhode Island’s first comprehensive recycling program in the 1980s.
A URI graduate – he earned both a B.A. and a M.M.A. – Bell was featured in this summer’s issue of URI’s alumni magazine, Quadrangles. He studied resource economics, according to the article, and “he travels the world one week a month advising corporations on how not to offend the environment.”
EPI, a growing firm during the nearly 12 years since it began, could no longer be housed at 41 Narragansett Ave. and Bell found himself faced with the question – where next?
“We wanted to be in Jamestown,” he said. “We have been here for 30 years, it is a wonderful place to be and EPI is a perfect business for Jamestown.”
The new building, which houses EPI’s 15 employees, can now be expanded by perhaps an additional six employees should future growth require it, according to EPI Administrator Jan Congdon.
When designing the new building, Bell said, he kept the project focused on “how can we do it green?” and on doing “smart things” like adding extra layers of insulation in the floors and ceilings, which have upfront cost implications, but long-term returns both economically and ecologically, he said.
And, in the end, the project cost little more than a traditional building using “moderately highend finishes,” Bell said.
Bell credits the project’s builder, Tom Forcier of Forcier Construction, as well as the design team of Barzin and Meagher for producing an attractive green building. He acknowledges that not everyone in Jamestown loves the building, but he is hopeful that his efforts can serve as a model for future green construction.
Further re-use will result when the former offices resume their original residential purpose with a two-bedroom apartment on the top floor and a three-bedroom unit on the bottom floor, Bell said.