Going green

An evolving discussion at Local 802

Volume 123, No. 1January, 2023

Sara Cutler

GOING GREEN: A “green roof” has been proposed as one idea for Local 802’s building. Above, the green roof on top of Chicago City Hall. Photo via Wikipedia.

This is an exciting update to my previous article in this series, “Let’s Go Green at Local 802.”

Two experts in the renewable construction industry recently made a presentation to the Local 802 Executive Board. They offered a soup-to-nuts overview of the current state of our building’s entire infrastructure, the necessary current and future compliance with local laws governing our carbon footprint, the options for green replacements of our systems, and financing the entire project. We were shown how and by how much the operating costs of the union could be reduced. In every area, those reductions would be substantial.

Re-metering the building would save thousands per year on our electric bill. Replacing our lighting with high efficiency LED fixtures would reduce the electric usage bills for those by as much as 75 percent. Con Ed would also PAY for the new fixtures, leaving the local responsible only for their installation. Replacing our heating, cooling, and hot water systems with heat pumps would reduce the operating costs for those by as much as 50 percent, while creating a much more comfortable, flexible, and well-regulated workspace.

All of these updates come with multiple grant possibilities, tax rebates and other government incentives. Anything not covered by such incentives can be financed not by bank loans or a mortgage (both of which would remain on our bottom line as liabilities until paid off) but by low-cost government loans that are attached to our real estate taxes. This means that there would be no loan on our books to count against our assets. And, by creating a building that is highly efficient, sustainable, and in compliance with city mandated carbon emission limits (with a much higher Energy Star letter grade), we would be ensuring that we add the most value to our greatest asset.

All of this is very exciting to contemplate, but there is much work left to do. We still do not know how much electrical power we can produce on our roof through a solar panel array and a green roof, how precisely the heat pumps will need to be designed to power our heating, cooling, and water systems or how much the total bill for it all will be. The estimates we heard at the presentation landed between $2 and $4 million, most or all of it covered by the various financing options available. Compare that with approximately $2 million for a straight replacement of our current systems, all of which would have to be covered by the local, while still leaving us unable to comply with the new local laws and dangerously vulnerable to large fines incurred by our inability to comply.

In terms of the amount of time such a massive project will take, we were told that the planning stage would take about 9 months, followed by a 12 to 18 month build.

The first steps in this project entail the sealing of the building’s “envelope.” The windows, exterior doors, and the unconditioned spaces (like our stairwells) are all badly leaking energy. This needs to be addressed before any improvements to infrastructure are attempted. So, in the new year, we expect to embark on an initial project involving the installation of thermal storm windows and insulating all the areas leaking energy. We will also have Con Ed re-meter the building, immediately saving the thousands per year our current metering system costs.

Finally, layered on top of all the financial elements and the increase to efficiency this project represents, is the “societal return on investment,” known by its acronym SROI. At this point in the project, it’s impossible to estimate what that might be, but we have to assume it, too, will be substantial. Behaving responsibly as a social justice organization is important to us as a union. This is what we should be doing, not just to further the goals of our union and our members, but to contribute to an agenda that will serve our community and our planet.

We will continue to keep you all updated on our progress. We are excited and optimistic that we will achieve something real and beneficial to all.

Sara Cutler is a member of the Building Subcommittee on the Local 802 Executive Board.