In Depth

A Station in Pursuit of the Green Goal

Pittsburgh’s WPXI Stands to Be the First TV Outlet to Garner a LEED Certification

Companies like Whole Foods, Macy’s and Wal-Mart are installing solar panels. California’s Pacific Gas and Electric recently announced plans to purchase enough solar power to light up more than 250,000 homes. All the major networks have recycling and other environmental programs firmly in place. Most of them have had these programs for so long they’re considered old hat. And many TV stations have already gone green—at least over the airwaves.

A number of stations nationwide use the Green Pages, provided by Internet Broadcasting, on their Web sites. The site features environmental stories on subjects such as researching compact fluorescent light bulbs or the reclaiming of local wetlands, along with stories like “Kermit Lied: It’s Easy Being Green.”

But at one Louisiana station that offers the Green Pages as part of its online resources, the person who answered the phone in the newsroom admitted he “couldn’t even get the station to recycle their paper.”

At the other end of the green spectrum is station WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, a Cox-owned NBC affiliate that hopes to get its silver LEED certification between August and December 2009.

“There actually aren’t any LEED-certified television stations at this time,” said Ashley Katz, communications manager at the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington. “WPXI is registered but not yet certified.”

Most registered projects, she said, are buildings that are currently “somewhere in the pipeline—either still in the conceptualization phase or building design and construction phases—and have registered with LEED with the intention of gaining certification upon completion.”

According to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Web site, the LEED green building rating system is “a voluntary national rating system for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED addresses all building types and emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality.”

Ray Carter, general manager of WPXI, said Cox Chairman Jim Kennedy is “fully behind these environmental issues and pushes every employee to make a difference.”

The design phase of the new building began in 2004 and was completed in early 2007, Mr. Carter said. But it was only in the actual construction phase of the building that owners and management decided to go completely green.

Mr. Carter admitted it would be “a lot more economical if you decide to [build a green building] early in the process. The first estimates came with a hefty price tag. “But creative owners find creative solutions,” he said. “The owners, designers and contractors worked until they found cheaper solutions that would still be environmentally sound. Stations shouldn’t let cost be a reason not to go green.”

“The station sits on a 17-acre parcel,” he said, “and we mitigated almost two acres of wetlands” that the building itself would have damaged. The station relocated the wetlands to another portion of the property, he said.

The station, which is seeking certification in the existing building category, was built using recycled material where possible and has installed bamboo floors, “because bamboo is easily replenished in nature.” The heating and air-conditioning lines are underneath the raised floors, he said, “which means they cool or heat from the ground instead of the ceiling, where it’s a waste of energy.”

Even the glue, paint and carpets are environmentally friendly, and the landscaping is covered by “no-mow fescue, which gives you ground cover but doesn’t require mowing.”

Solar power was not an option for the building, Mr. Carter said. “We’re in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh is second only to Seattle in lack of sunlight. So we’re still on the grid, tapped into public utilities.”

The building uses both gas and electricity, has low-flow toilets and showers and also has “a software system that helps regulate lighting and heat, so areas that are not being used will not be lit or heated unnecessarily. You walk into a room and the lights go on. You walk out of a room and after five minutes where the system doesn’t detect any motion, the lights go off.”

Some of WPXI’s success in going green is simply a matter of employee education, he said. “You don’t leave the water running. You use the recycle bins. You can’t get out of a room here without running into a recycling bin.”

In addition to the cost-effectiveness of groundcover and other sustainable aspects of the building, the station should also benefit financially in other ways. Companies with LEED certification can take advantage of a growing number of state and local government incentives.

And some companies that want to promote sustainability might decide to skip the certification process altogether, choosing instead to spend the hefty certification fees on the project itself.

In addition to the existing building certification, LEED standards also cover new commercial construction and major renovation projects. The standards, which are raised every year as local government regulations tighten and new methods of sustainability become more available, are also being developed for new home construction as well as commercial and neighborhood developments.

Apart from offering LEED certification, USGBC also provides an operations and maintenance guide to help owners and managers operate their buildings more efficiently with minimal cost to the environment.

Not all environmental upgrades are as dramatic as the WPXI construction. Some stations are making small changes, with an eye on bigger improvements down the road.

Lee MacPherson, director of engineering at Oakland, Calif., Fox affiliate KTVU-TV, which serves the San Francisco Bay area, said parent company Cox Television is working to get all of its stations greener and more fuel-efficient.

“We went through and had a survey done of all the lights in the station,” Mr. MacPherson said, “and we’ve replaced about 95% of them. We used to use the old fluorescents, but they were more expensive.”

The station replaced the electronics and the lamps, he said, “and kept just the fixtures.” In addition to using less electricity for lighting, he said, “The old lights put heat in the rooms, which forced the air conditioning to work harder.”

Though the task might be daunting and take a number of years, Mr. MacPherson said the station, encouraged by Cox, is actively “looking at ways to take ourselves off the grid entirely.”

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