Buildings

Cutting Energy Waste from Commercial Buildings Just Got a Little Easier

Lauren Hodges Pitcher

Lauren Hodges Pitcher, EPA

By: Lauren Hodges Pitcher

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that it’s hard to do without regularly stepping on the scale. That little instrument doesn’t lie—it tells us if we weigh more or less than we’d like to. It tells us whether our impressive showing at the gym last week was enough to counteract the effects of Saturday night’s four-course meal. And in some cases, a big drop or gain can indicate when something in our body is not working properly.

But did you know that every month, more than 300,000 commercial buildings also step on a scale to make sure that they are in good shape, energy-wise? Before you start picturing a scale the size of a football field, I’ll tell you that this is a virtual scale, available from ENERGY STAR through our online Portfolio Manager tool. Through Portfolio Manager, any building can measure and track its energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use in a secure online account–for free.

Nearly 40 percent of the commercial building space in the country is currently “stepping on the scale” every month through Portfolio Manager. That’s great news because although commercial buildings use about 18 percent of our nation’s energy, and contribute about 18 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, they don’t have to. On average, about 30 percent of this energy is wasted! And here’s more good news: A recent study of buildings that consistently used Portfolio Manager over a three-year period showed that they cut their energy use by an average of seven percent (or 2.4 percent per year)!

blog portfolio manager

So let’s get more buildings on the scale, and let’s do what we can to help them save energy and trim down their energy “waste”-lines! Here are a few things you can do to help:

  1. Approach leaders at your workplace, your children’s school, your congregation, your favorite stores, and any other buildings in your community. Suggest that they start stepping on the scale and managing their energy use with help from ENERGY STAR. Send them to energystar.gov/PortfolioManager to learn more.
  2. Bring your green to work! The same simple steps you take at home to save energy can make a big difference in buildings, too. Turn off lights in empty rooms, shut down your computer at the end of the day, and use blinds to block the hot summer sun. Find more tips, plus fun interactive games and quizzes here, on the ENERGY STAR website.
  3. Set a goal to encourage one building in your community to earn EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification. Yup, just like a refrigerator, buildings can also earn the ENERGY STAR if they are among the most energy efficient in the country! Learn more here.

And did we mention that we just launched a complete upgrade to Portfolio Manager? Now it’s easier than ever to use, with new wizards, reports, graphs, and sharing features. With President Obama calling for a 50 percent cut in the amount of energy that commercial buildings waste, there is no better time to encourage the buildings in your community to take Portfolio Manager for a test drive at energystar.gov/NewPortfolioManager. Who knows how much energy and money you may help them save?

Lauren Hodges Pitcher directs communications activities for the ENERGY STAR program for commercial buildings and industrial plants. She is proud to work in an ENERGY STAR certified office building, and her favorite stores all track their energy use in Portfolio Manager. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Photo Essay: Old and New Environments Coming Together in Pittsburgh

Blog and Photos by Christina Catanese

A few months ago, home in my native Pittsburgh, I paid a visit with my family to a place I went to many times growing up – Phipps Conservatory.  My childhood recollections of the place mainly revolve around the stunning plant displays, and the plethora of colors and types of flowers that seemed to grow out of every possible surface.  I was enchanted by the re-creation of various ecosystems, like the tropical plant room that thrived even in the bleak Pittsburgh winter.  But during this visit, I encountered a new aspect of the Conservatory that changed how I saw the place, and indeed, my hometown itself.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes was opened last year as Phipps’ hub for education, research, and administration.  Striving to be “one of the greenest buildings on earth,” the Center utilizes innovative technologies to generate all its own energy, as well as treat and reuse all water captured on site.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

While a beautiful architectural construction, I was most impressed with the stormwater management measures the Center took, from the green roof, to rain gardens, to the pervious pavement used on the walkways.

Click “read more…” below to read the rest of this photo essay!

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Soak it Up! Philadelphia Designs Showcase Rain as a Resource

By Ken Hendrickson

Sitting in the auditorium at the Academy of Natural Sciences and watching the presentations of the nine finalists in the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition, you could feel the excitement in the air.  The pecha kucha presentation format gave the evening a rhythm and cadence, but the design teams gave it substance.  All of the nine finalist teams had creative ideas and I didn’t envy the judges’ position of having to pick the final three winning teams – but in the end, they did.  Throughout the evening as I viewed the design boards, talked to the designers, and watched the presentations, I had the same three thoughts.

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

First, stormwater is exciting, or perhaps more accurately, green infrastructure design solutions to urban stormwater are exciting.  The design solutions treated stormwater as a resource and made it a visible and important part of each site and, by extension, the city.  What is exciting is that not only did these teams provide real, workable, and affordable solutions to addressing one of our most pressing water quality concerns, these designs would also make the city a better place to live and work.

My second thought had to do with collaboration.  I was impressed at the level to which these teams had embraced the collaborative approach to design.  While the competition did specify that teams needed to include a civil engineer, an architect, and a landscape architect to be eligible, the finalists seemed to take this integrated and collaborative design approach a step further.  I couldn’t help but wonder about the process that lead to these designs.  What future partnerships, collaborations, and design solutions might be born as a result of this competition?

Which brings me to my final thought about the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition: that these designs are not just attractive imagery and impressive reports.  They represent a shift in the way we view urban stormwater and the solutions we design to control it.  Each of these designs has a story and they are stories that everyone with an interest in clean water and livable communities deserves to hear.

In an effort to help make these stories available to all, the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns) is partnering with the Community Design Collaborative to host a webcast on April 4th featuring the design competition winners.  The webcast is free and open to anyone.  For more information and to register for the webcast, please visit this link.

Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! is a joint effort of the Community Design Collaborative, the Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA to inspire innovation in green stormwater infrastructure.  This design competition was the latest product of the partnership between EPA and the City of Philadelphia to advance green infrastructure for urban wet weather pollution control.  For additional resources on green infrastructure, visit the EPA green infrastructure website.

How does stormwater affect your community, and how would green infrastructure help?  Do the designs from the Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition inspire ideas for where you live?

About the Author: Ken Hendrickson has worked at the EPA since 2010 and is the Green Infrastructure staff lead in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships.  Ken has a background in landscape architecture, geology, and watershed management.  He enjoys working to empower communities to improve their environment and finding solutions that create more resilient social, environmental, and economic systems. When not in the office, Ken enjoys challenging and rewarding outdoor activities and creative indoor hobbies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Water Savings on Tap for Fix a Leak Week 2013

By Kimberly Scharl

Fix a Week 2013 bannerMarch 18-24, 2013 is the EPA WaterSense program’s 5th annual Fix a Leak Week, a time when we remind you to check your household plumbing for leaks.  American households waste more than 1 trillion gallons of clean drinking water each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. But fixing leaks can be easy and inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10 percent on utility bills!   Need some ideas to mark the occasion of Fix a Leak Week?   We’ve got some for you…

Save water in your own home!

Being handy around the house doesn’t have to be difficult. Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves.  These types of leaks are often easy to fix.  You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings.  Check out this video by Spartanburg Water on detecting a leaky toilet.

Check it out!

There are tons of events happening all over the country to celebrate Fix a Leak Week!  Here are two in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

Charlottesville, Virginia is hosting the “Fix a Leak Family 5k”, an event where runners and non-runners alike can learn about water conservation.  Besides the trail run itself, the event will feature local vendors and non-profits sharing information on water and energy savings.  This event is also featuring face painting, a DJ, and a nature trail making it fun for the whole family!

The West Virginia Public Service Commission in Charleston will be visiting local elementary schools to discuss the importance of water conservation with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. Hands-on demonstrations will illustrate scarcity of potable water, areas of the country where shortages of water are a problem, and how those shortages affect individuals in other regions of the country.

Do you know of other events happening near you next week?  Tell us about them in the comments!

Come Chat with Us!!!

To kick off Fix a Leak Week, WaterSense is holding its 2nd Annual Fix a Leak Week Twitter chat on Monday March 18th from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern.  Log into your Twitter account during that time and use the hashtag #fixaleak to tweet messages about your plans to make a difference during Fix a Leak Week!

Flo, our spokesgallon, will be joining in too!  Throughout the Twitter chat, we’ll be posting pictures of Flo as she travels around the Mid-Atlantic Region sharing water saving tips.  Here’s a sneak peak of Flo, can you guess where she is?

Our Spokesgallon Flo with the Liberty Bell

So join in the conversation!  Make sure to follow @EPARegion3 to catch all Flo’s journeys in our region, and follow @EPAwatersense and the #fixaleak hashtag to get more tips during the chat.

Take the Pledge!

Join us and thousands of your friends and neighbors in taking simple actions to save water.  Take the “I’m for Water” pledge, and make a resolution this year to save this precious resource.

For more information on Fix a Leak Week and the WaterSense program, go to www.epa.gov/watersense.  You can also follow WaterSense on Facebook and Twitter!  Make 2013 about water and take the pledge today!

Tell us how you are saving water this Fix a Leak Week in the comments!

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency since 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi.  She is a financial analyst and project officer for the Water Protection Division, Office of Infrastructure and Assistance.  She is also the Regional Liason for the WaterSense Program.  Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Encouraging Design Thinking to Develop Integrated Green Infrastructure Solutions

By Ken Hendrickson

Campus Rainworks Challenge - click for more information!When you hear the words “design” or “designer”, what comes to mind?  The latest couture on the runway?  Swiss furniture with names that are hard to pronounce?   While you may envision the products of design, I tend to think about design thinking – the process of working through a complex problem. In many cases, I believe the understanding gained during this process is more important than the product or end result.  Design can result in beautiful or interesting things, but design thinking can help to integrate multiple disciplines, create positive change and advance our understanding of the world.

We’ve all heard the phrase “thinking outside the box” – to be creative and not use the same old thinking to solve complex problems.  Design thinking takes that a step further.  It helps to reframe the problem, consider information from several fields and test possible solutions.  It’s a perfect vehicle for advancing ideas in new and unexpected ways.  This explains the popularity of design competitions as a way to encourage creative thinking around a particular set of environmental problems.

One example is the use of design competitions to explore the possibilities of green infrastructure to address urban stormwater. These green techniques use vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater close to its source.  They also have the potential to provide additional social and environmental benefits.  Design competitions are helping to build an interdisciplinary discussion around the potential of green infrastructure – thinking outside the pipe.

Region 3’s Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) Initiative did a webcast this spring exploring how design competitions can be powerful tools to spur innovation and adoption of green infrastructure communities. View the archived webcast by visiting http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/watersheds.htm#g3academy and clicking “G3 Academy Studio.”

The Community Design Collaborative, Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are partnering to host Infill Philadelphia: Soak it up!, an exhibition of best practices in green stormwater infrastructure.  The goal of the exhibition is to showcase projects that soak up stormwater while creating healthy, engaging, and visually-appealing urban places.  Selected entries will be on display at Philadelphia’s Center for Architecture this fall. The exhibition is also a build up to a national design competition.

Design competitions can also engage and educate students.  The EPA’s Campus RainWorks Challenge seeks to engage college and university students from multiple disciplines to develop green infrastructure solutions.  This design competition is an exciting opportunity for college and university students to be on the cutting edge of a real-world issue and contribute to the discussion.  Students must form teams and register to participate.  Registration for the competition is open from September 4 to October 5, 2012, and entries will be due on December 14, 2012.   Visit the Campus RainWorks website for more information about the competition.

Have you ever thought about designing something to solve a problem?  How did your thinking change from when you started designing to when you developed your solution?  What kinds of things did you have to consider?  How would you design green infrastructure for your neighborhood?

About the Author: Ken Hendrickson has worked at the EPA since 2010 and is the Green Infrastructure staff lead in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships.  Ken has a background in landscape architecture, geology, and watershed management.  He enjoys working to empower communities to improve their environment and finding solutions that create more resilient social, environmental, and economic systems. When not in the office, Ken enjoys challenging and rewarding outdoor activities and creative indoor hobbies.

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of August will focus on Science and Innovation.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Conserving Water Resources With Green Infrastructure

Environmental Science Center at Ft. Meade, Maryland

By Trey Cody

EPA employees in Fort Meade, Maryland at the Environmental Science Center recently added some unique environmental features to their building, which is home to Region III’s chemistry and microbiology labs. EPA staff helped construct a rain garden with native grasses, goldenrod, coneflowers, and http://www.epa.gov/greeningepa/glossary.htm rerouting rooftop drainage pipes to a rain barrel to help reduce splash erosion as stormwater falls from roof gutters to the garden. The rain garden makes for a beautiful sight for workers at the front of the building and is watered both naturally and with the rain barrel.

These improvements and more are helping this facility in its effort to meet the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings as well as working towards achieving a U.S Green Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design existing building certification.

Read about more environmentally positive features of the Environmental Science Center.

This is just one way that EPA is helping to improve water quality by the construction of green infrastructure in our region. There are numerous other examples of how new products, technologies, and practices can use natural systems to enhance water quality. Some of these can be implemented in your local household or business. The great thing about green infrastructure is that while it is improving water quality, you can save water, money and energy.

Below are some examples of green infrastructure that you can implement to your house to promote water quality. You can click each one to view more information, fact sheets, benefits, examples and web sites.

  • Downspout Disconnection: The rerouting of rooftop drainage pipes to drain rainwater to rain barrels, cisterns, or permeable areas instead of the storm sewer.  Home owners can disconnect and reroute these pipes with little to no effort!
  • Rain Gardens: Shallow, vegetated basins that allows for the collection and absorption of runoff from rooftops, sidewalks, and streets.  Rain gardens mimic natural hydrology by infiltration, evaporation, and returning water vapor to the atmosphere.  They can be installed in almost any unpaved space. This is a great way for a homeowner to beautify their homes and improve water quality!
  • Permeable Pavements: Paved surfaces that allow infiltration, treating, and storage of rainwater where it falls.  Permeable pavements may be constructed from pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and several other materials.

Have you installed any of these or other examples of green infrastructure in your household?

Leave a comment and tell us about your experiences!

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of August will focus on Science and Innovation.

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Saving Water and Energy – the Trickle Down Effect on Your Wallet

By Matt Colip and Walter Higgins

Just like homeowners, wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities have to control their energy usage because their budgets are so tight.  While you and I can install attic insulation or turn off lights when they aren’t in use to lower bills, plans for reducing energy use can be a little more complicated at water and wastewater treatment facilities. Still, there are many strategies available to reduce energy usage at water treatment facilities.  Oh, and you can help too.

One way a treatment facility can trim down its energy use is to start from the source and reduce the overall community demand for drinking water and waste water to be treated.  Less water used in communities means a lower cost to you on your water and sewer bill.  By promoting the use of water efficient WaterSense products and water conservation practices by the citizens within their service area, water utilities can reduce energy use significantly. Just think about how much less water facilities would have to treat and the energy that could be conserved if all of us used even a little less!

Have you ever driven by a waste water plant and noticed a large flame coming off one of the stacks?  That’s gas that is produced in the operations of the plant and is typically burned off.  Instead of flaring, it can be beneficially used to run turbines that can generate heat and electricity for the plant (otherwise known as Combined Heat and Power).  Also, some facilities are beginning to install solar photovoltaic panels on the plant grounds to offset the total electricity used by the plant.

On May 8th, EPA, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, hosted an Energy Roundtable Conference in Harrisburg for wastewater treatment operators interested in reducing their facilities’ energy costs and ultimately their carbon footprint.  This conference highlighted several areas related to energy efficiency along with innovative solutions to wastewater treatment.

Interested in hearing more about what happened at the conference? The presentations can be found on our website. For additional information, please contact Walter Higgins at Higgins.walter@epa.gov, or by phone at 215-814-5476.

About the Authors: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally a Texan, turned Pennsylvanian, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with a BA in Special Studies – Public Health and is currently working on an MS in Environmental Protection Management at Saint Joseph’s University. Walter Higgins is in Region 3′s Water Protection Division where he manages grants that fund water quality and drinking water projects.  He is also involved in working with water and wastewater facilities on energy efficiency and has been with EPA since 2010.  Prior to EPA he was a soil scientist with the Montgomery County Health Department, in Pa.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Higher Education: Messaging with Green Roofs

By Nancy Grundahl

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of May will focus on Clean Water, Jobs, and the Economy.

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green roofs have much to offer.

  • They hold rainfall that would otherwise run over impervious surfaces carrying pollutants to our streams.
  • They act as magnificent insulators, significantly lowering the HVAC needs of a building.
  • They provide habitat for birds and insects such as butterflies and bees.
  • And, some may provide a park-like escape for people working in the building.

So, it’s no surprise that green roofs are gaining in popularity. And, it figures that someone would start designing green roofs to be like works of art or to convey a company’s message. I don’t mean by using signs or statues, but by using plants and soils with different colors and textures.

It makes sense.  There’s an audience out there – or, rather, up there.  People in nearby taller buildings, pilots and their passengers.  There were 448,129 aircraft takeoffs and landings at Philadelphia International Airport in 2011. Multiply that by the number of people with window seats and you get a tremendous number of potential onlookers.

So, we’re calling on all “higher-ups.”  Have you seen green roofs that you’d like to tell us about?

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Take Winter with a Grain of Salt

By Christina Catanese

It’s about that time of year when the Mid-Atlantic region starts preparing the snow plows and pulling out the road salt. In most of our region this winter, we’ve had a lot of warm days and no big “snowmageddons” so far, but the season is still young!

When big snow storms strike, how do you fight back? Methods like shoveling, snow plows, snow blowers, and applying sand and deicing salt keep roads clear and people safe. But did you ever think about the environmental impact of clearing snow and ice?

Although rock salt is an effective way to clear roads and driveways, issues can arise when the snow is gone and the salt is left behind. As the snow melts in the spring, the salt dissolves and runs off the road into storm drains and nearby water bodies. This can harm aquatic life like fish and plants. Human health can be impacted as well if the salt reaches drinking water supplies.

Many towns have moved from applying to salt to highways and are now applying brine, which has less environmental impact.  Check out this link to learn more about some innovations in snow removal, including a method being piloted by Maryland that sprays a mixture of sugar beets and brine onto highways.

So when the next big winter storm strikes, strike back, but in an environmentally friendly way. Here are some recommended actions to reduce salt application:

car-snow1. Use the Right Material: There are many options beyond salt and sand, like less toxic chemicals and even things like clean kitty litter.
2. Use the Right Amount: More isn’t necessarily better. Warmer roads need less salt, and roads below 10º F will not benefit from rock salt at all. Applying less salt is also a more economical choice. Snow clean-up costs are reduced, as are damages to cars, roads, and bridges.
3. Apply at the Right Place: Apply salt where it will do most good, like hills, curves, shaded sections of road, and bridges. Use discretion when applying salt near sensitive streams or in drinking water source water protection areas.
4. Apply at the Right Time: Don’t wait until snow is falling to get started. It takes more salt to melt accumulated snow than it does to prevent accumulation.
5. Use Proper Storage Techniques: Salt and sand piles should always be covered to prevent runoff, and should be located away from streams and wetlands.
Read more about best management practices for applying and storing road salt while protecting water supplies here.

Is your municipality practicing smart salt application with these actions? Are you practicing them at your home? Do you know of any other environmentally-friendly ways to clean up snow? Let us know how you’re staying both safe and green this winter season.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Longwood Gardens has Largest Green Wall in North America

By Nancy Grundahl

For more information on the green wall at Longwood Gardens, click here. Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens.

Longwood Gardens in southeast Pennsylvania has established the largest green wall in all North America.  Located in Kennett Square about 30 miles from Philadelphia, Longwood Gardens is an oasis of landscaped beauty.  Built by Pierre du Pont between 1907 and the 1930’s, the gardens were turned over to a foundation in the 1940’s to ensure that the general public would be able to enjoy them for years to come.

The idea for the green wall started as a sketch on a cocktail napkin. Longwood desired a grand new entrance to the East Conservatory Plaza.  And, because they handle almost one million visitors a year, there was also a need for more restrooms. The result is a curving structure with 17 restroom pods strung together. The walls consist of 3,590 modular panels mounted on a steel framework. Each panel houses a carefully selected variety of plants, about 47,000 plugs in total. The plants are fed by drip irrigation of water enhanced with liquid fertilizer.

The living walls – which have multiple water benefits – help connect visitors with plants, dampen noise in the area, provide moisture and oxygen to the air, and moderate the temperature of the microenvironment in that area. Green walls are one of the tools used by architects and planners to create more sustainable communities. Depending on the design and whether they are indoors or outdoors, green walls can enhance the water environment by slowing down a significant amount of stormwater runoff, resulting in healthier streams. Green walls can also be a way to reuse grey water, such as wastewater collected from washing and runoff from roofs. The plants can purify the water and the system can reduce overall water consumption.

For more information on the green wall at Longwood Gardens, go to:  http://www.longwoodgardens.org/EastConservatoryPlazaPR.html.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.