Green Work Environments Are Growing

OFFICWhen Chris Barlte moved his real estate firm into a larger office, he worked eco-friendliness into the culture of the San Francisco-based company.

“We’re serving green clients, so we really try to walk our talk,” says Bartle, 41, who has a home office that is certified green by the city.

Green Key Real Estate’s 12 employees use efficient Energy Star kitchen appliances and computers. They sit at Ecowork desks made of rapidly renewable materials that emit no toxic compounds. Printers churn out pages of Grays Harbor recycled paper and use ink from recycled cartridges. The firm’s marketing materials are printed by Ink Works, which uses inks made from vegetable oils rather than petroleum.

Bartle figures he paid a 5% premium to use top-of-the-line green building materials and supplies. But like more and more entrepreneurs, he expects to recoup the expenses with energy savings – and possibly better health (green products emit fewer toxins). It can cost 2% to 4% more to outfit a green office, but competition among eco-friendly suppliers is helping to cut prices. Business owners can now buy sustainable lumber from vendors such as Home Depot (HD, Fortune 500), and organic cleaning supplies from retailers including Costco (COST, Fortune 500).

Hot thin roofs

Cook + Fox, a New York City architectural firm, estimates that it spent about 10% more, and a total of $800,000, to redesign its office to the level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum, the highest ranking given by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable construction. Cook + Fox designed the first skyscraper in the U.S. to seek LEED platinum certification (a 54-story tower owned by Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and set to open in New York City this year).

Founders Rick Cook, 47, and Bob Fox, 66, think their office should embody their values – and deliver long-term savings. Mostly thanks to lower electric bills, the firm expects to recoup its green investment in five years.

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