The Meaning of Green

For cleanup specialists, architects and builders, the buzzword of the moment is “green.” But what exactly does that mean?

Architect Thomas E. Kuhn, vice president, secretary and treasurer of Carras-Szany-Kuhn & Associates in Schererville, says there is no uniform definition of what it means to be “green.”

CSK has been around for more than 50 years, and in that time has designed hundreds of municipal buildings, schools, churches, business buildings and offices. Kuhn says all of the firm’s clients they want as energy-efficient a building as possible, and want to leave as small a carbon footprint on the environment as possible. “That’s good,” says Kuhn.

But what’s good for one client may not be good enough for another, or it may be too tough a standard for someone else. “It’s client-driven. It all depends on how much money they want to spend,” says Kuhn. Daniel R. Szany, president of CSK, agrees. “The private sector is so conscious of cost.”

But building “green” is not unusual for the firm, says Kuhn. “We try to specify the most energy-efficient design.” He adds that the firm works to keep on top of the products available to builders in order to know which ones are the most energy efficient—with the lowest impact on the environment.

It’s a process duplicated by companies involved in environmental, commercial and industrial cleanup. Roberto Castaneda, owner of Jan-Pro in Merrillville, deals with the issue every day. In the 20 years he’s been in business, Castaneda says he has been concerned about the impact on people and the environment caused by the use of harsh chemicals and solvents. Today, however, those worries are mostly gone.

“For instance, instead of bleach, we now use hydrogen peroxide in our cleanup,” says Castaneda. “It’s just as effective and a lot more friendly. And there’s no odor.”

Castaneda says odorless cleanup is important because buildings today are built so airtight that fumes given off by harsh chemicals and solvents can linger and affect employees.

“You don’t want to be putting volatile organic compounds inside buildings,” he says. “You don’t want to create the sick building syndrome like we heard about a few years ago.”

Castaneda says the key to his success is adapting to changes in cleaning products, training his employees on the proper use of cleaners and solvents, using the right equipment and following up with clients to make sure everything is as it should be.

“More and more people are concerned about the issue, especially day care centers,” says Castaneda. “It’s comforting to know that we use environmentally friendly products, and nine out of 10 times, that sells the service we provide.”

James Tudor, owner of Tudor Cleaning and Restoration in Valparaiso, says his company specializes in cleaning carpets, mitigating fire and water damage, mold and mildew removal and crime scene remediation.

“With the cleaning agents I use I try to be a little more environmentally friendly,” says Tudor.

Along with cleanup, a key component of what Tudor does is educate his staff and clients. He says there is a lot more involved in creating a green workplace than just using the right kind of cleaning agents. Tudor says it takes a change in overall thinking, from turning off lights when no one is in a room, to recycling. “For a company to be clean and green, you have to teach people to use the proper lighting, the proper products and how to recycle. All of those are good steps.”

And, says Tudor, companies don’t have to take big steps in order to become greener. It could be something as simple as replacing incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.

Tudor says he thinks all the time about ways to improve what he does. When he’s at a fire scene, assessing what needs to be done to clean it up, he thinks about how to design a more energy-efficient machine to remove water and soot. “It’s all a process,” says Tudor.

Fred Guenther, president of GSA Inc., an indoor air pollution consulting firm in Crown Point, says his job is to examine how large a company’s carbon footprint is and recommend what steps the company can take to reduce it.

“We’re the people that do the testing,” says Guenther. “We work with companies that are trying to be proactive about their energy use and efficiency. We help them determine the type of equipment they need to monitor their situation.”

But, he says, GSA never tells its clients that the firm will “fix” their problem. Guenther says that’s because whatever the company’s problem is, it can never be considered “fixed.” “You can get a handle on whatever emissions they have,” says Guenther, “but because the rules aren’t finalized” it’s not possible to claim the problem is fixed.

At Legacy Environmental in St. John, owner Carl Lisek has been working all his professional life on ways to reduce waste and minimize the impact businesses have on the environment. “At the time I got started it was a unique concept,” says Lisek. “But it’s more than selling products; it’s a behavioral change. People have to be taught.”

Lisek says he works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so he is aware of any regulatory changes. He says that not only does he want to make sure he is operating his company properly, he wants to make sure he has the right information to pass along to his clients.

Among those clients are contractors who need information and businesses and schools looking for ways to make their 30- or 50-year-old building more efficient. “We look for programs that can help them, we help them set baselines so they will know if they’re making progress, and we work with contractors on finding greener technologies and products,” says Lisek.

Legacy Environmental was recently honored by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, for its work with South Shore Clean Cities, part of a voluntary federal program set up to reduce petroleum consumption by encouraging the use of alternative fuels and vehicles.

Among the projects Lisek’s company is working on is an effort with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to reduce emissions in 300 school buses in Lake and Porter counties. The effort is designed so it won’t cost the school districts a cent. “We are just getting started,” says Lisek.

Meanwhile, Dale L. Brown, president of Michiana Construction and Management Inc. in Michigan City, says the concept of being environmentally friendly has led him to a new way of doing business. “One of the things we do is recycle as much as we can,” says Brown. “We try to eliminate as much as we can going into the Dumpster.”

Brown said his 20-year-old company now recycles drywall, 2x4s, doors, trim and insulation—anything that might be used in a future project.

“I don’t know if we’re saving money, but it’s what we have to do,” says Brown, adding that by not throwing everything into a Dumpster, the company doesn’t have a $400 Dumpster fee each week. Now, he says, his workers haul material to his warehouse, sorting it for future use.

Brown says his clients like the concept. And when his company has to use new products, he tries to find recycled material and use environmentally friendly products, such as latex paint instead of oil-based paint.

Rick Wajda, CEO of the Indiana Builders Association in Indianapolis, says the discussion about “building green” has become a major topic among builders around the state.

“We’ve found that a lot of our members are building green, using LEED standards, but they aren’t marketing it,” says Wajda. He says the focus on LEED building (standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C.) leans much more heavily toward commercial projects.

Even though a building may be constructed to LEED standards, it won’t be LEED-certified until it passes a thorough inspection by the USGBC, a process that can add thousands of dollars to the cost.

“Many people simply don’t want to pay the extra for the certification,” Wajda says. “Smart builders, however, market it as an advantage over their competitors.”

Brandon Seitz, director of the Indiana Office of Energy Development in Indianapolis, says all state projects must meet LEED standards. That, he says, has sent a signal to builders across the state that Indiana is serious about building “green.” “There is a concern over the cost, but we think the more education there is about the issue, people will prepare for more stringent building standards.”

The Office of Energy Development is a non-regulatory agency that offers advice and education to builders and consumers about energy and environmental issues. Says Seitz, “We think people are taking the issue more seriously.”

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