The better Jeff Cannon's business does, the closer he comes to working himself right out of a job. And he is just fine with that.
"We've been trying to put ourselves out of business since Day One and it's finally starting to happen," says the founder and co-director of green'spaces, a firm that will enjoy fewer prospective customers as the city turns green. "Our work is really paying off."
That work benefits local clients that green'spaces helps incentivize with grants to build green, eco-friendly facilities, and ultimately it helps the community at large. Cannon's company helps the entire city reduce its carbon footprint through increased energy efficiency, less dependence on natural resources and lower amounts of waste.
In less than four years the city of Chattanooga has gone from zero buildings certified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to 39 that are now certified or in the process. The city is home to banks, retail shopping centers and Tennessee's first Habitat for Humanity house that have attained the increasingly coveted certification.
Carmike Cinema's new Majestic 12 downtown was the first LEED-certified movie theater in the United States, and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's $299 million Chattanooga headquarters in 2009 became the second largest project in the country to earn LEED gold certification.
And green'spaces was involved in 37 of the 39 projects, from the city's largest to the smallest.
"When we first started three and a half years ago, we said we wanted to have 20 LEED-certified buildings in the downtown footprint within a three-year period. We felt like - based on other comparable cities - 20 would keep us in the conversation," says Cannon, who coordinates projects from his LEED-certified office on Main Street with co-director Anj McClain. "Now that we're close to 40 it puts us into a very nice category nationally. Chattanooga is actually viewed as a model and we get calls from other cities and other companies wanting to know how we did this."
Much of the success is because the participation has been from all facets of the community. There are accountants like Henderson, Hutcherson and McCullough, restaurants like The Terminal Brewhouse, mixed-use developments like 2 North Shore, city facilities like Outdoor Chattanooga and even dental offices putting LEED into action. And while there are many environmental benefits to following green building practices, it is also simply good business.
"We made a commitment that we wanted to do a green project and build our new office for the long term," says Dr. Chuck Holt, one of seven dentists who joined together in a construction venture to create the 25,000-square-foot Riverfront Professionals Building on Riverfront Parkway. "One determining factor for us was looking to build a very sustainable building in downtown Chattanooga that would maintain very good resale value and a second major factor was looking at what energy prices are likely going to be in the years ahead."
Featuring one of the largest private solar energy systems in Tennessee, the three-story structure designed by local firm Elemi Architects and supported with grant funds from green'spaces is in line for LEED silver certification. In addition to an expected three-year return on investment for the solar panels, Holt says utility bills are 40 percent lower per square foot and sustainable water processes from all-digital X-rays to a waterless suction system are resulting in dramatic decreases in water usage.
Some Chattanooga LEED Projects:
Aroma Relief Technologies, Inc.
Baylor School Dormitory
Business Development Center
Chattanooga Outdoor Center
Chattanooga Closet Company
Cherry Street Mixed Use Renovation
Fire Stations No. 4 & 7
GTA Chattanooga TN Army Reserve Center
Habitat for Humanity ReStore
Hampton Inn & Suites
MAINX24 Habibitat for Humanity House
Majestic 12 Cinema
Mountain View Chevrolet
Southern Surgical Arts
Springhill Suites at Cameron Harbor
Two North Shore
UNUM Parking Garage
University of Tennessee Chattanooga
1232 Premier Drive
Solar panels on top of 10 downtown buildings, including the Freight Depot where Henderson, Hutcherson and McCullough is located, are projected to generate more than 250 kilowatts of electricity and produce enough power for the electrical needs of about 150 homes. At BlueCross BlueShield, green initiatives are shaving off total energy costs by about 30 percent. Chattanooga Fire Hall No. 7 doubled the size of its space and doubled the amount of firefighters using the facility, but through LEED practices the water bill has increased only 25 percent.
While green'spaces has been heavily involved in the greening of Chattanooga, Cannon attributes much of the momentum to the community's high level of understanding and commitment
to sustainability, plus the unprecedented number of design professionals getting up to speed to support local green ventures. He says just as quickly as the city's LEED-certified building footprint has grown, the number of LEED Accredited Professionals has also increased, from just a handful three years ago to now more than 150.
"One reason LEED building is growing more and more now is because there is much more awareness, more people capable of doing it and the cost of projects has just bottomed out so more and more people can see it as a viable option for their business," says Cannon.
"Architecture firms are no longer charging extra for doing LEED projects because they see it as an overall part of their design process. Construction companies are now starting to incorporate LEED into their regular procedure."
He says projects are becoming much easier throughout the city because the learning curve continues to straighten out as more professional designers and contractors embrace the ideals and more business leaders, government officials and even residents understand the concepts and the value of green building. It is also easier to share, collaborate, mentor and teach with an array of talented people in the field and a track record of successful projects lining the streets of downtown Chattanooga.
As far as working himself out of a job, Cannon has sustainability plans of his own.
"Hopefully we get to a point where you don't do a project in Chattanooga unless it qualifies to be LEED certified," he says. "Three years from now I hope to have restorative buildings here that actually give back to the environment. I hope to look back and see Chattanooga is leading the nation."