Building green


Whether you're building a new practice or remodeling an old one, being environmentally friendly may save you money.

When Dr. Nan Boss wanted to build a new home for her practice, she wanted to go green—and we're not talking about color here. She designed Best Friends Veterinary Center in Grafton, Wis., for maximum energy efficiency by using recycled materials and other environmentally friendly construction methods.

The benefits? Dr. Boss' hospital aligns with her personal belief in conserving the earth's resources. And the bonus: She expects to save 30 percent a year on electrical lighting costs alone and several thousand more a year with her heating system. With such alluring benefits, Dr. Boss isn't the only one in the veterinary field who thinks it's easy being green. Thinking this might be a good path for you? Take these steps to explore your options:

  • Audit your current systems. "Using more energy-efficient systems for water, heating and cooling, and lighting is an easy way to save money and help the environment," says Dr. Amy Krauss, a member of the AVMA's Committee on Environmental Issues. The first step in an existing practice: Conduct an energy audit to learn how your current systems stack up.

"Some local utility companies may do an audit for free," she says. "They can tell you where to upgrade and save money." (Don't expect instant results, though. The company may not get to your audit for a while—a few months to a full year is typical.)

  • Tap the resources at Energy Star. The Energy Star program, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, promotes energy efficiency and conservation in homes and businesses. Registration with the program is free, and you enjoy access to complimentary resources such as product ratings and hints on how to maximize energy efficiency.

The program also gives awards to businesses that have done outstanding jobs of maximizing their energy efficiency. So far, three veterinary clinics have been recognized, including the Schmidt Veterinary Clinic in West Bend, Wis. The clinic was completely renovated to include programmable thermostats, light sensors, an efficient hot water heater, and other improvements, which resulted in a $540 annual savings in energy costs.

  • Gather ideas from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This nonprofit group works to promote buildings that are "environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work." One of the USGBC's programs is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The organization offers training workshops, accreditation, resource support, and certification of building performance.

Building a better practice

Dr. Boss was thorough in her homework on building green: She read magazines and books and saved a file of information with techniques and ideas she wanted to try. She also looked for builders with backgrounds in green building who were also certified as LEED architects. Dr. Boss' architect and construction manager helped her to sort through the choices and decide which energy- or resource-saving ideas would work for her. "They knew about key state programs and organizations; for example, they had the local resource council visit the job site to talk to the crew about recycling," Dr. Boss says. "Recycling our building waste was a huge concern for us, because one-third of what goes into landfills in Wisconsin is construction waste."

And when it came to choosing building materials made from recycled products, cost wasn't as large a factor as most people would assume. "Some of the materials aren't any more expensive," she says. And by using recycled materials to build her clinic, Dr. Boss reports she'll save money on building maintenance, because many of the materials resist wear better than standard building supplies. For example, the siding on the building isn't wood; it's cement board—a product made from cement, sand, and cellulose fiber. Cement board resists mold, mildew, and insect damage, and is guaranteed not to require repainting for 50 years.

Other times, Dr. Boss' choices did mean higher up-front costs. For example, the architect who developed the floor plan for Dr. Boss' clinic suggested using five residential heating units connected together. Instead, Dr. Boss opted for an expensive, top-of-the-line HVAC system. The unit's cost was offset by the fact that it's also highly energy efficient and may save the practice $4,500 per year.

You may also get a payback in perception. While not all clients notice Dr. Boss' use of recycled materials and energy-efficient systems, the ones who do show a strong interest in learning more. She's had several people tour the building to talk about green design. "Our choices show we care about the environment," she says. And showing you care is something clients respond to, agrees Krauss.

As with any investment, do your research. For Dr. Boss the green gamble panned out well. "I'd encourage others to consider green options," she says. "We've enjoyed interesting results and found that our choices are cost effective."

Donovan Atkinson, editorial intern, is a journalism student at the University of Kansas. Please send questions or comments to

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