October 2012

by Susanna Parker

While coffee may not seem like the typical way to green your daily life, there are several easily available options. Is the coffee organic, is it bird-friendly, rainforest friendly, fairly traded, or water processed? The variety of terms can be overwhelming, but there are a few easy ways to find an environmentally friendly coffee that’s right for you.

So do a little research, grab your reusable mug and fill it with an environmentally friendly coffee.

One common label to find on environmentally friendly coffees is the Fair Trade Certified Mark. This label signifies that the coffee was purchased from growers who have met the social, environmental, and economic standards set by the Fair Trade Certification. Fair Trade USA describes four main standards for farm workers:

  • Economic Development — predetermined community development premiums are placed on every sale, and that money goes to the community to aid its economic development;
  • Empowerment — workers are trained in areas such as health and freedom from discrimination, they are empowered to determine how community development premiums will be used in their community, and they are able to effectively represent themselves and negotiate for better conditions;
  • Social Responsibility — International Labor Conventions are obeyed, child labor is prohibited, and health and safety measures are established to reduce workplace injuries;
  • Environmental Stewardship — farms operate using best practices for sustainability, including practices to reduce soil erosion, proper waste management including limiting waste generated, eliminating the use of highly toxic chemicals, efficient usage of water resources, and the maintenance of buffer zones for protected areas.

USDA Certified Organic is another common label. This signifies that the growers have followed strict regulations set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including eliminating the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides; crop rotation; soil fertility management; and watershed protection.

Another criteria to consider when buying coffee is bird friendliness. Created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Bird-Friendly (Shade Grown) coffee comes from plants cultivated amongst and beneath trees and other plant species, rather than on ground cleared specifically for the crop. Created to protect the habitats of migratory birds, the regulations are strict, but benefit the farmer as well as the birds; polyculture (or having more than one species in the same growing area) helps to prevent pests and enrich the soil.

There are a lot of options for environmentally friendly coffee beans, and none are inherently superior to the others. Choose your beans based on what matters to you; just make sure to check for the proper labels!

For more information, visit:

Susanna Parker is a recent college graduate and volunteer with Bethesda Green. Her interest in sustainability leads her to look for green solutions in uncommon places.

by Lori Hill

As I approached 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard to attend the 2012 Bethesda Green Gala, I grew excited about finally experiencing this LEED® Platinum office building which has won countess awards and proclamations.  The Tower Companies and Lerner Enterprises, the companies responsible for the building and Gala host sponsors, refer to it as the healthiest building ever built. Why?

2000 Tower Oaks Blvd at dusk.

First off, it is one of two office buildings in Maryland to achieve LEED® Platinum certification, the highest honor that the U.S. Green Building Council can bestow.  The other building is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Philip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis. Tower and Lerner have purchased wind energy to meet 100% of the building’s energy needs and the building’s efficient design reduces energy usage by 28% and reduces water consumption by 41%.  But that is just the beginning.

Building amenities include a green roof and a café that serves organic food.  Similar to other office buildings, it has a state-of-the-art 2,500 square foot fitness center with flat screen TVs, showers and lockers.  But unlike others, it has something I’ve never seen before:  a Pilates/yoga/meditation room.

Other features that make the building stand out are its LEED® green building practices and Fortune-Creating (sm) Vedic Architecture principles of orientation, placement, central core and proportion.  These principles combine to improve occupant health, well-being, performance, success, clarity and imagination.  Wouldn’t every employer want this for their employees to ensure optimum productivity?  The healthier building reduces sick time and increases worker retention.  How?  The superior indoor air quality is due to a three-stage outside air filtration system that removes 95% of airborne pollutants, recycles air every 51 minutes, and maintains a steady, comfortable temperature.  In addition, better lighting and thermal control, combined with the high air quality, increase productivity and enhanced cooperation among workers.  The generous access to natural daylight throughout the building doesn’t hurt either.  In fact, one worker commented, “I feel energized. I am able to concentrate on my task for the day more. The stress of a work day doesn’t get to me like it used to. The natural sunlight and view makes a difference, and makes me calm and happy.”

View of the lobby

If you are a company looking for new office space, you might want to consider 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard because green buildings improve employee productivity.  This building has the added feature of improving tenants’ health based on its innovative system and building design.  Companies can lower their operating costs by improving productivity, health and fostering a corporate culture that engenders loyalty which lowers employee turnover cost. The Tower Companies and Lerner Enterprises also take pride in the fact that the building is operated in a green manner through green cleaning and other operational practices.

So what prompted Tower and Lerner to build such a green building?  Nearly 17 years ago Jeffrey Abramson, one of the owners of The Tower Companies, realized that buildings contributed 40% of all greenhouse gases and decided the real-estate business needed to take responsibility for their impact on the environment.  Therefore, he realized that every new building needed to be green.  In 1994 The Tower Companies completed the Blair Towns, the first LEED® certified multifamily building in the country. Lerner Enterprises’ dedication to green was also part of its corporate culture since the design and construction of its now LEED® Gold Certified 20 M Street.

Office space

The original goal at 2000 Tower Oaks was to build a LEED® Gold building, but as the project progressed it became apparent that the developers had nearly enough points for Platinum.  With the help of building contractor Whiting Turner, Tower and Lerner made some decisions to achieve every point they could.  Some choices were easy such as designating parking for hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles. Other choices required design and some innovation.  For example, rather than using regular tap to water the grass, they did the job by collecting condensate from the air conditioning and some natural under slab drainage. These choices, along with some energy efficiency improvements, made the difference.

The biggest challenges with constructing a LEED® Platinum building was making sure that everyone knew that it was their responsibility to make it happen.  Everything needs to go right and everyone needs to be involved. The designer has to offer material choices that are sustainable, the project managers on the owners’ side need to ask the questions during design meetings.  The owners must realize that some design choices might be limited by materials. Today, sustainable material choices are much easier to obtain than they were 5 years ago.  Once the building is under construction, the contractor and all the craftspeople must know their role in ensuring the correct materials are used as specified in the drawings.  The key to overcoming this challenge is starting to work with an integrated design and construction team from the beginning.

For more information about the healthiest building in Washington, visit the 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard website.

Lori Hill is the Go to Gal for Green Living.  Visit her website at www.lorihillinc.com.