Nature Conservancy LEEDs the Way

Historic building certified as Hawaii’s first green ‘existing’ building

HONOLULU, Hawai'i | August 24, 2009

The Nature Conservancy’s main headquarters in Hawai‘i, the historic Wing Wo Tai building in downtown Honolulu, has been certified as the first green existing building in the state, the organization announced today.

After two years of extensive renovation, the 132-year-old structure is now one of only 307 existing buildings worldwide to be so certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

LEED is the nationally recognized standard for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. “This is very exciting for us,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i executive director. “LEED is the gold star of green standards. If a historic building like ours can go green and get certified, any building can.”

Originally built in 1877 and rebuilt in 1916, the Wing Wo Tai Building quaintly evokes its horse and buggy roots. But the historic building is now a model of the possible, incorporating cutting-edge technology and innovative sustainable practices that reflect its owner’s commitment to the natural environment.

The 13,000-square-foot building features rooftop photovoltaic panels to generate clean power, a new energy-efficient air conditioning system, low-flow plumbing fixtures and energy-efficient lighting. In addition, the Conservancy has redoubled its recycling efforts and instituted policies for “sustainable” purchasing,” “green cleaning,” and solid waste management geared to minimize trash going to local landfills. Even the office furniture and the sign greeting visitors at the door are recycled.

“In 2006, after taking stock of our organizational carbon emissions, we committed to greening all aspects of our operations,” said Case. “We knew we could do more. And as a conservation organization, we felt it was important to lead by example. We have to ‘walk the talk.’”

The renovations have, as hoped, significantly reduced the Conservancy’s water and energy consumption and costs, a boon in the current recession. “Going green is shrinking our carbon footprint and saving us money,” Case said. “We’ve already cut our water usage by more than 30 percent and expect to cut our overall energy consumption this year by nearly half.”

Acquiring LEED certification for an existing building (LEED-EB) is a more complex and rigorous undertaking than certification of new construction projects (LEED-NC). Modifications required to meet standards for existing buildings must work within, or around, limitations that new buildings don’t have since they are designed from the start with efficiencies in mind.

At the same time, while LEED for new construction is becoming commonplace, “by virtue of their numbers, existing buildings have the potential to make the greatest positive impact on the natural environment,” said Melek Yalcintas of Amel Technologies, Inc, a mechanical engineer who custom-designed the Conservancy’s energy-efficient air conditioning system and also served as its LEED consultant.

The building’s historic status added an extra layer of complexity to the endeavor, involving permit delays and design restrictions. “But even with this restrictive designation, we were easily able to install the latest technology that blends into our building design,” Case said.

Through innovative problem-solving, the Conservancy, in collaboration with vendors, also helped to develop for the first time in Hawai‘i: (1) a new business model geared for cash-strapped non-profits, in which their photovoltaic system is financed through a power purchase agreement, with no upfront costs; and (2) comprehensive “green cleaning” service protocols and methods.

Key vendors who helped the Conservancy to fulfill important components of the LEED-EB process included: Amel Technologies, Inc., a mechanical engineering consulting and research firm that steered the Conservancy through the intricate LEED-EB certification process; Hawai‘i Energy Connection, which designed the Conservancy’s state-of-the-art rooftop photovoltaic system, in collaboration with Siu’s Electric, the firm’s commercial installation partner; and Hawaiian Building Maintenance, which performs “green cleaning” services using non-toxic cleaning products and equipment geared to enhance indoor air quality and the health of cleaning staff as well as building occupants.

In achieving LEED certification, the Conservancy earned the prestigious ENERGY STAR rating, which is the mark of superior energy performance and identifies a building as one of the most efficient in the nation.

The Conservancy’s offices on Maui, Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i and Moloka‘i are also now taking steps to go greener. This fall, the Moloka‘i office will be outfitted with a photovoltaic system that may supply 100 percent of its electricity. 

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

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Grady Timmons
Communications Director
(808) 587-6237

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