Efficiencies pay dividends; high-tech wood

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today’s topics deal with energy building codes and the rebirth of our state’s pulp and paper industry. Executives for an alliance that promotes energy efficiency touts its benefits as an economic driver, notably in construction. Meanwhile, the president of a technical association says researchers are developing new uses for paper and wood-based products that appeal to manufacturers.

Energy codes equal efficiency

By Mandy Mahoney, Judy Knight and Lauren Westmoreland

In the land of urban myths, it’s often said that building energy codes are bad for business. Energy codes, which in Georgia are adopted at the state level, require developers to spend time and materials upfront to ensure new and renovated buildings will be super-efficient.

Buildings soak up 36 percent of all U.S. energy and consume 65 percent of the electricity we generate, at a cost of $400 billion annually. The energy (and water) needed to operate a building over its lifetime of more than 30 years is staggeringly expensive. So it makes sense to develop and renovate our buildings to use energy as productively as possible right from the get-go.

Highly efficient building insulation, lighting, heating and cooling make this possible. Energy codes ensure we consistently install these measures to meet minimum levels of energy efficiency across the commercial construction industry.

Myth purveyors have long claimed that because energy codes can increase upfront construction costs, they also stifle local building activity. However, an analysis of publicly available construction data from 2005 to 2013 shows this assessment to be completely inaccurate.

Georgia implemented an advanced energy code in 2011. Coincident with this new energy code, Georgia in 2011 enjoyed its largest-ever number of activated construction permits, known in the trade as “permits pulled.” Reviewing permits pulled from 2005 to 2013, states across the Southeast collectively showed a trend toward increased growth in commercial construction following the adoption of stronger energy codes.

Looking to cities like New York and Chicago, where some of the country’s strongest energy codes are applied to the commercial building sector, we observe vibrant urban landscapes that offer a plethora of different spaces, a net migration of highly sought-after millennials and strong economies.

In post-recession Atlanta, where a stronger energy code remains in place, a quick scan of the horizon shows us new construction, renovations and upgrades in every corner of the city. These span downtown, Midtown and Buckhead and include projects like the Westside Beltline trail, Ponce City Market, Krog Street and the Falcons stadium, to name a few. Less visibly, but just as powerfully, since 2011, almost 200 Atlanta building owners have signed on to the Better Buildings Challenge, a program that asks them to voluntarily reduce energy and water use by 20 percent by 2020.

According to Atlanta Gas Light, a Better Buildings Challenge participant, voluntary reductions in its building energy use have helped the company strengthen existing customer relationships and created new dialog with potential customers. Many participants, including landmarks like One Atlantic Center, Lenox Square, 191 Peachtree Tower, the Turner Building, the Civic Center, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the Technology Square Research Building, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, and One Buckhead Plaza have found the energy-saving measures they’ve implemented provide strong returns on investment, paying for themselves in just a few years. Future utility savings will make it possible for owners and tenants to grow, invest in new technology and create jobs.

Across the nation, energy codes mirror what our smart businesses and citizens already do. They create energy-efficient, high-performance buildings that result in cost-effective operations and happy tenants. They are also the workplaces of choice for smart, productive millennial employees. And they help showcase environmental commitment for competitive businesses whose customers demand corporate social responsibility.

Publicly available data confirms what we’re seeing all around us: Energy codes do not adversely impact construction activity. They may also offer one of the best approaches to fulfilling our vision for Atlanta, a lustrous city of economic progress for years to come.

Mandy Mahoney is president, Judy Knight is director of communications and Lauren Westmoreland is energy codes manager for the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance.

For additional information and supporting data analysis, see the 2014 report, “Construction, Codes and Commerce: The Economic Impact of Commercial Energy Codes in the Southeast,” by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (http://goo.gl/FFwM4a).

A pulp and paper rebirth

By Larry Montague

After years of downsizing, the pulp, paper and packaging business — one of Georgia’s largest industries — is quietly being revitalized. While the Internet and other electronic devices have led to reduced paper use, several Atlanta companies and researchers are developing new uses for paper and wood-based products.

Their efforts likely will have a significant impact on local businesses and give new vitality to an industry that has been a mainstay to the Georgia economy for decades.

The pulp, paper and packaging business in Georgia is valued at $11 billion and employs nearly 19,000 people. Two major corporations that produce these materials — Georgia-Pacific and RockTenn — are headquartered in this state. The revitalization is led by companies and researchers developing new materials from trees to partially replace plastics and metal.

These new, wood-based materials are lighter and stronger than some metals, which appeals to manufacturers. And because they are made from wood, they are sustainable and can be recycled — the ultimate win-win scenario.

One of the best examples of these entrepreneurial companies is American Process, a privately held firm based in Midtown. It developed a proprietary manufacturing process to make nanocellulose, a renewable material derived from wood fiber. American Process plans to begin operating the nation’s first commercial nanocellulose plant, in Thomaston, by April.

Working with several research universities, American Process is developing ultra-strong, lightweight components for automobiles reinforced with nanocellulose. The goal is to replace heavy steel structures, such as seat frames, with nanocellulose composites, which are lighter and cost less than the carbon fibers used now.Researchers at Georgia Tech’s Renewable Bioproducts Institute are also on the cutting edge of these changes. Robert Moon, a Tech adjunct professor, is working to increase the strength of cement while reducing the cost to produce it by adding nanocellulose crystals. Moon’s role is to accelerate research and development of nanocellulose at Tech and throughout the region.

Kyriaki Kalaitzidou, another Tech researcher, is also exploring the use of nanocellulose to reduce vehicle weights. She recently received funding to find out if these materials can make Yahama’s Newnan-produced golf carts and WaveRunners lighter and stronger.

At the hub of these changes is the Technological Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry. Headquartered in Peachtree Corner’s Technology Park, TAPPI is the leading technical association for the pulp, paper, tissue, packaging and converting industries. It has more than 7,500 members in 66 countries and has been driving education, professional development and technological advancements in the industry for almost a century.

TAPPI is also changing with the times. With the establishment of a new international Nanotechnology Division, TAPPI has begun creating nanocellulose standards and is working with some of the leading experts in this field to shape innovation and set the stage for commercial application and consumer use of these sustainable, green products.

As nanocellulose technology continues to advance, TAPPI is working with some of the largest manufacturers and suppliers to educate the public on “rethinking trees” and how this industry will impact the economy, create new employment opportunities and generate growth for Georgia. With new companies and research in metro Atlanta at the forefront of paper technology, TAPPI is well positioned to take advantage of its technical expertise and apply it to the local economy.

Larry Montague is president and CEO of TAPPI.


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