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For green buildings' payoff, look inside

Biotech company Genzyme plans to build more green buildings outside the U.S. to improve worker productivity and spiff up its image.

Investing in green buildings is getting easier, says Genyzme, a company that knows from experience.

The biotech company on Wednesday hosted a teleconference with bloggers where it shared its views on green buildings and getting the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

A sketch of Genzyme's planned green office building in Beijing, China. Genzyme

Its corporate headquarters--the Genzyme Center in Cambridge, Mass.--is Platinum-level LEED certified, the highest green building rating.

Now, it's making more. It recently completed a laboratory in Framingham, Mass. It's also planning a manufacturing facility in Lyons, France and an office in Beijing, China.

These buildings are meant to be efficient with energy as well as water.

The Lyons facility, for example, will have a glass wall around the exterior of the building that will provide insulation and cooling in the summer.

The Framingham building, meanwhile, uses 40 percent less water than comparable sites with dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, low-flow shower heads, a drip-feed irrigation system, and water sensors to prevent overwatering.

But when I asked which green feature Genzyme found delivered the best bang for the buck, company representatives said that it's all about people.

"The best value is in how we make a better space for employees and that indoor quality aspect," said Rick Mattila, director of environmental affairs. "When people have that, they feel more comfortable, less distracted, and therefore are more productive. That's really where you gain from green buildings."

A planned 'green' manufacturing facility in Lyons, France. Genzyme

Their green buildings use daylighting extensively with things like full-height atriums and heliostatsto reflect light into a building's interior, rather than just for people near the buildings. Similarly, the air handling systems are sophisticated with the ability to monitor carbon dioxide levels indoors.

But employee or student productivity isn't the only reason that going green is an easier decision, Genzyme representatives said.

There are more products on the market with recycled content. Whereas five years ago, the company struggled to find contractors and suppliers, it now finds that they are advertising these green features.

"The market has gotten a lot more savvy and (suppliers) are responding," said Lisa Hartman, principal environmental engineer at Genzyme.

She said that if companies plan on going green from the beginning, the cost will be lower than if they change specifications after several months.

Mattila estimated that the premium for doing a LEED-certified building is about 2 percent.

The company can recoup those costs in lower energy costs, worker productivity, and by improving its image in the community and with prospective employees.

"We are in a business that's competitive to join our organization as opposed to another biotech company," Mattila said. "So why wouldn't we do our best and make good environmental decisions?"