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Amid Rochester's growth, an eye on sustainability

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One Discovery Square in downtown Rochester, Minn.
One Discovery Square is a new building in downtown Rochester, Minn. Rochester officials hope buildings like this one become standard in new construction as it works to reduce energy use across the city.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

From the outside, One Discovery Square looks a lot like every other new building in downtown Rochester — sleek, high ceilings and a short walk to Mayo Clinic's campus.

But Jeremy Jacobs, real estate director for the developer behind the project, said its hidden features — like more insulation and high-efficiency windows — make the building green enough to earn a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Tenants have to meet energy requirements, too.

"Every tenant needs to use LED lighting, and every tenant has to have a minimum efficiency on their HVAC equipment," said Jacobs, who works for Mortenson. "That enables us to get the certification we need to be a part of what the city of Rochester is doing as a green city."

When the building opens in June, it will house medical and technology business startups. Jacobs said the building is designed to be 20 percent more energy-efficient than what the building code requires. It will also reduce water consumption by more than 40 percent.

In front of the building is a bank of bike racks meant to encourage tenants to pedal to work. Jacobs said the building's green features are a selling point to businesses thinking of renting space there, especially if they aim to attract younger workers.

"I think the younger workforce appreciate working in an environment where they can go home at night and say, 'That's a socially responsible way to work,'" he said.

As Rochester grows under the Destination Medical Center economic development project, the goal is for buildings like One Discovery Square to be the standard in new development. The Destination Medical Center plan aims to grow the city significantly over two decades, but also to reduce overall energy use by 25 percent during the same period of time.

While Jacobs said Mortenson would have incorporated green design into the building no matter what, the company got a significant incentive to do so: Developers seeking public assistance to build inside the Destination Medical Center zone have to include environmental sustainability into their design.

The Destination Medical Center's energy targets date back to the start of the plan six years ago. But the city has a new and notable champion on the issue. Newly elected Mayor Kim Norton campaigned last year on making Rochester greener, even though growth could mean more energy consumption.

"I want us to be a healthy city as well," Norton said. "We need both, and we can do both."

Candidate Kim Norton speaks during a forum.
Mayor Kim Norton.
Andrew Link | Rochester Post-Bulletin 2018

Norton said focusing on green building downtown is one goal, but Rochester can also make big strides in reducing energy use for transportation. Currently, the city is in the midst of rethinking how it moves people around, looking at strategies that don't involve single-occupancy vehicles.

"We're developing our public realm space, our transit corridors and our roads," she said. "They will be walkable and safer to bike on."

Green updates extend to remodeling projects in Rochester, too. That includes the Castle Community, a newly renovated historic building that houses a restaurant, an art space and a concert hall. For instance, the structure now has an energy-efficient heating and cooling system that pumps in more air when it senses there are lots of people on the top floor for a concert.

The system saves money and energy when the space isn't being used, but also collects data about the structure's efficiency.

Kevin Bright is really interested in this type of data. 

As Destination Medical Center's energy and sustainability director, Bright recently launched a tool to help business owners track how their buildings use water and energy. The idea is to show builders how they stack up against their historical trends and each others — and how they can save energy and money by changing their energy use.

Bright said it's an example of how a psychological phenomenon called social norming plays a role in sustainability.

"The more people that adopt these approaches, the more it becomes the social norm of 'that's just how we build,'" he said. "We use water-efficient appliances and fixtures in buildings. It makes sense, it's not that much more expensive. It's just something we do here in Rochester."

Bright said Rochester's recent recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council for being a green city was largely based on things Rochester has already been doing. 

But, Bright said it's a good starting point to make the city even greener as it grows.