A Case Study in Sustainable Distribution Center Design

Spring 2013
The LEED Silver Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center in South Brunswick, NJ, uses sustainable design techniques such as radiant flooring and circulating fans to conserve energy. Photo by Taylor Photo.

Over the last decade, sustainable design has gone from catchphrase to prerequisite for property and building owners across the country. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system has effectively promoted sustainability across the office, educational and municipal landscapes. But for warehouse and distribution centers, implementation has been more challenging.

Without an official LEED rating system tailored for warehouse and distribution centers, industrial developers had to adapt LEED models for other product types to meet rising marketplace demands for sustainable design. While daunting, to date such adaptation has proven successful, as evidenced by innovative projects like the LEED Silver certified Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center in South Brunswick, NJ, designed by KSS Architects for Forsgate Industrial Partners.

With the pending approval of LEED v4, warehouse and distribution centers will finally get standards of their own, thanks in large part to the research, analysis and market research of KSS Architects, in partnership with the NAIOP Research Foundation, that together identified the need for such standards back in 2006. Many of the key principles acknowledged during the research by KSS have already found their way into today’s industrial design. As the market demands more energy efficiency, daylight, thermal comfort and site selection/planning, sustainable design for warehouses and distribution centers have become reality.

Providing a new LEED rating system for warehouse and distribution centers is not about making LEED certification easier to attain. Rather, it is about providing a path tailored for warehouse and distribution centers. A system that responds to the unique opportunities within this building type will further sustainable design and development across the industrial landscape.

Inspiring Change

In 2006, KSS Architects embarked on a mission to understand how sustainable design could be applied to warehouse and distribution centers. With a research grant from the NAIOP Research Foundation, KSS chose to conduct a closer examination of the LEED rating system to determine if credits identified for non-industrial product types could apply to the warehouse/distribution category of buildings. KSS concluded that LEED could be used for warehouse and distribution centers, with some modification, to better align the sustainable principles that apply, in a manner specific to distribution centers.

KSS shared their findings in a report to NAIOP that looked carefully at the overall issues that set warehouse and distribution centers apart from other building types in relation to sustainability, and identified ways to incorporate sustainable design that paralleled the intent of the LEED rating system. Convening a group of 15 architects, engineers, building users and development partners, KSS and NAIOP identified specific LEED credits to modify or eliminate. Through the charrette process in 2008, three main areas of difference emerged: Site impact, daylight and views, and workplace demand for more comfort. In focusing on these areas, the greatest sustainability value for warehouse and distribution centers could be realized by adapting standards to meet the unique aspects of these structures. KSS and NAIOP then approached the USGBC, who enthusiastically embraced the concept of creating a product-specific rating system for warehouse and distribution centers.

roof of the Coca-Cola building

The combination of daylight tubes and photovoltaic panels allow the distribution center to save energy while producing energy. Photo courtesy of KSS Architects LLP.

While not all of the proposed changes were included in LEED v4, there are modifications that respond to the market-driven suggestions made and offer opportunities within the unique characteristics of distribution centers (See sidebar).

Site Planning — Site planning and response to urban centers and industrial heritage are sustainable design aspects distinctive of distribution center facilities. Industrial development has the potential to revitalize former industrial lands, and it is a powerful use in terms of restoring the environment and providing an economic base to towns. Better land planning leads to reduced energy use throughout the entire supply chain, further extending the sustainable impact. Yet it is clear that industrial buildings, while a critical part of an urban plan, have different needs for land mass and infrastructure. The new LEED v4 rating system recognizes industrial development for its significant value as part of a larger, brownfield remediation plan.

Daylight — Lighting makes up an enormous percentage of overall energy use in a warehouse. Replacing high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures and incorporating occupancy sensors can significantly reduce energy usage and generate early paybacks. Daylight strategies also have a significant impact on the quality of the work environment. It is important to note that daylight space in a warehouse is different than in an office. There needs to be an emphasis on understanding of sourcing in a large volume. In LEED v4, the bulk storage, sorting and distribution portions of a building must meet requirements for daylight and quality views for 25 percent of the regularly occupied floor area.

Energy and Thermal Comfort — Distribution centers are no longer huge expanses of clear open spaces. They are active workplaces. Building users expect workplace environments with thermal comfort. Systems like radiant flooring; circulating fans for destratification; passive nighttime air circulation; heat venting and/or wind flow; localized active cooling or heating systems; and localized, hard-wired fans to provide air movement for occupant comfort can have a significant impact. Understanding the unique energy characteristics of warehouses, the LEED v4 system offers benchmarks from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool, ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010, and national or historical average data for energy performance.

Live Positively

Even without LEED v4, many of the sustainable warehouse and distribution centers of today are pushing the envelope, incorporating strategies and techniques identified through market research conducted by KSS, the NAIOP charrette of industry professionals, and the LEED Steering Committee and Working Advisory Group.

The new Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center in South Brunswick, NJ, developed by Forsgate Industrial Partners, is one of Coca-Cola’s largest distribution centers in the United States. It consolidates operations from Neptune, North Brunswick and Parsippany, NJ. Home to a staff of approximately 650 drivers, merchandisers, account managers, distribution, sales and warehouse personnel, the 226,000-square-foot distribution center is largely dedicated to moving product, but does include 20,000 square feet of office space.

From inception of the project, sustainability and LEED Silver certification were top priorities to meet the environmental goals of the Coca-Cola Company. Through its “Live Positively” initiative, sustainability is engrained throughout Coca-Cola’s corporate culture and marketing efforts. “Live Positively” is the foundational concept that illustrates the company’s commitment to making a positive difference in the world. It focuses on seven core areas key to business sustainability:

  • Workplace;
  • Beverage Benefits;
  • Active Healthy Living;
  • Community;
  • Water Stewardship;
  • Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection; and
  • Sustainable Packaging.
the interior of the Coca-Cola building

Daylight tubes and clerestory windows flood the warehouse with natural light, virtually eliminating the need for artificial light on the average sunny day. Photo courtesy of KSS Architects LLP.

A feature key to achieving the LEED Silver designation includes the innovative daylight strategy, which accounts for 15 LEED energy points. The new distribution center features an interior fully lit by natural light throughout the workday, using perimeter clerestory windows and daylight tubes with sensors. Combining these elements virtually eliminates the need for artificial light during the day. The project also features a rooftop photovoltaic array on more than 40 percent of the roof. Together, the photovoltaics, lighting systems and high performance HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units are saving over one million kWh of electricity, almost 900,000 therms of gas, and producing almost 590,000 kWh of power annually. The energy saved is the equivalent of the annual energy used by almost 1,300 cars or 500 homes, according to U.S. EPA calculations.

In addition, water efficient plumbing fixtures have reduced water usage by 35 percent below U.S. EPA standards. A white roof mitigates the heat island effect, and interior finishes include both renewable and regionally manufactured materials.

KSS also worked with Coca-Cola to design interpretive signage throughout the facility, highlighting “Live Positively” strategies and the sustainable techniques employed.

With a fast-paced construction schedule of less than one year, the new Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center exemplifies a cost-effective, sustainable and high-performance design solution for the industrial sector.

The process of incorporating sustainability into the development of warehouse and distribution centers has been multifaceted. Through collaboration in meeting the demands of the marketplace, incorporating the LEED system principles and completion of innovative projects, such as the Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center, industrial development will remain a vital component to the sustainable landscape.

By Edmund Klimek, AIA, partner, and Scot Murdoch, AIA, principal, KSS Architects.

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table listing the elements of the Live Positively Initiative of the Coca-Coal Company

LEED v4 Credits for Sustainable Distribution Centers

Established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2000, the LEED green building program provides a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. Over the past 10 years, LEED has rapidly expanded into a global system applicable to new and existing buildings, neighborhoods and homes with a combined inventory of over 9.8 billion square feet in 135 countries.

In late 2013, USGBC will launch LEED v4, the newest iteration of LEED that will continue to drive market transformation and bring green building further into the mainstream. One of the key improvements is that LEED v4 will hone its guidance for unique building types, including distribution centers, hotels and data centers.

Because of their locations, large scale and hours of usage, intergration with LEED standards has been a challenge for distribution centers. To effectively address this important market, USGBC built on the previous work of KSS Architects and NAIOP and formed a working group of industry leaders in 2009. The additional credit options recommended by the working group were integrated into LEED v4 along with credit options for data centers, hotels and existing retail buildings. NAIOP is proud to have played a foundational role in the development of the refined LEED standards for the industrial market.

Specifically for distribution centers, the LEED v4 Building Design & Construction rating system includes the following changes:

Location and Transportation Credit: Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses
LEED v4 provides two new options for this credit. Option 1 awards credit for the redevelopment of land that was previously used for industrial or commercial operations. Option 2 features credit for distribution centers built in close proximity to main logistics hubs, highways and access points to freight lines.

Location and Transportation Credit: Green Vehicles
LEED v4 features two new options for distribution centers. Option 1 conveys credit for at least one alternative fuel yard tractor. Option 2 awards credit for providing electrical connections that reduce truck idling at the facility.

Indoor Environmental Quality: Thermal Comfort
This credit in LEED v4 uses only ASHRAE 55 thermal comfort standard for office portions of a distribution center. Other portions of the building can utilize different thermal comfort strategies such as circulating fans or passive systems.

Indoor Environmental Quality: Quality Views 
This credit in LEED v4 encompasses a lower performance threshold for the bulk storage, sorting and distribution portions of a distribution center.

By Marc Heisterkamp, director, strategic accounts, U.S. Green Building Council.

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