The Elijah Smith Building is a green icon to be proud of

Standing next to the koi pond in the lobby of the Elijah Smith Building, Tom Sparrow proudly gestures at the sweeping atrium.

Standing next to the koi pond in the lobby of the Elijah Smith Building, Tom Sparrow proudly gestures at the sweeping atrium.

Greenery sprawls along ledges on all four storeys, giving the interior a motif akin to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon — albeit with fake plants.

Just above the main entrance is a massive mural denoting a stylized river scene with gold panners and dog mushers. Old-fashioned lampposts dot the lobby, giving it an outdoorsy feel.

“Government buildings can often be quite sterile, we believe in a community-minded building,” said Sparrow, director of the Yukon division of Public Works and Government Services, Canada.

Sparrow says the greenery and openness of the Elijah Smith atrium serve as a sanctuary for hundreds of city dwellers who suffer cabin fever during the winter.

They hold cocktail parties, dinner parties, weddings and retreat there for lunches, said Sparrow.

But the building is more than just another pretty face.

Behind the lush plastic gardens, the fishpond and its impressive decorative sunken ship, which spews out fog, lies a complex stable of ingenious green innovations.

These continually ensure the building’s standing as a regional leader in sustainable building technologies.

A temple of green-focused efficiency, if you will.

“Everything we do today operationally, one way or another, we look at the environment,” said Sparrow.

“Even though the building was built in ’92, we are putting money into the building every year — investing in the building based on new technology that wasn’t available at that time,” he said.

But except for the occasional compost bin, you wouldn’t know that. Not only is Elijah Smith green — it’s stealthily green.

Take the carpets.

 To the naked eye, they’re a typical red commercial carpet. But as Sparrow explained, they are both recycled and recyclable.

What’s more, rather than being laid out in long rolls, the carpet is composed of thousands of tile-sized squares.

“If we have to look at replacing a part of the carpet, we don’t have to look at ripping up the whole carpet anymore. We can take the square out,” said Sparrow.

Or the lights.

Everybody has fluorescent lights – but Elijah Smith has T8 and T12 fluorescent lights.

“It’s a much smaller tube, and they use a different type of electronic ballast, which actually makes it a lot more energy efficient,” said Sparrow.

“That was a $200,000 investment. But we got the payback (in energy costs) in about a year and a half,” he added.

Even the glues used in the building’s construction are environmentally friendly.

 “They’re not the toxic glues that you used to use 10 or 15 years ago. They’re all environmentally friendly and scent free,” said Sparrow.

Deep within the bowels of Elijah Smith are some of the building’s most well-kept secrets.

A used 45-gallon oil drum sits in the basement’s corner, topped with a futuristic assemblage of dials, hoses and levers.

Looking vaguely like a homebuilt time machine, the Bulb Eater is a complex device to facilitate non-toxic disposal of fluorescent lights.

First, you take a used fluorescent light and slip it through a slot in the top of the gadget. Then within a matter of seconds, the machine extracts trace quantities of toxic mercury from the tube and pulverizes the remaining glass.

Rows of air conditioning fans line the wall. Each unit is designated for a specific computer room within the building.

In the old days, a massive unit would work to uniformly cool the entire building, offering an inefficient mix of hot and cold areas throughout the structure.

A row of  bicycles leans against the wall. They are provided by the Yukon government to give employees a fossil-fuel-free alternative to zipping around town to meetings.

Just that week, workmen had put the finishing touches on a new electric boiler. The building will now be heated by cheaper, electric heat. But should the electrical grid ever be overloaded, Yukon Electrical Corp. can electronically switch the building back onto oil-fired heating.

For the heating oil that is used in the building, it is housed in a special vacuum-sealed, double walled tank with sensors to alert building employees if the integrity of the system has been compromised.

Even amid the high-tech , the most noticeable thing about the Elijah Smith building is what isn’t there.

Garbage — at least, not a lot of it.

Through a rear entrance, Sparrow pointed to a lone dumpster sitting in the building’s largely empty loading dock.

“This garbage container is a quarter of the size of the original one,” said Sparrow. In only a few years, the building has brought down garbage production by 75 per cent, he said.

In 2002, a garbage audit of the building discovered that most of the building’s refuse was composed of compostable or recyclable materials.

The realization swung Elijah Smith employees into overdrive. They streamlined the building’s garbage disposal operations.

Small green compost bins equipped with biodegradable trash bags now line the lunchrooms and offices of Elijah Smith, devouring mounds of organic waste each week.

In the bathrooms, motion-sensing paper towel dispensers are mounted on the wall.

Sparrow explains that paper towel use went down dramatically once the responsibility for quantity of towels dispensed was placed in the capable hands of a machine.

And of the few paper towels that do get used also find their way to a compost bin rather than a landfill.

Being leaders in sustainable building management, Elijah Smith employees have been consulted by many other Whitehorse businesses and institutions thinking of going green.

Yet it’s still not enough.

With Elijah Smith sitting on years of environmental knowledge, Sparrow said it’s “sad” that more doesn’t reach the public domain.

“There is a lot of success in what we’re doing and we need to showcase that and demonstrate that to others,” said Sparrow.

With demand for advice mounting, Sparrow hopes to quickly complete work on a multimedia project outlining the details of their environmental knowledge.

Even for those for whom environment isn’t a priority, it will be hard ignore Elijah Smith’s plummeting operating costs.

“There’s a savings of $125,000 a year just on the lights … electric boiler savings, as we see oil go up in price. Again, we’re probably looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings right there,” said Sparrow.

“Every little thing you do, certainly will impact you down the line,” he said.