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Sure, there are lots of fluorescent and natural lighting at this Salt Lake City architecture office, along with recycling bins in the company kitchen.

But MHTN Architects has incorporated green designing into virtually every aspect of its downtown headquarters, showcasing how environmentally friendly buildings can save the firm and its clients big bucks.

Leaving a smaller environmental footprint encompasses high-tech systems and recycled materials, along with old-fashioned common sense. Stair treads for instance, are made with recycled waste paper and fly ash, the residue that comes from burning coal. And instead of throwing out old chairs and tables during its recent remodeling, the furnishings were dusted off and reused.

"Being conscious of our environment is the right thing to do," said Myron Willson, one of the few architects in the state whose sole duty is to look for environmentally friendly strategies in every design project.

In the United States, buildings use more energy than do all forms of transportation, and buildings spew out more greenhouse gasses than the transportation industry or the industrial sector, according to the Department of Energy.

Within the past decade, building green has moved from being a specialty niche market into mainstream architectural practices.

"The days of throwing some kind of mechanical [heating and cooling system] at a building and calling it good are over," MHTN Vice President Kyle Taft said. "We now have an integrated design that looks at how everything relates in the project."

Impacts on the planet are taken into account as well.

When MHTN remodeled its offices, more than 75 percent of the construction waste was recycled, and 40 percent of existing ceiling, flooring and walls were reused. The firm also used materials that are rapidly renewed, such as Plyboo paneling, made from bamboo that grows much quicker than traditional woods.

The firm is so serious about the environment that there are no paper or plastic plates or cups in its kitchen. Employees use glass dinnerware and stack them into a new dishwasher. Kitchen counters are pipestone, made from recycled paper, and cabinets are particleboard, manufactured from recycled wood fibers with no added urea or formaldehyde.

There's more. Men's restÂrooms have waterless urinals and low-flow water closets while the women's use two-stage water closets to save on water.

Sensors turn down lights when the sun shines through windows or when occupancy rates are low. In the evenings, lights are automatically turned off, with overrides at individual workstations for anyone working late.

Firm President and CEO Bryce Jones said green buildings save money over time. Initial costs for some buildings may be no more than traditional methods while comprehensive, integrated designs could add as much as 5 percent to the project.

For clients wanting to go even further, buildings can be registered under LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The registry was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders.

LEED ratings have gone from a single standard at the organization's inception in 1994 to a comprehensive system made up of six criteria having to do with sustainable sites, water efficiency, greenhouse emissions, materials, indoor environmental quality and "innovative" designs.

Those standards in turn, are used to obtain an official rating, starting from "certified" with no innovations and moving up to silver, gold and platinum. Currently, MHTN has 10 projects that are seeking LEED certification including its own downtown offices (platinum) and the LDS Church History Library and Archives (silver).

MHTN is one of the state's largest architectural firms. The 115-member firm is the only Utah company ranked in Engineering News Record's Top 500 U.S. Design Firms.

Some of the firm's projects include the Novell corporate headquarters in Provo, Zions Bank Tower reconstruction in downtown Salt Lake City, and numerous school projects, including Jordan and Juan Diego high schools.