A green factory

    Poblocki Sign Co. LLC, a West Allis-based designer, manufacturer and installer of exterior and interior commercial signs, recently registered with the U.S. Green Building Council to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its 120,000-square-foot building at 922 S. 70th St.

    The company expects its formal application with the council to be finished before the end of the year, and believes it will be certified in early 2009.

    Several new office, retail, municipal and residential buildings in southeastern Wisconsin have been built to LEED certification standards in recent years. Several new manufacturing facilities are being designed with those standards, as well.

    However, few manufacturers have redeveloped their existing buildings to LEED certification. Because Poblocki Sign Co. is so involved with new construction, the company decided that it needed to learn as much about “green” building standards and LEED certification as possible.

    “Rather than taking a ‘greenwashing’ route, we made a commitment to (LEED certification) and to understand it,” said Tim Drury, project manager of sales with Poblocki. “And what better way to understand it than to go through it ourselves?”

    Poblocki has built large exterior and interior signs for many high-profile projects around the Midwest and the nation. Locally, the company’s signs can be seen at the new Harley-Davidson Museum, Miller Park, the campuses of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University, and many area hospitals. Its signs also are showcased at Lambeau Field and Soldier Field in Chicago.

    There are only 37 LEED certified buildings in Wisconsin, with another 183 projects registered, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. For further growth and to help distinguish itself from its competition, Poblicki wants to make itself known for its expertise in green signage.

    “Each element (in signage) has the potential to be very green,” Drury said. “But before we roll out a green product line, we can go through this process to better understand how (LEED standards) play a role in signage or other projects.”

    During the LEED certification process, the company will also have at least two of its employees become LEED accredited professionals, meaning they have undergone training in LEED standards.

    “We want to be able to talk to the architects, developers and contractors and speak their language,” Drury said. “And what better way to do that than to have our people LEED certified?”

    There are four degrees of LEED certification – the initial certification, silver, gold and platinum status. Poblocki Sign will initially seek the certified status, but will likely look for a higher certification in the future.

    For many manufacturing facilities, achieving LEED certification might seem daunting because of LEED’s emphasis on energy and natural resource conservation. However, Poblocki’s building, built in 1995, is already near LEED standards.

    “We feel like we’ll be able to have the LEED certification with a modest investment,” Drury said.

    The building features high-efficiency insulation and a high-efficiency HVAC system that automatically turns off at night, on weekends and holidays, as well as occupancy lighting in its locker rooms and cafeteria. The company’s hot water heaters also are on timers.

    Poblocki also recently replaced its metal halide lighting in its manufacturing area with a high-efficiency fluorescent lighting system from Orion Energy Systems and is looking for additional ways to reduce its energy use.

    “We’re looking at putting in variable frequency drives for the motors used in our equipment (in the shop),” Drury said. “They take the wattage down when they’re not in use, similar to sleep mode on computers. Our overhead cranes, saws and routers, they all have electric motors.”

    The company also is working on ways to create a rainwater gathering system. It will use the rainwater to pour concrete sign footings.

    Eventually, Poblocki Sign wants to implement similar energy-saving systems in its office areas. The company already has plans to convert many of its office areas to occupancy sensors.

    “We’re looking at a software system to cut power when our PC’s aren’t in use,” Drury said.

    Additional improvements are likely, but will be closely scrutinized by the company’s five-man “green team.”

    “We’ll take a look at every LEED level and see where the return on investment is,” Drury said. “It will be a continuing dialogue. We’ll get through the first step first and get a driving (effort) behind this so that we understand the LEED process. We want to become the go-to guys for green signs and LEED certified signs.”

    Poblocki Sign Co.’s quest for LEED certification

    Systems in place now:

    • High-efficiency insulation, windows, doors and ceiling insulation with a high R value.
    • New, high-efficiency lighting system in its manufacturing area.
    • Office heating and cooling system run by a computerized system that cuts back on nights, weekends and holidays.
    • Restroom, lunch room and locker rooms use occupancy sensors for lighting.
    • Hot water heaters on timers.

    Systems being considered for additional energy efficiency:

    • Variable frequency drives for electric motors in the manufacturing area.
    • Rainwater capture system – water will be used to pour concrete sign footings.
    • Office lighting will be switched to occupancy sensors.

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