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Nissan going for green image

The automaker's new U.S. headquarters is designed to show off its environmental commitment.

March 13, 2008|Bill Poovey | The Associated Press

FRANKLIN, TENN. — Nissan wants to talk about more than a way to drive at its soon-to- be-finished Americas headquarters.

The Japanese automaker is showing off "green" features of the $100-million project as a kind of image signpost for car and truck buyers who are increasingly focused on environmental concerns.

The 10-story S-shaped building, which is scheduled to open in July, eventually will have about 1,500 people working in it. Nissan North America, which increased annual sales by 4.5% to more than 1 million vehicles and a market share of 6.6% in 2007, is moving about 20 miles south from a Nashville high-rise to a 50-acre campus with a restored wetland.

After relocating to Tennessee from Gardena in 2006, Nissan's own facilities engineers developed the headquarters with features aimed at showing a concern for the environment beyond stretching miles per gallon and cutting exhaust emissions.

A science-fiction-sounding "light harvesting system" automatically dims or turns off interior lights in the 460,000 square feet of offices. Sun shades outside -- sort of like reflective visors -- with computer-designed blades direct sunlight to reduce glare and heat in the Southern summer.

Air conditioning and heat are controlled through outlets at each workstation.

"You heat the people and not the space," said Rob Traynham, the company's director of corporate services.

Nissan engineers say the headquarters should consume about 35% less energy than a traditionally designed building. Citing fluctuating energy costs, the company declined to estimate how long it would take for savings in energy bills to offset the cost of the environmental features.

Outside the glass-covered building, Nissan is restoring a 2 1/2 -acre wetland. Tens of thousands of native Tennessee plants, including iris, button bush and rushes, are already growing there.

And there's greenery almost everywhere else on space that would have been paved if not for a parking deck tucked at one end of the 400-foot-long building.

David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., says automakers share a zeal to show customers that they are "green" on and off the road and a new headquarters is a good place to show off environmental commitment.

"Particularly in the current environment, where it is much more fashionable to be green in everything you do. That's a big deal," Cole said.

Nissan isn't seeking a seal of approval from the U.S. Green Building Council. Traynham said Nissan preferred to spend money to restore the wetland "rather than have a plaque on the wall."

Green Building Council spokeswoman Ashley Katz described Nissan's decision as unfortunate.

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