BP are the first to admit that the Helios House is not revolutionary, just "a little better" (they even wrote that on a billboard). But when oil companies actually improve things (instead of just talking about it), it should be noted - encouraged, even. These giants are sitting on so much cash that if they wanted to they could be really big players in greening the future. Instead of funding disinformation campaigns, they could fund research into clean technologies and be leaders.
Back to the Helios House: It is an experimental gas station that tries to be more eco-friendly on the architecture side, and to help educate the public on environmental issues. More after the jump.
The station has been submitted for LEED certification (read here for more). Here are some of its features:
Water: Helios House exceeds current environmental standards for on-site collection, filtration and distribution of water; canopy collects rainwater for irrigation; rain and site water are filtered to prevent hydrocarbons from polluting groundwater.
Heat: Helios House is designed to minimize the "heat island" effect. The green roof is landscaped with drought tolerant plants, reducing the need for heating and cooling systems, minimizing rainwater runoff, and re-oxygenating the air through CO2 absorption (carbon sink).
Light: 90 solar panels produce enough energy to power two to three homes which is equivalent to just over 5,000 lbs/year of CO2 generation reduction. Energy-efficient lighting in the canopy area uses 16 percent less electricity than traditional stations.
Materials: The site utilizes farmed wood from renewable sources; bathroom tiles utilize 100 percent recycled glass; signage is made from stainless steel scraps from the project; all stainless steel used on site is recyclable.
They are still selling gasoline, but compared to the ubiquitous regular gas station, that's a step in the right direction. We can wish all we want that all gas stations would suddenly disappear, but that's not going to happen in the short term (lets hope that electric vehicles will be here in the medium-term and have a great adoption rate -- an expensive oil barrel and further reductions in the price of batteries could certainly create the right conditions) so in the meantime improving the "gas station" concept is better than nothing.
Here are a few more details about the features of the Helios House:
Cell Phone Recycling Center. Cell phones can be dropped off at Helios House, where they will be safely recycled instead of going to a landfill.
LED Lighting. Light emitting diode bulbs are used in signage and throughout the station, saving about 50 percent of the energy of fluorescents or metal halide bulbs. LEDs also last 60 percent to 80 percent longer than conventional bulbs.
Photocells and Timers. Lighting throughout the station uses multiple circuits and sensors to automatically switch electric lights on or off as needed through a 24 hour cycle. This will save about 400 kilowatt hours (kwh).
Natural Light. The design of Helios House makes use of natural light as much as possible, saving about 1,400 kilowatt hours each year.
Low VOC Paint. Ordinary paint releases VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) into the air. The paint in Helios House is Low-VOC and better for the air.
But what might be the most interesting feature of the Helios House:
Specially-Trained Staff. Helios House will be staffed by a team of attendants specially trained to provide consumers with information and tips about green living and answer customer questions about the station and its green features.
If the staff really is knowledgeable, with lots of good tips and information references around the station, then that's the killer app. Information and awareness are prerequisite to action, and since gas stations are everywhere and most people visit them frequently, they a place as good as any to reach them. Why not?
We strongly encourage BP to go much further. Even if you can't go 100% green and be impact-neutral (or even restorative!), at least start by offering better choices to your customers - like Toyota did with the Prius - and then build on that. Don't limit yourself to the short-term, aim high. In a not so distant future, what most people will want is clean energy and carbon neutral or even carbon-negative technologies. Cradle-to-cradle products that don't end up in landfills, renewable fuels (cellolusic ethanol, biodiesel made from algae, etc) and sustainable buildings (LEED, green roofs, recycled and sustainable materials, non-toxic paints and glues, natural light, etc).
As Wayne Gretzky said: "Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is."