Although Jonathan Butler has what may be the most energy efficient elevator in the state of North Carolina, he still does not want people to use it.
"That's part of educating people," he says. "I'm going to have a little sign that says, 'It costs this much electricity to use this elevator. Consider the stairs.'"
Welcome to Biz611, the new business incubator and uber-green office building at 611 N. Church St., which will make its own electricity, use rainwater to flush toilets and grow snacks on its exterior walls.
Before you write off Butler as a superannuated hippie who preaches the religion of sustainability, you have to understand that he made his millions in the ultimate capitalist enterprise. He and his partners invented the Automated Trading Desk, which allowed brokers to buy and sell stock at the speed of digital lightning. They sold the business to Citibank, and Butler moved on to start the Flagship business incubators in Charleston.
He bought the historic Landmark apartment building from a developer who was considering a condo conversion. Instead, Butler is using the whole building as a second home for his family. He tore down the annex behind it — salvaging all the brick — and teamed up with a kindred spirit, the innovative architect-builder Ken Gaylord, to build the two-story 100,000-square-foot office building. It uses solar panels to generate electricity and has a V-shaped roof to catch rainwater, which is stored in cisterns for flushing toilets and watering plants. The east-facing brick wall along Church Street — surfaced with those recycled bricks from the annex — will become a green wall where plants and fruit and vegetables will grow. It includes a bike rack made from recycled wrought iron from the old building and a charging station for electric cars.
A "fancy heat pump" fuels the water heater.
"It draws in the warm air from the mechanical room and uses that heat to heat the water and it exhausts colder, drier air," he said. "It's amazing."
ECO moving in
Not surprisingly one of the first tenants Butler signed up was ECO, the Environmental and Conservation Organization. Butler has served on its board, although he is off it now.
"We're trying to be very energy efficient here, everything from signs on the elevator saying how much electricity that will take to solar tubes in the stairwell," he said. "The only time we need to turn the lights on is at nighttime when you go up and down."
Butler does not know for sure but thinks the solar panels will generate enough electricity to meet the building's needs for most of the year.
"Any electricity that is above our instant use automatically feeds to the grid to feed other people," he said. "The meter just gives us a running tally for that once-a-year reading. If you have a surplus it gets washed away. You don't get like a check but that's OK. If we would have a surplus that way, like here in the summer, I'm hoping we'll kind of bank up some credits on our meter. In the wintertime we may draw that surplus down and start paying."
Besides ECO, he has signed up its former director, David Weintraub, who is launching "Connecting with Elders," an oral history research project akin to NPR's "Story Corps." Another tenant is Jorge Riano, Butler's former Automated Trading Desk colleague whose company, GreenBy3, specializes in sustainable construction projects and office structures. Riano has salvaged most of Biz611's file cabinets, desks and chairs from offices that were going to discard them.
Biz611 plans to rent to startups, green-oriented companies and software developers. Besides 15 or so office tenants, Butler is offering "touchdown" space where users could light, work on their laptop and make calls. Tenants will pay an all-in-one fee that covers the light bill, Wi-Fi and water.
"It'll be month to month so they don't have to worry," he said. People starting a new enterprise often say, "I'm just starting out, I can't afford to pay for a long-term commitment, don't force me to sign a one-year lease."
"That's something like we've done in Charleston. If something doesn't go well for a tenant I'm not there trying to hold their feet to the fire on a lease. Let's just say it didn't work and try to get someone else in."
Biz611 has set a June 27 open house for ECO members and the building is on ECO's Green Home tour on Aug. 17.
Butler said Biz611 will be like his Flagship incubators — nurturing an open office environment with many opportunities for people in different jobs to mingle.
"It was important to try to come up with ways of making people interact. You really get a lot of that collaboration," he said. "Sitting in your office all day long wears you out. You need to take breaks, go off topic here and there, stay refreshed mentally. ... I've been really surprised how much of it does happen (at the Flagships) — new products, deals, things you don't expect from people talking in the halls."