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Chesapeake Bay Foundation spent extra to make its headquarters eco-friendly

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's building features a variety of different green technologies, from waterless toilets to cork floors.

The building project "was an opportunity to practice what we preach here," said Winchester. "When we told [designers] we wanted no-flush, compost toilets, they looked at us like we were crazy," Winchester recalled.

The green concept was new to builders, as Chuck Foster, the foundation's chief of staff, discovered when he explained the group's alternative energy requests to a contractor working on another foundation project.

"I said that we wanted a green building. And he said, 'Son, we'll paint the building any color you want,' " Foster recalled.

A typical office building of a similar size uses 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of water a day, Winchester said. The Merrill Center uses 90.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council Web site, buildings in the United States use more than 13 percent of the nation's potable water, about 15 trillion gallons a year. "Buildings are one of the heaviest consumers of natural resources and account for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change," the site says. They account for 72 percent of energy consumption in the United States.

The war cry of the 43-year-old Chesapeake Bay Foundation is "Save the Bay," which is threatened by nitrogen and phosphorous produced by human and animal waste that flows into the 64,000-square-mile watershed every time it rains.

The foundation fights pollution with advocacy, studies and lawsuits against local and federal government. As part of its mission, it teaches students to be responsible stewards of the bay and its river tributaries.

The idea to use its headquarters to showcase the use of alternative energy and teach by example arose 15 years ago, when the foundation started to grow out of its offices in downtown Annapolis.

Winchester and Foster were tapped to search for a new headquarters nearby. They turned up their noses at several properties and were turned away by the owners of other sites they coveted.

Two years later, there was a breakthrough. The owner of the 32-acre Bay Ridge Beach and Inn resort decided to sell her sprawling Tahiti-style beachfront property. Fearing that a developer might purchase the property and bring noisy crowds to their secluded neighborhoods, members of the Bay Ridge Civic Association shopped the inn to the foundation.

"It took me 10 seconds to say, 'Oh my gracious, what an opportunity,' " Winchester said. "Not just because it's on the water, but because of what we do: field trips, planting oyster gardens, restoring woods, bringing in stakeholders who could see the bay."

They quickly discovered that it's not easy being green.

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