A French engineering firm has built what is being hailed as the world's most environmentally sound building, a structure that produces more energy than it consumes. The 10 story building is located in , and it is part of concerted effort to put the city on a sustainable energy path.
The Elithis tower is a striking sight in the heart of Dijon's business district. Black, with a red metal skirt -- which actually is a sun shield -- it is sandwiched between the city's opera house and a hotel. But the tower is more than just another handsome landmark -- from the ground floor to its solar-panelled roof, it is an experiment in a greener way of working and living.
Francois Pocheron, a senior manager for the Elithis engineering firm that designed the tower, takes visitors on a tour of the building. Just about every aspect of its design and construction is aimed at conserving energy - and harnessing natural elements like sunlight and rain.
In fact, Elithis director general Thierry Bievre says the building consumes almost no energy. Bievre says massive, double-paned windows allow the maximum of light in -- so that even on a cloudy day, workers don't need to switch on electricity. Sunlight streaming in helps warm the building during the winter, while a red metal skirt helps deflect the sunshine to help keep the building cool during summer months. Rainwater is used for both the air conditioning system and for sanitation. Once it is completely operational, the building should produce more energy than it consumes.
To achieve the cutting edge design, Elithis tapped young architects and encouraged all of its employees, including construction workers, to be actively involved in its development.
Now, Bievre says, another experiment is unfolding -- to see whether those working in the building will change their energy habits. They will have to, in fact, if the Elithlithisis tower can live up to its claim to be a positive energy building. To do so, employees must turn off their computers at night and use the minimum amount of heat and lights. The company has hired sociologists to track the behavior of the employees over the next three years.
Every company with office space in the Elithis building also has signed on to an environmental charter. That includes a group of radiologists who moved into the first floor. Jean-Yves Cobacho heads the unit. "Today in this building we have light everywhere. We work with natural light. (Before) we used artificial light. It (this) is better for us. We start working at 7 am and we leave at 8 pm. Sometimes we never see the sun all day. And now, we see the sun and the light," said.
Cobacho says the doctors are also using less radiation to make X-rays, because it is healthier for their patients. They have stopped using X-ray film because it is better for the environment.
Dijon Mayor Francois Rebsamen hopes to see similar changes elsewhere in the city. Rebsamen says efforts are currently underway to build 700 low-energy housing units in three neighborhoods -- which aim to be vehicle-free. Residents will walk or bike instead. Overall, by the year 2020 he says, Dijon wants to reduce its greenhouse to one quarter of what they are today.
Outside the Elithis tower, 19-year-old Joanne Pousset waits for a bus. She says she knows the building is environmentally friendly -- and she likes that. She also says the tower may not be exactly beautiful, but it's colorful -- and a nice change from the usual office building.