On a typically humid day in Washington, DC this Summer, I set out to tour the U.S. Green Building Council. My initial affiliations with this organization stem from my visit to the 2013 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Philadelphia amongst an amazing group of scholarship recipients. I was a LEED Green Associate at the time, and only 1.5 years out of college. I knew even in the advent of my professional career that I had stepped foot into an extraordinary movement: Greenbuild is the world's largest conference for green building. Not long after attending, I pursued the LEED AP credential. Around this time, I also read Explosion Green & I remember instantly connecting with the 25 year old who was developing his professional skillset to carve his own way into a fairly new industry. The book details the inevitable formation of the USGBC from its humble beginnings to its global trickle down effect.
Since these pivotal moments, my fascination with the organization has only grown. It has sparked opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration on a massive scale! At the very least, USGBC has raised awareness to the green building industry, bringing together technical professionals (architects/engineers), marketing professionals, the materials/manufacturing industries, & more, under one umbrella. The development of its green building rating system (LEED, a third party verification that generates a performance score to measure a building's 'sustainability') has created hundreds of jobs. USGBC has also shaped policy, influencing legislature on both national and local levels: New York City requires LEED certification for city-funded buildings under certain provisions, and USGBC played a role in advancing federal law. Additionally, the data USGBC collects from the expansive LEED-certified building stock, allows us to recognize industry trends and thus advance policy.
The USGBC headquarters occupies 2 floors of a
10 story building. The existing building is certified
under LEED for Existing Buildings:
Operations & Maintenance.
Take a look at the USGBC Headquarters' LEED Scorecard (94/110 total points) to see how the office ranks.
Imprinted behind me is the USGBC logo in the lobby area, glass staircase connecting to the headquarters' second story, and the stunning two level waterfall. Water features always assist with passive cooling, perfect for DC's characteristic muggy Summertime. The stairwell is structurally strengthened with carbon fiber, a lightweight material with greater strength than steel, and also a much lower embodied energy.
ARC- We're standing in front of GBCI's digital tool, ARC, which provides a live score on the office's sustainability performance, as determined by preset parameters. Explains Ryan, "LEED is now powered by a powerful performance tracking and benchmarking tool, Arc. This allows all building owners to enter the system and see how incremental improvements can move them toward higher performance, making LEED certification much more within reach for a broader building stock." Energy and water consumption data is quantative, drawn directly from meters. Waste, transportation, and human experience are measured through occupant surveys.
The ARC platform measures building (and has expanded to the city level) performance across five metrics: energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience.
LIGHTING- Daylighting is incredibly evident around the office's perimeter with floor to ceiling glass walls, and the office's light-colored interiors help reflect the daylight deeper into the space. Efficient fluorescent lighting is utilized throughout. Some of the fixtures also integrate daylight harvesting, shutting off lights along the daylit perimeter when ample daylighting is available. Along the perimeter one can also find an automatic electric shade system that reduces solar glare. Occupancy sensors throughout the office turn on lights only when occupants enter a space.
PROGRAMMING FLEXIBILITY- The office merges an open floor plan with cubicles, and private offices, creating versatility for work spaces throughout. The office workstations are designed for flexibility, allowing flexibility as the occupants' needs change over time.
Scroll through the below galleries to catch glimpses of different work space configurations.
BIOPHILIA- Over 97% of regularly occupied spaces have a direct view to nature. No workstation is far from a window! Additionally, plants are found throughout the office, providing a biophilic environment.
The employee break room, seen through multi-colored panels above, contains furniture handmade from locally salvaged hardwood, some of it crafted by the Amish.
MATERIALS LIBRARY- The materials library is such a neat (and my favorite) component of the office! All the finishes/fixtures/furniture/equipment in the office can be sourced and is archived in this neat resource collection, containing product samples and green attributes data. The drywall you see behind the library and throughout the office is made of 98% recycled content, and painted with a zero VOC finish.
LEED CERTIFIED OFFICE- Scroll through the above signage to see how the office space achieved its LEED certification through the various credits in its rating system.
HVAC LOADS- The air curtain feature below is also one of my personal favorite office elements. Air is blown through this recessed slot in the ceiling and creates a 'barrier' that prevents mixing of the interior cooled office zone with the solar heat gain at the building perimeter. The office utilizes a VAV system, allowing individual occupants to dictate their thermal comfort via strategically located thermostats. Heating and cooling loads in individual offices are also connected to occupancy sensors, allowing load reduction with occupants vacate the space.
WASTE MANAGEMENT-The office's in house recycling program utilizes green practices, even hiring caterers who implement good waste management practices. Recycling and composting collection areas are clearly designated (see below). ENERGY STAR rated appliances are found in the kitchen, as are low-flow plumbing fixtures.
These kitchen countertops are made from 100% recycled glass and concrete.
So where does the future of USGBC lie?
Ryan sees a bright future in USGBC’s role in the battle against climate change. "Improving existing buildings operations and ongoing performance is the future of green buildings. It’s the largest part of our building stock and has the most significant long term impact. Design and construction are important, but if even the greenest of buildings is not properly operated and maintained, energy and environmental performance is not maximized. It’s amazing what can be done to improve performance, even in older buildings."
My city, New York City, is a perfect candidate for this goal and is actively working through its local laws to reduce emissions in its overwhelmingly large existing building stock. I’m personally excited to witness how USGBC will continue to bring awareness to environmental sustainability in the buildings market!
Thank you, USGBC, for an insightful tour through your living lab headquarters!