Summit unites federal agencies on sustainability

February 01, 2006 |

A memorandum of understanding signed by 17 federal agencies on January 24 establishes "guiding principles" of sustainability for the government to take into account in its buildings.

The agencies agreed to: 1) employ integrated design and commissioning in major construction and renovation; 2) cut energy costs by 30% vs. ASHRAE 90.1-2004 and provide measurement and verification; 3) protect and conserve water (20% less than under the Energy Policy Act of 1992); 4) enhance indoor environmental quality (thermal comfort, moisture control, daylighting, low-emitting materials); 5) reduce environmental impact of materials (10% post-consumer recycled content, bio-based content, reduce construction waste at least 50%, eliminate ozone-depleting compounds). The agencies were given 180 days to come up with technical guidance to implement the principles.

The "MOU" signing was the symbolic highlight of the first White House Summit on Federal Sustainable Buildings, held January 24–25, in Washington, D.C. The summit was organized by Federal Environmental Executive Edwin Piñero.

Nearly two years in the making, the MOU commits federal agencies controlling 75% of the government's 500,000 buildings and 3.4 billion sf of space to implement "common strategies" for high-performance and sustainable buildings. The signers: Agriculture, the Council on Environmental Quality, Defense, Energy, EPA, GSA, HHS, Homeland Security, HUD, Interior, Justice, NASA, the Office of Personnel Management, State, Transportation, TVA, and Veterans Affairs.

Metering and verification are key elements of the memorandum, which cites Section 103 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), calling for the installation of building-level utility meters in major new and reconstruction projects; after one year of occupancy, the Energy Star Benchmarking Tool must be employed, with data and lessons learned entered into the DOE's High Performance Buildings Database.

Bryan Hannegen, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told the nearly 200 federal officials at the summit that the memorandum committing federal agencies to sustainable building design was "a big deal for us" at CEQ. "It has been hard-fought, fiercely negotiated, and it's not just about green buildings, but about making the federal government as efficient as possible," said Hannegan. "I challenge you to leave no building behind—no more energy use than is necessary, or any waste of taxpayer money."

Clay Johnson III, Deputy Director for Management in the Office of Management and Budget (and a long-time friend of President Bush), gave attendees three rules to follow to achieve success with the OMB (and the White House): 1) clearly define your goal; 2) clearly define your action plan to reach the goal in the desired time; 3) clearly define who is accountable—by name—and by what date. Johnson said the U.S. government owns so much property, "we're trying to get rid of $15 billion of real estate, the worst-performing 5%."

That advice sounds great, but how well does the government itself reduce its own energy costs? David Anderson, Associate Director for Resource Programs in the Office of Management & Budget, presented "scorecards" on energy, transportation, and environmental management to agency representatives at the summit.

Highlights of the scorecards: 1) six agencies met the FY 2005 goal of 30% reduction of energy use; 2) the federal government reached 2.98% of its FY 2005 energy needs through renewable sources, beating the goal of 2.5%; 3) 10 of 17 federal agencies present at the summit met the goal of improving fleet mileage by 3 mpg (vs. 1999); 4) all 17 agencies had green procurement programs in place.

Representatives from numerous federal agencies presented updates on their green building activities.

At the Defense Department, a new "instruction" on Installation Energy Management will push DoD to achieve 25% renewable energy for its facilities by 2025, said Phil Grone, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Installations & Environment. Grone said the directive also will require metering of all DoD structures (currently, 348,000 buildings), an ESPC (Energy Saving Performance Contracts) approach to financing, and modeling and reconfiguration cost factors to take into account sustainable principles from the private sector.

"Over the next 6–10 years, we'll be transitioning $45 billion of our plant, through BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) or host-nation return from our allies," said Grone. "We have to reposition them smartly and in a sustainable way." Grone said that, of DoD's 867 major building projects in FY 2005, 254 were "LEED certifiable."

Robert Cox, Director of Engineering in the Engineering and Technical Services Division of the Defense Facilities Directorate, noted that DoD's Washington Headquarters Services had diverted 62% of construction waste from landfills (against a goal of 50%).

Other initiatives: the introduction of 37 Green Seal-approved cleaning products; a five-fold increase in recycling at DoD's Washington HQ facilities; and the use of gypsum wallboard with 100% recycled paper and masonry units with 50% recycled concrete content. "We scratched the surface at the Pentagon," said Cox. "There's so much more to do."

David L. Winstead, Commissioner of the General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service, stressed the need for the government to lease buildings near public transit—one of the goals of the GSA's Urban Development/Good Neighbor Program. "I do feel we can do more in this arena," said Winstead, who has been commissioner since October.

Sam Hunter, Assistant Commissioner in GSA's Office of Applied Science, said that although the GSA now targets LEED Silver for all new construction, an amendment to the 2005 Energy Policy Act requires the agency to review other standards—presumably Green Globes—as well as wood standards beyond the Forest Stewardship Council certification (such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative).

"We spend a lot of time, and our clients do, too, wondering how to get one more [LEED] point," said Hunter, referring to the U.S. Green Building Council's rating program. "Now we need to say: Let's do the right thing, and the points will follow."

Rick Khan, the new director of DOE's Federal Energy Management Program, told summit attendees that he wants to encourage pilot projects under FEMP's New Technologies Demonstration program. "I definitely believe in this program, and I intend to put a lot more emphasis into it," he said.

Jean Lupinacci, director of EPA's Energy Star Commercial and Industrial Branch, advised the assembled federal officials, "Don't rely solely on technology and code requirements for energy performance." Being "better than code" is "only weakly correlated to energy performance," she cautioned, adding that, while "the market assumes green buildings are energy efficient, studies show this is not necessarily the case." Nationally, she said, nearly 2,600 buildings have qualified for Energy Star rating.

NASA, the U.S. space agency, has a goal of LEED Silver for all major facilities over $500,000 for FY 2006, and will strive for LEED Gold, said Olga M. Dominguez, Deputy Assistant Administrator in NASA's Office of Management Systems. She said NASA sees sustainability as a way to reduce mission risks, which include: regulatory threats, restrictions on activity, encroachment, rising energy costs, natural disasters, and what she called "mishaps." Dominquez said the new Building 4600 at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will seek LEED Silver and Energy Star ratings.

The Interior Department's National Park Service—which manages one-fifth of all U.S. land, including 388 parks and 800 dams and irrigation facilities—has had "Guiding Principles for Sustainable Design" since 1993, Deputy Secretary P. Lynne Scarlett reminded attendees.

DOI's Bureau of Indian Affairs uses LEED Silver as a standard in school projects (such as the LEED-Certified Baca Dlo'ay azhi Community School, Prewitt, N.M.). DOI's Bureau of Land Management Escalante (Utah) Science Center uses light shelves and dimming sensors, and the new 48,000-sf DOI headquarters will have a green roof—with meters to measure how much runoff it controls. Scarlett urged federal officials to consider using DOE Energy Performance Contracts, which reward Building Teams for saving energy.

The U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, said that improving building environments could result in $75 billion savings in annual healthcare costs nationally. He cited data showing that 1) allergies and asthma are spread by poor indoor air quality; 2) mold growth affects the upper respiratory tract; 3) poverty and poor housing conditions negatively affect health. He noted that one in five U.S. schools has IAQ problems.

Carmona's remarks were reinforced by John D. Spengler of the Harvard School of Public Health, who said that as much as 30% of the nation's buildings have indoor health conditions that could lead to mucosal irritation, respiratory problems, and even cognitive disruption. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) showed 54% of respondents stating they had "high susceptibility" to these conditions; 71% reported losing productivity as a result of poor IAQ. Spengler also said 6% of Americans report sensitivity to chemicals in the environment.

Douglas Durst, one of the few "civilians" at the summit, urged 200 federal officials at the summit to commission their buildings. "We commission our buildings constantly," said Durst, co-president of New York development firm The Durst Organization, which built 4 Times Square and is currently constructing the Bank of America at One Bryant Park. "You need to examine your buildings every year."

For Rob Cassidy's Blog on the White House Summit, and to learn what federal officials learned about sustainable design and construction from Jiminy Cricket,

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