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The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has never been afraid of change. For the past 30 years, the AOC has been committed to improving the energy efficiency of the Capitol Complex, a collection of venerable facilities recognizable throughout the United States.
While other organizations might have resisted technology advances designed to improve a facility’s energy efficiency and reduce its environmental footprint, the AOC has continued to raise the bar.
Implementing energy-saving measures in a facility such as the U.S. Capitol — the most revered facility in the Capitol Complex and maybe even the United States — can set an example for organizations working to minimize their impact on the environment and save money at the same time.
Stephen Ayers, the Acting Architect of the Capitol since February 2007, says various laws, including the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), have fueled the AOC’s commitment to energy efficiency. Ayers knows sustainability will continue to be a focus for Congress and the AOC.
“I think it’s going to continue to increase and redouble,” he says. “We’re going to clearly have to stay focused on it and continue to build resources to focus on it as well. Technology continues to change, and we’re going to have to stay on top of that. And it takes sustained effort.”
The AOC is responsible for the maintenance, operation, development, and preservation of the Capitol Complex, which includes the U.S. Capitol, congressional office buildings, the Library of Congress buildings, and the Supreme Court building, among others. The AOC manages about 48 buildings containing 16.5 million square feet. Roughly 2,200 employees work for the AOC, and the organization spends $500 million annually on its operations. The AOC also maintains 450 acres of land.
In 1978, the AOC presented a report to the U.S. Congress titled, Program for the Energy Conservation and Management for the United States Capitol Complex Buildings. Thirty years ago, many would have considered that report cutting edge or ahead of its time.
But despite the three-decades-old foundation the AOC has built, an overwhelming amount of work remains as the AOC continues to reduce energy use throughout the Capitol Complex while preserving its iconic facilities.
The AOC has not updated its Capitol Complex Master Plan since the 1980s, but it is developing a new plan. A significant part of that plan will incorporate sustainability and its impact on the way the AOC manages and maintains Capitol Complex facilities.
“In this particular environment, developing a Capitol Complex Master Plan does not happen overnight; it doesn’t happen in a matter of weeks or months,” Ayers says. “It takes a great deal of sustained effort to develop alternatives, fully vet them and ultimately get them approved. In this environment, working with the Congress, it takes a considerable effort to do that.”
The new master plan contains a series of framework plans, including the sustainability framework. The sustainability framework plan has a 20-year goal “to consider alternate sources of energy production, improve energy and water efficiency, and use alternative and renewable forms of energy,” according to Ayers’ recent testimony on energy efficiency in the Capitol Complex to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.
A large part of the sustainability framework plan involves complying with environmental laws, including EPAct and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).
“There’s also a series of goals of reducing the environmental footprint of the Capitol Complex and reducing reliance on the electrical grid,” Ayers says, “really looking at water and wastewater usage, and improving indoor (air) quality across the Capitol Complex.”
Because the AOC works for Congress, Ayers knows his organization needs to lead by example in the Capitol Complex when laws do get passed.
“We work for the Congress, so it’s essentially a zero-tolerance work environment,” he says. “When the Congress passes these laws, they want results, and it’s our job to deliver those results. That’s just the way it is here.”
How to Develop a Facilities Master Plan
Reducing Energy Consumption, Complying with Laws
Senate Buildings Receive Lighting, Plumbing Retrofits
Energy Audits Eliminate Wasteful Operations