Greener Buildings Are Part of a More Sustainable Future
As Earth Day celebrates 50 years, the industry reflects on the value green building has delivered for people and the planet.
Fifty years ago, 20 million Americans came together to celebrate the first Earth Day and the birth of the environmental movement. Fast forward to today and almost every industry recognizes they have a role to play in creating a healthier, more sustainable world.
For facility owners and managers, green building has been a cornerstone of environmental action. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, defined an industry standard and established best practices, providing a roadmap for designing, constructing and operating sustainable buildings and spaces. Certification has become an international symbol of excellence and proof that a building is going above and beyond to reach the highest level of sustainability.
Over the decades, green building has inspired innovative strategies and paved the way to more accessible and affordable products and materials. More and more tenants have now come to expect green features like low VOC paints and finishings, biophilic design, renewable energy and low flow fixtures.
Green buildings are one of the world’s greatest opportunities to not only improve the environment but create a better living standard for all. This Earth Day there are many milestones to reflect on that continue to help motivate and inspire progress:
• 2000 – Philip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis, Maryland, becomes the first LEED Platinum building
• 2000 – Kandalama Hotel in Sri Lanka becomes the first LEED-certified hotel and international project
• 2003 – Boulder Community Foothills Hospital in Colorado becomes the first LEED-certified hospital
• 2005 – Fannie Mae Urbana Technology Center in Maryland becomes the first data center to certify
• 2009 – Phillips Arena in Atlanta and American Airlines Arena in Miami become the first two professional sports stadiums to certify as existing buildings
• 2012 – A total of 12,000 commercial projects have certified under LEED
• 2014 – LEED projects found in all 50 U.S. states
• 2018 – Petinelli Curitiba office in Brazil becomes the first LEED Zero project in the world
• 2019 – More than 100,000 registered and certified LEED projects in the world
Looking ahead to a new decade, LEED v4.1, the latest version of the rating system, and LEED Zero are helping the industry write its next chapter. So much as already been achieved, but there is still more to do as green building continues to help the industry reverse its contribution to climate change. Here’s a closer look at some the green building projects that have influenced and inspired the industry.
Philip Merrill Environmental Center
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) cemented its position in green building history more than 20 years ago when its headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland, became the first LEED Platinum building in the world. For CBF, there was no doubt the Philip Merrill Environmental Center had to be green, but they didn’t realize how far they’d go. With LEED as their framework, the project team found ways to maximize daylight and access to fresh air, integrate solar energy, install a rainwater collection system and compost toilets and more. Their efforts reduced grid energy use by one third and cut water use by 90 percent compared to a typical office. The pioneering work became the envy of business leaders and organizations who visited from around the world looking for ideas to take back to their own offices and teams. Mary Tod Winchester, CBF’s retired vice president for administration helped lead the project and noted the opportunity visiting building owners and executives saw:
“The ones who caught on the fastest to what we were doing were the business leaders – the CEOs, the CFOs and the building owners. They were obviously looking at the bottom line and not necessarily what it would cost them, but what the operating costs were going to be. They talked with staff and quickly realized it was a place people wanted to work and loved to work. They really picked up on so many pieces of the puzzle. They would go on and incorporate what they saw into their own office buildings or new builds. And when you have businesses doing that you move markets.”
USGBC’s own Facility Management team continues to find innovative ways to improve the efficiency of the organization’s LEED Platinum headquarters office in Washington, D.C. They monitor ongoing performance in energy, water, waste, human experience and transportation using the Arc platform. The team achieved a 58 percent reduction in electrical consumption in 2019 versus 2011 and continues to find ways to reduce its carbon footprint and strengthen sustainability by tracking building/space data to become more efficient. USGBC serves as a living laboratory and recognizes how the space can serve as a teaching tool, not just for staff, but for everyone who visits. For those that visit the office, the hope is that each person will take the knowledge learned and implement it in their own building or commercial office space. The organization’s Director of Facilities, Melanie Mayo-Rodgers notes:
“The work does not stop once a space is built. It’s exciting that we are still able to find ways to improve through benchmarking performance against the previous year. Getting people to join your organization or become a tenant is influenced by Facility Management. The feel of the space and how healthy it is for people are all extremely important. The evolution of LEED and Arc have given us the tools to keep improving and the data to show that we are contributing to a healthier, more sustainable world.”
In December 2019, Willis Tower became the largest building in the U.S. to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The iconic building earned LEED Gold in 2018 and within a year made significant energy, sustainability and comfort improvements to achieve the highest level of certification using LEED v4.1. In partnership with Rivion, an energy consulting firm, EQ updated the heating and cooling system using state-of-the-art technologies to improve efficiency, which is expected to reduce energy consumption by up to 20 percent. Going even further with efficiency, the lighting control system was upgraded, and LEDs were installed. EQ also switched the Tower over to low-flow high-efficiency sink faucets, toilets and urinals, which is expected to cut approximately 30 percent of the building’s water consumption, or about 11 million gallons annually. EQ Office Senior Vice President and Portfolio Director, David Moore commented:
“Now more than ever, the health and wellness of all Willis Tower tenants, employees and visitors are our top priority. Our LEED Platinum certification, earned by improving the overall environmental quality of the Tower through updates to the building’s HVAC, water and lighting systems, is just one testament to how EQ brings wellness to the workplace, and it’s important to us – and to the future of the building and the surrounding environment – to continue that commitment.”
Better buildings are the key to a better quality of life and LEED building owners and managers are part of a global community committed to enhancing resilience, promoting health and well-being and improving efficiency. Earth Day and beyond is an opportunity to recognize the progress made and the opportunities that still lie ahead.
Sarah Stanley is director of communications for the U.S. Green Building Council.