The leading can quickly turn into the bleeding edge, as many maintenance and engineering managers have found out the hard way. Being the first to undertake a particular project or implement a new technology also means being the first to find the pitfalls.
In the case of the National Geographic Society, though, being a leader has meant energy savings and national recognition.
Driven in part by its resource-conservation mission, the National Geographic Society’s three-building headquarters complex in Washington, D.C., became the first facility to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification in November 2003. Created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED-EB certification focuses on the upgrade and operations of existing buildings to improve their performance and overall impact on the environment.
The organization’s LEED-EB certification resulted from a three-year $7-million infrastructure upgrade. Upgrades to the complex’s heating and cooling and interior lighting systems, and its green-building operating practices, generated an 8-11-percent savings in the organization’s energy costs.
The project relied on the organization’s maintenance department to locate areas for upgrade, review plans and specify products.
“It’s not often that a chief engineer in an office building has an opportunity to be involved with that sort of equipment changeout,” says Richard Neal, National Geographic Society’s chief engineer. “During this process, I worked with mechanical and electrical engineers and architects to redesign space and make sure we specified the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly equipment available. I also worked with contractors, vendors and our own staff to make this project happen.”
Established in 1888, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest scientific and educational non-profit organizations. In its mission “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge” the organization has become an advocate for preserving the planet’s natural resources.
The goal to achieve LEED-EB certification stemmed from discussions with a performance contractor, which introduced the National Geographic Society to the LEED-EB pilot program, launched by the USGBC in January 2002.
The performance contractor “thought the National Geographic Society would be an ideal pilot candidate for the LEED-EB certification because of the age of its buildings, which range from 102 to 20 years old,” says Robert Cline, National Geographic Society’s director of general services. The organization agreed to a two-part performance contract.
“One aspect of the performance contract involved a guaranteed savings in energy usage,” Cline says. “The second aspect pertained to the National Geographic Society achieving LEED-EB certification. Our main objective was to operate a facility that reflected the mission and value of the organization while remaining cost-effective.
“We were committed not only to receive LEED-EB certification, but to also be the first organization to do it. Nobody remembers who came in second.”
The commitment led to an intense effort to examine all of the facilities’ systems and equipment and make necessary upgrades.
“In the last three years, we’ve undergone major infrastructure upgrades,” Neal says. During that time, equipment upgrades covered a spectrum of projects, from chiller, boiler and air-handling system replacements to enhanced energy-efficient lighting and window-film installations.
“We installed variable-speed drives on almost all of our air handlers and upgraded almost all of our motors to premium-efficiency motors,” Neal says, adding that the entire pneumatic control system was converted to direct digital controls. Some of the upgrades posed particular challenges.
“To replace our chillers and boilers, we had to take down walls and doors,” Neal says. After placing the new equipment in the same spot as the old, the crews faced new challenges caused by the configurations of the new equipment.
“In the boiler room, we removed two large fire-tube boilers and put in four smaller fire-tube boilers.” Neal says, “That changed the whole footprint of where the original boilers sat. We had to rearrange all of the piping,” he says, adding that installing the equipment also was difficult because the crew had to work in small spaces.
To ensure the organization reached its goal to achieve LEED-EB certification, it was critical that the staff stayed on schedule for the upgrade projects.
“There were some really tight schedules that had to be maintained,” Neal says, adding that the staff was constantly in transition from one project to the next.
“In the summertime, we had to replace the boilers, and in the wintertime we had to replace the chillers,” Neal says, adding that staff needed to make the chillers functional before the first warm-weather day of the year. Equipment start and stop times also were closely examined.
“We fine-tuned the hours of operation for certain equipment,” Neal says. “In the case of our steam boilers, we were able to shave 15 minutes off the scheduled start and shut-off times, enabling us to run the equipment 30 minutes less per day.”
Part of the department’s efforts to maintain efficiency includes using an energy management paging system, which monitors critical equipment, including boilers, chillers, main air handlers, temperature and humidity limits throughout the facilities.
“We have always tried to be proactive in our approach to managing our utility expenditures, therefore, we haven’t seen as much savings as other organizations might see,” Cline says. “Some companies completing the same upgrades can expect savings of up to 30 percent per year.” He adds that other companies that have been progressive in their energy-saving efforts might see savings of about 10 percent.
“We’ve been controlling our energy consumption for about the last 15 years through different programs,” Neal says.
Cline says meeting LEED-EB’s energy-conservation requirements will help the organization overcome an anticipated increase in electricity rates beginning in January 2005. Rates have been stable due to deregulation and a four-year electricity-rate freeze in the Washington metropolitan area that is in its last year.
“We’ve been enjoying these rates for nearly four years, but in January 2005 we’re anticipating a significant increase in our electrical rates,” he says. “We’re not sure what is going to happen to prices in 2005, but by doing some of the things we have done under the LEED-EB pilot program, we’re reducing the impact of the increased rates on our organization.”
“Ten years ago, our electric bill ran about $1.4 million per year,” Neal says “Today, it runs about $1.2 million per year, despite the addition of a new state-of-the-art television studio in 2001. We reduced our electric costs by about $300,000 a year over the last few years.”
“We’ve also seen approximately a 60-percent reduction in our waste expenditures in the past four years,” Cline says. The organization’s actual savings have been around 45 percent because some savings had to be reinvested into recycling efforts.
“We will continue to examine our energy consumption,” Cline says, adding that more savings are yet to be achieved and the organization would like to improve its rating on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR performance scale. The scale rates facilities from 1-100 based on their energy consumption.
“On the ENERGY STAR scale we’re at 67, so there is room for improvement,” he says.
Neal says he can focus now on projects that have been put on hold because of the LEED-EB certification-related projects.
“We installed a new CMMS system, but implementing it fully fell by the wayside because of the infrastructure projects,” he says. “In a couple more weeks, we hope to turn the old system off and completely convert to the new system.”
Maintenance and engineering directors undertaking such major infrastructure upgrades need to surround themselves with highly qualified people, Neal says.
“The key to running a successful maintenance department is surrounding yourself with quality people including contractors, mechanical and electrical engineers, architects, and your own staff.” he says, “Especially in today’s world where you have to do so much with so little, it’s critical that you surround yourself with the best people you can find. One person can’t possibly have all of the answers.” Neal also stresses the importance of doing the homework before undertaking major projects.
“When planning an upgrade project, read about it, talk about it, and ask a lot of questions,” Neal says, adding that being involved in associations enables networking with peers with similar challenges.
Cline encourages other facilities to investigate LEED-EB certification.
“Participating in the LEED-EB program has been an excellent benchmarking tool,” he says. “It gives an organization a means of measuring itself and continuing to measure its economic and environmental sustainability efforts going forward.”
“Some organizations will naturally achieve certification in a quicker time than others,” he says, adding that organizations also might have to create a long-term plan for capital projects to achieve their certification goals.
The LEED Green Building Rating System for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB), overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council, is a set of performance standards for the sustainable operation of existing buildings. The LEED-EB criteria covers building operations and systems upgrades in existing buildings where the majority of interior or exterior surfaces remain unchanged.
The LEED-EB Rating System addresses:
For more information.