What a Billion-Dollar LEED Gold Project Looks Like

USACE wins LEED gold for new offfice complex in VirginiaThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was aiming for high marks in sustainability  when it designed some elaborate green features into the Pentagon’s new $1 billion Department of Defense Office Complex in Virginia, and the good folks at the U.S. Green Building Council just rewarded it with LEED Gold certification earlier this month. Regular readers of TriplePundit are already familiar with some of the Defense Department’s sustainability actions, but it’s worth taking a closer look at this USACE project to see how it fits into the greater scheme of things.

Making LEED Gold Out of Clay

The project pulled together more than 6,400 employees who were working out of multiple leased spaces in different parts of the Washington, D.C. metro area and consolidated them into two adjacent office towers, so while it missed out on the opportunity to reclaim or re-purpose existing buildings, there is potentially some offset in creating a more cohesive workforce that can communicate more efficiently, and get things done with less need to travel between different locations. The project also provides the opportunity to consolidate multiple facilities such as a visitor center (which sports a green roof, by the way) and to coordinate mass transportation.

Invisible Green Features in a Billion-Dollar Office Complex

Some of the key LEED-winning features of the new complex are practically invisible to those who visit or work in the buildings. This includes the construction phase, in which 6 million pounds or almost 90 percent of the construction waste was recycled. The complex itself features advanced HVAC system and LED lighting with “smart” controls, water saving fixtures, and drought-wise landscaping and stormwater management. The project also involved purchasing enough renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 40 percent over a four-year period.

Building Public Awareness into a LEED Gold Project

The most visible green features of the project do not necessarily make the most significant contribution to the complex’s overall efficiency, but they are worth the investment in terms of identifying the complex as a LEED Gold awardee. This includes the green roof on the aforementioned Visitor Center and green “screens” around one of the parking lots, along with bioswale (meandering, landscaped depressions) for natural stormwater management.

LEED and Budgets and Deadlines, Oh My!

The project was part of a broader overhaul of U.S. bases involving closures and consolidations, and in that context it was under a tight deadline. Nevertheless, it demonstrates that a green vision can be compatible with the kind of pressure that builders often encounter in the real world. In a press statement, New York District Commander Col. John R. Boule explained:

“This project was a massive undertaking, even by Corps of Engineers’ standards and had to be delivered on a tight timeline. The team was able to deliver the complex under budget and ahead of schedule while deliberately incorporating significant sustainability features to earn this prestigious environmental ranking.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Future of Sustainability

The new complex fits right in with USACE’s long legacy of epically scaled construction projects, but its green elements also underscore the agency’s push in a new direction. Among its latest efforts are a geothermal mapping project that identified the vast geothermal potential in Department of Defense properties and a new stipulation for available wetlands protection in all of its projects.

Image: LEED Gold certified Department of Defense Office Complex, courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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