For the past decade, USAA Real Estate Co., San Antonio, has managed its portfolio of more than $4.9 billion in assets with energy efficiency in mind. But the seven-time recipient of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Partner of the Year award decided to expand its efforts to include LEED certification from the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council. In the fall of 2006, the company, which specializes in office, medical-office, industrial, public-sector, retail, multifamily and hotel properties, became one of the first participants in the pilot for LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance.
Looking for a test case among its existing building stock, USAA Real Estate selected an 11-story facility just west of Chicago’s business district. The building was developed in April 2006 as a build-to-suit facility for the Washington-based
U.S. General Services Administration to house a regional office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The facility was a good case-study candidate because it already was a highly efficient building with a strong property-management team in place. Early discussions with the FBI indicated the organization would be an active participant.
Undertaking LEED-EB: O&M certification is a major team effort and USAA Real Estate knew the tenants had to play a key role in the process. At first, the company’s director of facilities, Rick Pospisil, RPA, who is located in Chicago, wasn’t sure how much information the FBI would be willing to divulge. “We had great support from USAA Real Estate’s top management and an incredibly committed group of people in our organization,” Pospisil explains. “But engaging the tenant is critical because certification relies on information regarding full-building purchasing practices and recycling efforts.”
USAA Real Estate hosted educational town-hall meetings in the building’s lobby. The early-morning meetings enticed tenants with free coffee and lasted for several hours to allow people to drift in and out. The company’s first effort focused on increasing building-wide recycling, and the FBI was an extremely receptive audience. The FBI started its own tenant-recycling committee, and the building’s recycling figures rose from 47.5 percent to more than 70 percent.
Building on this momentum, USAA Real Estate integrated LEED EB: O&M into the meeting presentations, explaining the personal advantages of improved IAQ and the environmental benefits of water and energy efficiency. The LEED EB:
O&M process requires specific templates be filled out, tracking and totaling all purchases made in relation to the building. This includes all building tenants reporting on their purchasing policies, as well as waste-reduction measures and alternative- transportation programs for employees. To make tenant participation as easy as possible, USAA’s team modified the LEED spreadsheets to make them more user friendly and gave the tenant’s employees clear direction about how to fill out the forms.
“These are busy people and you need to carve the path of least resistance for them,” Pospisil says. “If you don’t, it will be really hard to make a process this involved happen.” The difficult work was rewarded. The FBI’s Chicago regional office building earned a LEED EB: O&M Platinum certification; out of a total possible 92 points available in the program, the building earned all 74 credits its management submitted for approval.
One change can have an array of positive impacts and help gain multiple credits toward certification. On the building’s 11-acre (4.5-hectare) site, USAA Real Estate had 1 acre (0.4 hectares) of non-native Kentucky bluegrass it decided to replace with native oats and buffalo grass. The new native-planted area combined with existing native-planted areas on-site to increase the overall calculations of sustainable plantings to more than 50 percent of the site. If a project can show 50 percent of its site is covered with sustainably planted areas, it qualifies for one point under the LEED EB: O&M program.
The new section is considered sustainable because it can grow without maintenance, lowering emissions from lawnmowers and decreasing landscaping costs. In addition, it reduces pollutants because it requires no fertilizer. The native plantings do not need irrigation, which saves water and lowers energy use because pumps don’t need to be run to pipe water to the site. Rather than tear out the bluegrass, the owner had it rototilled back into the soil to prevent waste.
The change was one of many that offered USAA Real Estate the opportunity to open discussions with its vendors. For example, the firm asked its landscape crew to decrease lawnmower emissions and provide information about its oil-recycling program. Pospisil says many vendors happily offered the required LEED-EB: O&M data for free. Those vendors also found their other clients began looking to them as a resource about how to go green.
A few tweaks in the water and energy usage of the building provided surprising outcomes. The combination of lessening irrigation, new aerators in bathroom and break-room sinks, low-flow showerheads in the locker rooms and new flushometers on urinals save more than 3 million gallons (11.4 million L) of water annually. The changes cost less than $5,000 and the rate of return is less than one year to achieve a 43 percent reduction in water use.
The FBI’s Chicago regional office building, with a starting Energy Star rating of 78 out of a possible 100 points, had a jump on energy efficiency. Still, USAA Real Estate knew the financial and environmental benefits of energy efficiency, so it focused on finding operating strategies to improve. Ralph White, chief engineer at the Chicago facility, created a continuous commissioning plan that included all HVAC equipment, as well as lighting and building-automation-system sensors. White performed retro-commissioning to ensure the facility was working optimally for tenant uses.
A metering company learned about USAA Real Estate’s improvement initiatives. Interested in a test study of its own, the metering company was curious to see if sub-metering major equipment in an already efficiently operating facility could have notable impacts. The new sub-meters gave USAA Real Estate the ability to see what each system was doing in real time.
“We don’t need to wait 30 days for an electric bill to see results. If any system is working harder than it has to, we can tweak it and see the change almost immediately,” Pospisil says. In addition to the continuous commissioning program and sub-metering, USAA Real Estate added new timers on lighting for the garage, site and art lobby, as well as changed the equipment operation schedules to better reflect building occupancy. It also created new staggered start-time schedules, adjusted boiler programming for after-hours and weekends, and changed the sequencing of the cooling system with the existing 12- and 24-hour systems. The combined effect of these efforts helped increase the building’s Energy Star rating to a score of 95.
IN THE FIELD
USAA Real Estate used the LEED-EB: O&M Platinum-rated FBI Chicago regional office to develop a cost-effective approach to certification that will be replicated throughout its portfolio. The new standards include items, such as green cleaning, sustainable purchasing and high-per- formance operations aspects, like continuous commissioning. In addition to making the buildings more com- fortable, Brenna Walraven, managing director of national property management for USAA Real Estate, says the new standards make her company more efficient and eliminate waste, which leads to better financial performance.
“Our goal is to drive the business case for sustainable, energy-efficient operations by sav- ing more money than we spend to execute a sustainable strategy,” Walraven says. “If we continually prove these efforts are good for occu- pants, help the environment and make financial sense, we are showing the market that this is the direction in which it must move.”
LEED EB: O & M
The LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system is a set of voluntary performance standards that help maximize operational efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. Based on actual building operating performance, the rating requires applicants to provide solid data during a given performance period on the entire building’s operations, including tenant spaces. LEED EB: O&M allows buildings to become newly certified and continue improvements with future recertification of building operations.
Applicants achieve LEED EB: O&M certification by earning points for a series of prerequisites and criteria across five main categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. Within these categories, applicants must address building-cleaning measures, site-maintenance programs, purchasing practices for environmentally preferred products and food, recycling policies, and energy and water consumption. Up to seven additional points may be achieved through an optional category of Innovation in Operations.
Certification levels are awarded based on the number of points earned: 34 to 42 points for Certified status, 43 to 50 points for Silver, 51 to 67 points for Gold and 68 to 92 points for Platinum. More information is available at www.usgbc.org.
KJ Fields writes about architecture and sustainability from Portland, Ore.
• GREEN TEAM
OWNER / USAA REAL ESTATE CO., San Antonio, www.usrealco.com
TENANT / FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Washington, D.C., www.fbi.gov
LEASEHOLDER / U.S. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, Washington, www.gsa.gov
ON-SITE BUILDING ENGINEERS AND COMMISSIONING AGENT / ABM ENGINEERING (a subsidiary of ABM Industries, San Francisco), Los Angeles, www.abm.com
LEED CONSULTANT / CTG ENERGETICS, Irvine, Calif., (949) 790-0010
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT / DANIEL WEINBACH & PARTNERS LTD., Chicago, www.dwpltd.com
LANDSCAPING SERVICES / MOORE LANDSCAPES INC., Northbrook, Ill., www.moorelandscapes.com
RECYCLING / RECYCLING SERVICES, Chicago, recyclingservices.com
INDOOR/OUTDOOR INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT / SMITHEREEN, Chicago, www.smithereen.com
CIVIL ENGINEER / TERRA ENGINEERING LTD., Chicago, www.terraengineering.com
• MATERIALS AND SOURCES
SUB-METERING / QUADLOGIC, Long Island City, N.Y., www.quadlogic.com
FAUCET AERATORS / Vandal Resistant Pressure Compensating Softflo Aerators from CHICAGO FAUCETS, Des Plaines, Ill., www.chicagofaucets.com
URINAL FLOW-CONTROL AERATORS / Aquavantage by ZURN, Erie, Pa., www.zurn.com