Region 7 Earns LEED Platinum: Walking the Walk

By Chris Taylor

R7_RO

Regional Office building in Lenexa, Kansas

After years of hard work by a lot of environmental stewards, EPA Region 7’s Regional Office building is now certified as LEED Platinum. This certification falls under the Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O+M) standard of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program (LEED). It is the highest level awarded under LEED. The LEED rating system is the nationally accepted benchmark for recognizing high-performance green buildings and uses a whole-building, sustainability approach to operations. There are five different program areas that include requirements in two broad categories: those based on the building and surrounding land, and others focusing on achieving performance goals associated with how you “live and work” in the building.

This is a very important accomplishment for EPA Region 7. First, it builds on the LEED Gold certification we previously received for the building under the New Construction/Major Renovation standard. Second, we’ve worked hard within our environmental management system (EMS) over many years to achieve these types of sustainability performance goals, so having these efforts validated by the LEED process is very rewarding. Finally, achieving this type of recognition demonstrates to the public that we are serious about environmental sustainability and do our very best to “walk the walk.”

A great deal of effort goes into submitting a LEED EB O+M application. In addition to developing and implementing policies and procedures, we collected and analyzed volumes of performance data, provided training for most everyone who works in the building, and worked to fine tune the building’s operating parameters to optimize its energy and water efficiency. Our team of representatives from the building’s architectural firm, mechanical system design contractors, the building owner’s property management company (PMC), and EPA employees completed these tasks over a period of about 2½ years.

Our building is truly amazing. Its highly efficient mechanical systems and extensive use of daylighting require about 25 percent less energy than our previous building, while the low-flow fixtures and efficient cooling tower design/operation combine to consume 56 percent less water. The PMC and its support contractors maintain several activities that tie directly into the LEED award. For example, the housekeeping staff adheres to a stringent Green Cleaning program that uses special vacuum systems with HEPA filters along with bio-based & fragrant/dye-free cleaning products, and the pest management contractors employ Integrated Pest Management practices that maximize the use of non-toxic trapping and elimination methods.

Most of EPA’s efforts are focused on supply purchasing, employee commuting, waste management, and indoor environmental quality. Achieving success in these areas required the participation of everyone who works in the building, along with strong support from management and our union partners. It was great to see everyone come together around this common goal – all the while strengthening the ethic of environmental stewardship and sustainability that has long characterized Region 7.

In the end, we diverted more than 73 percent of our waste from local landfills, eliminated nearly a quarter of the single-occupant commuting trips (driving to and from work alone), and ensured that 86 percent of our purchases were made from recycled/bio-based materials. We also developed a Native Grasslands Environmental Learning Center (NGELC) on the property that showcases several of the distinct ecosystems found here in the Heartland. The NGELC is one of the cornerstones of our Building Education Program that teaches our colleagues the benefits of high-performance green buildings and how organizations can achieve them. For more information about our Building Education Program, please contact Chris Taylor at taylor.christopher@epa.gov.

The LEED EB O+M certification is valid for three years through February 2018. Much of what was needed for the initial certification has simply become “the way we do business” and we continue to collect data and monitor our progress on an ongoing basis. We’re very confident that our recertification will be successful!

Chris Taylor is the Region 7 Environmental Management System (EMS) Coordinator and is responsible for the Region’s internally focused sustainability programs. A native Michigander (Go Spartans!) and Air Force retiree, Chris is delighted to be living and working in America’s Heartland.

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