Sustainable Practices for Federal Agencies
Building a moat around a Washington, D.C, federal building that doubles as a security tactic and storm water retention pond may seem like something from the Middle Ages. For Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, a 1,018-acre military installation which houses the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Analysis Center, it’s about combining sustainability and security.
The facility is undergoing an expansion, adding more grass, protective trees and a dramatic pedestrian bridge across the moat. But more importantly, this government facility is combining sustainable practices with the latest and most aesthetically pleasing anti-terrorist measures, for the dual purpose of keeping staff safe while cutting back on energy costs and impacting the environment. While the moat, which was designed by SmithGroup, helps to treat and retain stormwater, it also “provides a physical barrier to the front door and building, eliminating the need for additional security like bollards," says Lance Davis, sustainable design expert for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). “By combining sustainability and security, you can also combine budget line items,” Davis adds. “And that’s something building owners need to think about.”
This renewed focus on sustainability at a federal level is the result of President Barack Obama signing an executive order in 2009, which called for the U.S. federal government–the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy with 399,000 federal buildings spanning 3.35 billion square feet of space in America, according to The Federal Real Property Council—to focus on sustainable practices, including environmental leadership and economic performance.
To assist in achieving the policy goals of water conservation, increased energy efficiency and much more, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued the “Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes” in October 2011. Developed by a working group of experts representing nine federal departments, the guide includes strategies for achieving and improving sustainable landscape practices.
Here’s what you need to know about the guide, including important tips for implementing sustainable changes to your facility and landscape.
Conserving civil water
No matter where your facility is located, one of the biggest sustainable measures involves keeping storm water out of storm sewers to use on site, says Ray Mims, conservation and sustainability manager at the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) and leader of the group that developed the CEQ guide. “Do it with rain gardens, attractive detention basins and features that hold water,” he says. “Find a way to use water on-site and mimic nature by getting it back into the ground.”
Sarah Moulton, urban planner for the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and NCPC representative in the guide’s working group, suggests using a greywater system, which recycles domestic wastewater to use for irrigation. “You use a lot of water washing hands and dishes,” she says. “Most of that useable water as well as storm water that falls on a building’s roof goes right out to sewers or storm drains.”
Mims adds that many agencies are starting to use native plants, too. “Choose plants that are regionally indigenous,” he says. “It’s very easy to do and planting more can significantly decrease water maintenance.”
Develop a multi-functional security
Native plants and vibrant rain gardens aren’t the only methods for revamping a functional facility. “There are many beautiful things that can be used to treat rain or storm water that also meet security measures,” Davis says. Another example of this approach is The World Bank’s Washington, D.C., location, which transforms fountains and landscape into blockade-like security measures. With tall hedges, tree linings and barrier-style fountains, the facility is protected behind an eye-catching landscape. “It’s a doable method in urban and suburban environments,” he says.
What you should know about the guide
Whether your facility is constructing a new building or rehabilitating an existing structure, the CEQ-issued guide specifically targets federal incentives for improving a facility’s structure and surrounding area while conserving energy and money. The detailed 32-page document is organized into nine sections that agencies are encouraged to take into consideration when updating practices:
- Site Selection and Planning
- Materials Selection
- Human Health and Well-Being
- Existing/Historic Facilities and Cultural Landscapes
- Operations and Management
Through the guide, the CEQ encourages agencies to encompass all sections when developing a sustainability plan. “The primary goal is to make information available to change how landscapes are developed and maintained,” Mims says. “We want to build landscapes to mimic nature that will make long term progress in sustainability.”
Keep it simple
Addressing sustainability doesn’t have to involve a huge overhaul. Mims suggests that long-term progress is harnessed just as efficiently when focusing on a few simple, inexpensive changes to your facility’s environment. “Ideally, integrating three major exterior components—civil water, security and landscape,” Davis says—“is the easiest, most financially savvy method to develop sustainable practices.” But involving the community in your facility’s environmental efforts is another way to nurture on-site vegetation while playing a key role in public sustainability education.
Share your landscape
Bring a community component to your landscape, Davis says, such as urban gardens and living walls. A living wall is a vertical, frame-based structure filled with vegetation, placed on a building exterior and to interior walls. “One side has plants and vegetables and the other side can even be used as a security structure,” he says.
Agencies can also lease urban farms and living walls to local groups and schools to maintain vegetation. “That’s exciting and educational for a community,” he says. “Public buildings are becoming part of their communities.”
Whether you’re looking to save the planet or simply beautify your landscape, the “Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes” can help you make the first step toward a more environmental facility.