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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 that houses the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Analysis Center, it was about combining sustainability and security. 

Although the moat, which was designed by SmithGroup, helps to treat and retain storm water, 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).

In addition to cutting back on additional security, this government facility is also cutting back on energy costs. The facility features sustainable practices with the latest and most aesthetically pleasing anti-terrorist measures, for the dual purpose of keeping staff safe while impacting the environment. “By combining sustainability and security, you can also combine budget line items,” Davis says.

This renewed focus on sustainability is the result of a 2009 executive order that called for the U.S. federal government — with 889,000 federal buildings spanning 3.35 billion square feet of space, according to The Federal Real Property Council —to focus on sustainable practices.

To assist in achieving this, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued the “Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes” in October 2011. Here are some tips for implementing sustainable changes to your facility and landscape, as well as the nuts and bolts of the CEQ’s guide.

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.” 

Design Multi-functional Security

Native plants and rain gardens aren’t the only vibrant 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.

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 and placed on a building’s exterior or 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.” 

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
  • Soils
  • Water
  • Vegetation
  • Materials Selection
  • Human Health and Well-Being
  • Existing/Historic Facilities and Cultural Landscapes
  • Construction
  • Operations and Management

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.”

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.


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