MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now to buildings and the energy that makes them run. So if we think about the origins of our energy, our power, we have, what, oil, coal, natural gas, the wind, the sun, maybe biomass? Well, this week, the environmental protection agency released its annual rankings of cities whose big building conserve energy particularly well.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The EPA awards these eco-friendly buildings an Energy Star certification and on the EPA's list, D.C. comes in second place right behind Los Angeles. Environment reporter, Jonathan Wilson visited one of the district's more efficient buildings to learn why Washington could soon come in number one.
MR. MIKE O'BRIEN
The tour continues.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
Yes. It should come as no surprise that a trade association dedicated to architecture would be proud of showing off its building. But the windowless room Mike O’Brien has just lead me into is hardly a showpiece. It’s little more than a closet holding an office chair and a computer.
So this is it.
O’Brien is the chief financial officer for the American Society of Landscape Architects, and despite the distinct lack of style or design around right now, this room is a big part of what makes the entire ASLA headquarters a model for the EPA’s Energy Star program.
It’s the control center for the building’s automation system, a system that automatically turns lights and the heating and cooling system on or off depending on the time of day and who’s in the building.
This essentially controls everything. Over on this side, we have -- this is the lights controls system.
The ASLA headquarters, which is located on Eye Street, just north of Chinatown, earned its Energy Star certification in 2013 by scoring an 89 out of 100 on the EPA’s building performance scale. To get certified, a building must score a 75 or higher on the scale, which compares a property’s energy usage to other properties of similar type, accounting for things like occupancy and size.
Lauren Hodges is communications director for the EPA’s Energy Star building program. She says many people assume that newest and shiniest buildings are the most energy efficient, but the truth is more complicated.
MS. LAUREN HODGES
We have buildings that were built in the 1800s that have earned the Energy Star, and we have buildings that were built last year that have earned the Energy Star.
MR. KEITH SWAN
So this is what I'm on the other side...
Staffer Keith Swan is walking me around the roof of ASLA building, a feature considered the building’s crowning achievement. It captures almost all of the rain that falls on it, a relief to the city’s overburdened stormwater system, and is also expected to last three times as long as a normal roof.
But ASLA is using it to show off what landscape architects can do in terms of design, it includes two elevated, wave-shaped planting areas that flank a partially shaded sitting space that is often used for parties and meetings.
So as you're sitting there in the center of it, you're actually encased in the plants as opposed to everything at your feet.
The walking surface is metal grating, and underneath that grating is more cultivated soil. It means 90 percent of the roof is covered with plants. Green roofs are more expensive. A regular roof runs about $5 to $10 per square foot, while a green roof costs about twice that much. But Mike O’Brien says green roofs more than make up for that difference over time because they’re such good insulators, reducing heating and cooling costs for buildings by at least 10 to 15 percent.
Think of it simply like this. It’s a hat on your head. In the winter time, it keeps the warm air in and in the summer time, it keeps the cold air from escaping.
The ASLA building is one of the 435 Energy Star certified buildings in the D.C. metro area that helped the nation’s capital earn the number two spot on the EPA’s list. Number one? That goes to Los Angeles, which has held the top spot ever since the EPA started publishing its rankings six years ago. But the EPA's Lauren Hodges says D.C. is now nipping at LA’s heels.
This year, they missed first place by only nine buildings. So it’s exciting and all eyes are on D.C. this year because we’re thinking this might be the year that D.C. pulls out all the stops and finally has what it takes to overtake LA for the #1 spot next year.
Hodges gives a lot of credit to a requirement in the Clean and Affordable Energy Act, passed by the D.C. Council in 2008.
That mandates that large buildings in D.C. have to measure and then publicly disclose their energy performance on an annual basis. So that’s been huge because it forces all these buildings to step on that scale and really see how they’re doing.
Surrounding jurisdictions are doing their part as well. In 2011, Arlington started an annual program called the Green Games, a friendly competition in the commercial office sector aimed at reducing energy use, waste and water. And Hodges says being the hometown of the federal government also gives the DMV an advantage.
There’s a rule that says federal agencies can only lease space in Energy Star certified buildings and so that’s really motivated D.C.’s landlords to step up their games so they can attract and retain federal tenants.
Whether or not building managers and property owners are worried about impressing the EPA, they’re all concerned about that other kind of green, their bottom line. It’s why Michelle Good, the director of sustainability for property management firm Akridge, says it’s pretty easy to talk her clients into making use of the Energy Star program.
MS. MICHELLE GOOD
It’s a great benefit, you know, it's being green to get green.
And apparently, property owners around the country are listening. There are 23,000 Energy Star certified buildings in the nation, but the EPA says 350,000 buildings are using agency's Energy Star benchmarking tools in hopes of cutting costs. I'm Jonathan Wilson.
Want to see energy efficiency in action? We have a video of the green roof Jonathan was talking about on our website, metroconnection.org. In a minute, the origins of a legendary library dedicated The Bard.
MR. STEPHEN GRANT
The Folger's had no children so they referred to their books as their boys.
Stay with us. It's just ahead on Metro "Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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