Giving GSA Retrofits More Bang for the Stimulus Buck

Rocky Mountain Institute

Giving GSA Retrofits More Bang for the Stimulus Buck

It's no secret that the federal government owns a lot of buildings that are in need of renovation. But the good news is while buildings are updated for greater comfort, aesthetics and function, efficiency upgrades can be added to the list.

Recently, energy efficiency has been elevated to top priority for government-owned buildings, due to both ambitious federal goals and mandates (e.g., the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and the National Energy Conservation Policy Act) requiring facility energy intensity reduction and renewable energy use increase.

This represents an enormous opportunity to implement sustainable technologies and practices on a large scale and help transform the marketplace. The federal government oversees approximately 500,000 buildings, and the General Services Administration (GSA) owns or leases 350-plus million square feet of space in which one million federal employees work. Energy costs alone in these buildings are approximately $7 billion each year.

Rocky Mountain Institute is currently helping GSA meet its mandates, and get more bang for its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) buck by developing a renovation program for buildings so they use substantially less energy, cost less to operate and maintain, and offer greater occupant satisfaction. RMI and GSA are starting with the modernization of the Byron G. Rogers Federal Office Building in Denver, CO.

The 18-story, 494,156-square-foot office tower is currently home to 11 federal agencies. The high-performance green building project will include upgrades to the structural elements and to all major building systems; it is projected to reduce energy use by more than 70 percent over current levels, pushing the building closer to its NetZero by 2030 target.

Part of RMI's RetroFit initiative, this project aims to serve as a pilot for the GSA's entire building portfolio. "Amplification is a core goal of RetroFit," said Eric Siwy from RMI's Building Practice, "so, if this building is shown to do well, we can provide a replicable model for how to not only meet but exceed the government goals and mandates."

What They Need to Exceed

With ambitious efficiency goals laid out for the Byron Rogers facility, the design team has quickly solicited the help of an often-ignored, but necessary component of a high-performance building -- the occupants.

"GSA is only required to get a LEED Silver rating, but they are shooting for a platinum," said Siwy. "If the goal is to be one of the most efficient office buildings in the country, we need active participation from the tenants in the design of their individual spaces."

Tenants play an integral role in a building's life cycle energy consumption. For a typical office building of this size, plug loads account for approximately 16 percent of total building energy use.

"In prior efficiency retrofit projects, about 30 percent of the energy reduction achieved was due to things directly affected by the building's tenants," said Siwy. "So we cant' ignore energy management of tenant spaces. Even if you design the core and shell of a building with the best intentions with state-of-the-art equipment, if the tenant spaces and equipment are not used and operated properly, profound energy savings will never be realized."

Last week, RMI and project partners held a tenant workshop at the Byron Rogers Federal Office Building to educate all occupants on the role they can play in the GSA's ambitious energy-reduction goals.

For the design team, this offered an opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions about green buildings.

"Learning how to interact with their building in a new way requires a cultural change," said Siwy. " When some people hear LEED or efficiency, they immediately think 'energy reduction,' and don't get the big picture that we are looking at air quality, sustainable materials, and thermal comfort as well."

For tenants, the workshop provided a forum for questions and answers, and included information on government requirements and mandates, how the project intended to meet them, and what elements (e.g., Energy Star equipment, daylighting, or sub-metering) are necessary for tenants to consider in order to achieve the project's sustainability goals.

A Model for Future Collaboration

Lines of communications will stay open, and the design team will continue to work with tenants on specific requirements and incorporate feedback into the design phase of the project.

Addressing these barriers on a single project will enable more sustainable solutions to be employed on future GSA retrofits.

"If we can create a good test case and prove that large-scale energy reduction is possible in a federal facility -- use sub-metering to track tenant usage, potentially bill the tenants based on the actual energy they consume rather than the amount of square footage they occupy, and communicate to them which measures can lead to specific energy reductions -- then this approach is more likely to be implemented elsewhere, more rapidly than otherwise," said Siwy.

With $7 billion in annual utility bills and 350-plus million square feet of building space at stake, we can't afford to wait.

Kelly Vaughn is a public relations specialist at Rocky Mountain Institute.

Image of Byron G. Rogers Federal Office Building and U.S. Courthouse in Denver, courtesy of HOK Renew.