In yet another example of the U.S. military leading the civilian world into a healthier and less fossil fuel reliant future, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is aiming to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for the new energy efficient office complex at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. The complex was initially designed to meet a lesser standard but the Department of Defense has developed a policy of going beyond minimal compliance with environmental regulations, in order to stimulate more aggressive action on environmental security by the public sector particularly in regard to climate change.
USACE Commanding General Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp recently blogged about the Corps’s sustainability policy with a quote from one of his predecessors: “Environmental ethics and values must be more than an overlay. They must be a bone-deep part of our way of doing business.” Van Antwerp has also noted that climate change is “a very real concern that could have very real consequences all over the world.” That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for supporting our troops in the drill baby drill ethos but then again, that’s the whole point.
The Sustainability Bridge from Military to Civilian
In part, the new complex will serve as a showcase for new energy and water conservation strategies that benefit the bottom line and could be adopted by businesses, industry, and institutions such as universities and health care facilities. One highlight is a visitor center that will sport an energy efficient green roof literally covered with greenery to provide insulation and alleviate the “heat island” effect. Green roofs are becoming commonplace at government installations including military bases and prisons, but they have yet to make significant inroads elsewhere in the U.S. With a similar goal in sight, the military is also demonstrating energy efficient microgrid and solar energy technology at two other bases in California and Hawaii.
Sustainability for Everyone
The new complex will use about 30% less electricity than conventional buildings, and about half the water. While some of the savings results from new building methods, technology and materials, others result from common sense solutions that could easily be adopted as retrofits on existing buildings and grounds. For example, there is no need for outdoor irrigation, because the landscaping makes use only of drought resistant native plants. Low-flow plumbing fixtures and energy efficient light bulbs are used throughout, and the use of natural daylight is maximized simply by installing cubicles with lower walls, which also helps air to circulate more efficiently.
Sustainability and Alternative Transportation
The new complex will also test the ability of urban planners to draw more people out of their cars and into mass transportation and other alternatives. The complex was built to fulfill recommendation #133 of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, and when completed in 2011 it will move thousands of new office workers into Alexandria, an area that already struggles with high congestion. In order to alleviate the additional impacts, the complex includes a mass transit center that connects with city bus lines as well as in-house shuttle services. It also includes special accommodations for van and car pooling, as well as hybrid vehicles, along with 300 bicycle racks. Those racks are not just for show, either. In another example of going one step beyond, the new complex includes shower facilities for bike riders – a must for office workers who need to look fresh and professional after cycling in summertime heat and other adverse weather.
Image: New energy efficient buildings at Fort Belvoir by Marc Barnes/USACE on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.