The Journey to Platinum


This month, I’m excited to share with you the news that the U.S. Green Building Council’s new Washington, D.C., headquarters office has been certified LEED Platinum under the new version of LEED for Commercial Interiors, becoming the first LEED-certified project under a LEED 2009 rating system. 

This past March, USGBC moved into our new office space, but our journey here has been interesting. When I started with the organization in 2003, we were located in a mid-block Class B building in downtown D.C., where we eventually expanded into three separate office suites totaling 11,000 square feet of space. After many years in that space, we had outgrown it, so we built out 25,000 square feet in a LEED Gold building a few blocks away that had undergone a gut rehab the year before USGBC’s occupancy. Our build-out earned Platinum certification under LEED for Commercial Interiors, and we stayed there for two-and-a-half years.  

But the explosive growth of the green building industry led to a similarly dramatic expansion of USGBC’s staff, and in 2008 we recognized that we once again needed a new workspace. As the organization that brings together the world’s leaders in green building science and technology, we recognized our responsibility to have a headquarters that is on the leading edge of innovation and performance. It needed to exemplify LEED and set the bar at new heights. Using the newest version of LEED pushed our new space to achieve the very best building science and technology currently has to offer. The result – a workspace that earned 94 of the 110 possible LEED points, 14 more than the 80 required for Platinum certification – reflects a transforming building market and serves as a living lab, teaching visitors and employees alike the ways that green building is better for occupants, better for business, better for the community and better for the planet.

The new office, located at 2101 L Street in the west end of the downtown D.C. business district, is a shining example of green design.  Our interior suite is located within a Class A building that is owned and managed by Vornado/Charles E. Smith. It was originally built in 1975 and underwent a significant refurbishment that was completed in November 2007. From the onset, it was critical that USGBC find a building and landlord who aligned with our goals and our organizational mission. We’ve always believed that the best results in green design occur when green is worked into the process as early as possible, and our brokerage team from CB Richard Ellis put this into action with a 20-point environmental assessment as part of the RFP process, helping us evaluate buildings not only by location and rental rate, but also by overall environmental performance. As in any real estate decision, a number of factors influenced the ultimate decision, but the lease provisions – like being able to submeter energy use and pay directly – helped considerably by allowing USGBC to benefit directly from the operating savings of smart design decisions.

Vornado/Charles E. Smith has also committed to LEED certification of the ongoing operations of the existing building.  The building already meets all prerequisites such as baseline indoor air quality performance. The landlord also uses green cleaning practices, purchases renewable energy certificates for 50 percent of the building’s energy consumption and provides bicycle storage for tenants.

The interior space itself was designed to be sophisticated, timeless, flexible and simple. The design team  comprised of Envision Design, GHT Limited and James G. Davis Construction designed  and built an open floorplan that leverages the daylighting opportunity provided by a floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall on the south and east facades of the building. Low workstations and glass-enclosed interior offices provide exterior views for 97 percent of occupants, and a corridor of light carpeting lines the exterior corridors of the space, bringing daylight further into the space through reflection off the carpet and white furniture. The daylight harvesting in the space allows for a drastic reduction in artificial lighting needs, and the Convia lighting system provides not only very specific adjustments in lighting level based on need but also provides detailed measurement and a dashboard to track ongoing performance. Overall, 62 percent of the lighting load is connected to daylight-responsive controls. As designed, the lighting systems and controls put the space at 54 percent below lighting power allowance, according to ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007.

Many other strategies were utilized to achieve Platinum certification. Over 95 percent of construction waste was diverted from the landfill, and overall water use was reduced by 40 percent with Sloan waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets in the restrooms and high-efficiency Bosch appliances in the kitchen. Furniture systems, ceiling tiles, flooring and other materials were selected for their high recycled content, location of manufacturing to reduce transportation impacts, and impact on indoor air quality. Products from USGBC member companies such as Haworth, Knoll, Mohawk and Armstrong showcase how far manufacturers have gotten in greening their products.

The new USGBC headquarters has been a magnificent new home for our growing organization. The project team created a workspace that capitalizes on our employees’ enthusiasm, fostering a healthy, productive, collaborative working environment. When we come into work, we don’t feel stifled by the office – we feel empowered by it. The flexibility in the space will allow for continued growth and, once again, we are able to showcase our offices as exemplary of everything a LEED building is: high-performing, resource-efficient, healthy and productive.  Tours of the space are available upon request; e-mail for more information.