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Green Building Performance Measured by the GSA.

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By on Mar 23, 2012 in All Topics, Newsletters, Operations |

Despite efforts by Congress to restrict the construction and renovation of federal buildings, the General Services Administration (GSA), through its Public Building Service, has been moving forward on reducing long-term energy and water usage, minimizing maintenance costs, and reducing the “carbon footprint” of the federal government. As the nation’s largest landlord, the GSA has the ability to measure the success of green design and green renovation projects in a way that can assess both the cost and the value of green buildings.

In November, the GSA Public Building Service released Green Building Performance – A Post Occupancy Evaluation of 22 GSA Buildings. The report, commissioned by the GSA, is based on a study conducted by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Of the 22 buildings in the study, 12 previously had their performance assessed in 2007. The study was conducted in two phases and results were compared to both industry and GSA baselines. In the first phase, which was completed in 2008, the GSA developed a repeatable, post-occupancy evaluation methodology that was piloted across the 12 buildings mentioned above. In the second phase of the larger study, the first 12 buildings were reexamined and 10 additional buildings were added to the sample. Data in the study is primarily from 2008 through mid to late 2009, and addresses energy use intensity, energy cost, CO2 emission, maintenance costs, occupant satisfaction, and water use.

The report concluded that, on average, green buildings that are compared to commercial buildings:

  • Cost less to maintain, by 19%;
  • Use less energy, by 25%;
  • Use less water, by 11%;
  • Emit less carbon dioxide, by 34%; and
  • Have more satisfied occupants, by 27%.

During the Clinton administration, the federal government committed itself to demonstrating that buildings constructed to meet sustainability criteria save energy, cost less to operate, have smaller carbon footprints, and have more satisfied occupants. This GSA study, however, was the first comprehensive analysis and measured environmental performance, financial metrics and occupant satisfaction. The study compared the results to both industry and GSA baselines. All the buildings in the study incorporated sustainable design practices – 6 implemented sustainable strategies to enhance building performance and the other 16 were LEED registered or certified as meeting LEED standards for new construction.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory research team used a consistent evaluation process for every building studied. The evaluation included the following:

  • Obtaining and reviewing one year of operating data:
  • Surveying building occupants:
  • Interviewing the building manager; and
  • Conducting an expert walkthrough.

In addition to quantifying the savings in energy and water use and maintenance costs – and the satisfaction of the users of the facilities – the report showed four distinct findings that corroborate the value of environmentally-conscious design:

  • Fully integrated design delivers high performance and maximizes savings;
  • GSA’s green buildings cost less to operate than comparable commercial or government buildings;
  • Sustainable design that is properly constructed and maintained supports occupant satisfaction; and
  • Green buildings help the GSA in meeting federal mandates on efficiency.
  • GSA, which provides real estate for more than one million federal employees, has adopted policies to put into operations the federal government’s commitment to sustainability. The intention of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of those policies. Congressional leaders now have verifiable evidence that one way to cut government spending is to invest in the sustainable design, construction, and operation of government buildings.

The full white paper can be downloaded here. The earlier study is also available from GSA’s website.

This article was written by Victor O. Schinnerer & Company and can be found in their Guidelines for Improving Practice newsletter, Number 1, 2012.