Sustainable buildings

Fermilab’s IARC Office, Technology and Education Building is nearing completion and will eventually be certified as a LEED building. Among many innovative features of the building is geothermal heating and cooling. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Last week, the Grid Computing Center (GCC) became the first Fermilab building to attain 100 percent of the Guiding Principles for High Performance and Sustainable Buildings, a federal mandate to dramatically increase the efficiency and sustainability of federally owned buildings.

GCC is a 16,000-square-foot data center and uses an enormous amount of energy — more than 1,000 times that of the average American home. But this achievement shows that even using large amounts of electricity to crunch scientific data can be done efficiently. GCC has also earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star certification for the fourth year in a row, which means that it operates more efficiently than 75 percent of comparable buildings in the country.

The government’s interest in making buildings more efficient and sustainable is evidenced by abundant guidance and mandates, including two executive orders signed by Presidents Bush and Obama. According to the EPA, buildings consume 65 percent of the electricity and around 40 percent of the total energy produced in the United States. Energy efficiency is a cornerstone of the sustainability initiative because it improves cost-effectiveness and decreases the carbon footprint. The latest executive order, number 13514, envisions that all federal buildings designed after 2020 should be net-zero energy buildings, meaning they use no more energy than they can produce.

But it’s not just about the efficient use of energy. Included in the concept are ideas such as purchasing environmentally friendly materials and products, conserving water, and providing a healthy, safe and comfortable workplace for building occupants. The Guiding Principles mentioned above contain goals for recycling, using products made from recycled or bio-based materials, providing occupants with healthy and comfortable air, and using natural daylight and open space as much as possible.

GCC is not resting on its laurels. Recent improvements in the building have increased the efficiency of the building beyond what was sufficient to earn the first Energy Star award. Fermilab is not content with only one building that complies with the Guiding Principles, either. The IARC Office, Technical and Education Building, which will be completed later this year, was designed to be a LEED-certified building. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program is a third-party certification that is equivalent to the Guiding Principles.

There are further plans to bring at least one more Fermilab building into 100 percent compliance with the Guiding Principles by the end of 2015.

Rod Walton