Maintain to Sustain: Chicago’s FBI Office Achieves a World First

By Matt Baker

When considering those at the forefront of environmental sustainability, one normally wouldn’t think first of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But with the recent awarding of a platinum certification for LEED Existing Building Operations & Maintenance (EBOM)–the world’s first–the FBI Chicago regional office has shown that they are just as conscious of carbon footprints as fingerprints.

Up until a few years ago, the FBI’s local field office was spread throughout the Chicago area. Desiring a centralized regional headquarters, they tapped USAA Real Estate Company to help in their search. By April of 2006, the FBI had officially moved into their new facility on the city’s near west side. The 800,000 ft2, three-building complex was built to suit by Higgins Development Partners, in concert with USAA. Anchoring the suite of buildings is a 10-story, glass and precast office building facing Roosevelt Road.

USAA has been an early participant in the USGBC’s pilot Portfolio Program, which aims to streamline the LEED submittal process by certifying multiple buildings instead of “building by building.” The Chicago FBI building was never submitted for LEED New Construction, but once the teams for USAA and ABM Engineering Services refined the building’s engineering and management, going for LEED EBOM made sense.

“It’s not just the FBI building, we’re doing this across our portfolio,” said Rick Pospisil, USAA Director of Facilities. “When we started to look at the property in detail, we realized that we probably have a really good chance of taking a good building and making it one of the best performing buildings in the world.”

LEED EBOM aims to improve a building’s operational efficiency while minimizing environmental impacts through precise and redundant mechanical measurement, consistent and improved maintenance and systems upgrades. USAA’s strategy was to use improved financial performance as a tool to leverage environmental performance. “If efficiency goes up, costs are going to come down,” said Pospisil. While recognizing the financial benefits of improved building performance is commendable, achieving a platinum rating requires quite a commitment.

The Chicago FBI building plan calls for improving efficiencies in cleaning and maintenance, recycling programs, air temperature, energy consumption and other areas. ABM was integral to the site’s LEED submission, drafting and implementing the commissioning plan and also managing the building’s facilities needs. In this role, they carry out an extended commissioning process, optimizing and calibrating all the of the complex’s mechanical systems.

The facility’s energy performance is programmed for consistency and regulated by meters and sub-meters. There were over a dozen secondary meters installed for electricity alone. This robust metering system allows building operators to maximize utility usage. “If we change a set point, we can verify whether or not that change has made a difference in energy consumption,” said the facility’s Chief Engineer, Ralph White, LEED-AP. If a calibration has not made a difference–or worse, hindered efficiency–the engineers can simply tweak the system.

The Chicago FBI facility had an Energy Star score of 78 out of 100 one year after move-in. The additional tracking and management allowed by sub-metering informed the building operators as to what equipment was using the most energy, at what times, and under what conditions. With the continuous commissioning program and system calibration, the building can now boast an Energy Star score of 95.

Sustainable engineering is still rather novel in this country. And, like any cutting edge technology, progress can’t be made without expertise. White credits his education under Local 399 Operating Engineers and classes specifically aimed at green building offered by Wilbur Wright College. That experience saved him from complications when working with new technologies. “Without Local 399 and Wright College, I might have been surprised.”

Based partly on the success of the Chicago FBI facility and years of experience with customer’s changing energy needs, ABM has expanded into full service energy consulting and engineering. ABM Energy Services, a division of ABM that launched last year, aims to perform many of the tasks it did for the FBI’s Chicago office and more. The new service will consult with clients at the outset of energy management, from feasibility analyses to planning to sourcing utility rebates, tax incentives and financing. They also are equipped to handle installation and verification, from mechanical retrofits to data collection. Most importantly, ABM plans to implement measures that pay for themselves within two years.

At the Chicago FBI facility, building maintenance has consistently come in under budget. “We try to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact at the same time,” said Pospisil. “And we know that if we do that, it’s going to make the tenants more comfortable and its going to improve our financial performance.”
Another dramatic upgrade to the Chicago FBI complex was in water consumption. By replacing all common area sink aerators, installing low-flow flush valves and shower heads and upgrading the irrigation system’s moisture sensors, water usage on the site was reduced by 43%, which translates to about three million gallons in water savings annually. Incredibly, these small improvements cost less than $5,000 and achieved payback within eight months.

USAA has a comprehensive green cleaning program which solicits vendor cooperation. Over 90% of cleaning products and materials have been documented as sustainable. Indoor air quality is heightened through the use of MERV 13 air filters and HEPA vacuums that collect over 96% of particulates.

Landscaping on the property also adhered to green benchmarks. Over an acre of non-native turf was replaced by sustainable native plantings. The pre-existing turf was composted back into the ground, diverting over ninety tons of material from landfills. Because of the newly installed sustainable plants, better than half of the site’s landscaped area does not have to be mowed, trimmed, fertilized or irrigated. This slashed costs, emissions and chemical use as well as significantly reduced water use.

An audit of the recycling program showed that around 50% of waste was being diverted from landfills. Wanting to push that number up a bit, USAA hosted a town hall type meeting for the building’s tenants. After the formation of a recycling committee and invigorated tenant education, the building was able to bump that waste diversion number up to 70%.

According to Pospisil, employee engagement has been a big factor in the building’s environmental performance. ” [The tenants] gave us great feedback. ‘This is where we need more containers. Can we have pickup times at this rate?…Can you show us results on a monthly basis?’ “But listening and educating aren’t enough. “You have to show them that the things that they’re doing are affecting the environment. Show them those results and I think you’ll get a great response.”

Sourcing green cleaning and other maintenance products has been relatively effortless, though not without setbacks. When the H1N1 influenza recently flared up, the FBI asked for a more stringent disinfectant. USAA contacted their suppliers, but there simply wasn’t a green product on the market that could kill viruses with the zeal they were looking for.

“That was a little bit shocking to me,” said Pospisil. But he was quick to point out one upside. “When they called and asked for that product, to make sure we had something that had a disinfectant, the next question was, ‘Is that product going to be green?’ That’s the mentality now.”


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