Environment Picture

MEC earns LEED Platinum certification for green headquarters

Upgraded systems and a focus on sustainable operations conserve energy, water and natural resources
Andy Draheim is MEC’s director of finance and development and led the MEC LEED certification process
I admit it. The nitty gritty realities of my daily life don’t always live up to the high-minded environmental pronouncements I make to family and friends or post on Facebook.

The pull of that third cup of morning coffee can make an on-time bike commute impossible. Descending the stairs at midnight to turn off the basement light can feel like too much to ask. Leaving for the farmers’ market in the closing minutes of a World Cup match, so my produce comes from Mason instead of Mexico, requires impulse control I lack.

Walking the talk isn’t easy. That’s why I am proud of what we’ve accomplished at MEC with the office building we purchased two years ago in the shadows of the State Capitol.

In April, we learned that we earned Platinum certification for our property—the highest level of certification bestowed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Because our new headquarters did not require major renovations (and was not a new build), we pursued LEED’s Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) track. Our project was scored by our organization’s day-to-day behavior and how we performed in conserving natural resources, water and energy.

Wege Foundation provided grant to upgrade systems Thanks to an exceptionally generous grant from the Wege Foundation, we were able to make significant upgrades on the way to Platinum, albeit after significant planning and due diligence by our staff and expert consultant Gavin Gardi.

Before moving in, we installed sustainable carpet and freshened the look of our office with low-VOC paints.

On the energy efficiency front, we hired professionals to restructure our attic ductwork and implement a massive sealing and insulation initiative that made our building 40% more air tight. Because that means we now heat (winter) and cool (summer) less outside air, we shrunk the workload for our HVAC systems. This allowed us to downsize from five HVAC systems to four.

In the process, we installed highly efficient equipment. Our furnaces improved from 70% efficient to 95% efficient. We also replaced all of the outmoded light bulbs in the building with compact fluorescent or LED lamps.

Thanks to these efforts, we reduced our energy use dramatically and earned an EnergyStar score of 98. That means the MEC headquarters is in the top 2% of comparable facilities in the country, when normalized for size, occupancy and climate.

On the water front, we replaced aging conventional toilets with Niagara Conservation’s Stealth model. While they look just like a regular toilet—and don’t sneak up on you as their name suggests!—they use just 0.8 gallons of water per flush, which is half the current federal standard.

We also installed aerators on every faucet in the building, reducing the per-minute flow of water from each. Reflecting a policy we established to irrigate our landscape only in severe drought conditions, we disabled our automated sprinkler system.

When you add up all those steps, MEC reduced our water use by 49%.

Focusing staff on day-to-day sustainable operations
While these vast improvements on water and energy conservation required a one-time investment of attention, labor and generous financial support from the Wege Foundation, most of our remaining LEED certification project demanded a day-to-day change to sustainable operations by our staff and volunteer interns.

To earn Platinum, we tracked every purchase MEC made, from new computers, vacuum cleaners and lawn equipment to pens, paper and food.

Because some products met more than one environmentally preferable purchasing criteria, we earned a sustainability score of 106% for the office supplies we purchased (by cost). Thanks to our staff’s prodigious consumption of coffee—and the fact that we grind and brew righteous beans—55% of the food that MEC purchased in our performance period was local, fair trade and/or organic (by cost).

We also carefully tracked and measured our solid waste. In addition to a one-time tour (Waste Stream Audit) of our trash and recycling bins—in which we sorted and weighed their contents from dry, clean paper to moist, moldy food scraps—we recorded weekly the amount of garbage we discarded, various materials we recycled, and biodegradable matter we composted. Through our efforts to educate our staff and make doing the right thing easy, MEC diverted 83% of our solid waste by weight from the landfill.

Other LEED credits were earned by making sure that our cleaning supplies contained little or no unhealthy chemicals; that our snow removal service used less and more environmentally friendly de-icer; and that our lawn maintenance was done with electric energy efficient, low-decibel equipment.

At times, it felt like we were servants to LEED’s tracking protocol and points system. Looking back, I realize that those mechanisms forced us to remain mindful of our behavior, reflect on the environmental impact of all the little decisions we make, and seek the best available solutions that are feasible and affordable. It fostered good daily habits in MEC that we will carry forward as we work to retain our certification in the future.

Now, with continued funding from the Wege Foundation, we’re considering some splashy environmental enhancements to our building—like possibly installing solar panels on our roof that would generate as much as 30% of the electricity we use.

While such investments make a powerful statement and have a big impact—and are a lot of fun for environmental geeks like us—the LEED process has taught us that all the nitty gritty things we’re doing behind the scenes to “walk the talk” matter just as much.
-Andy Draheim
RELATED TOPICS: energy efficiency
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