Main Treasury building garners top green certification

Matthew Cavanaugh/EPA/Newscom

The elegant 19th-century building that is the Treasury Department's Washington headquarters was awarded a gold certification Wednesday, earning the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) award given by the U.S. Green Building Council. The independent sustainability ratings group said it believes the structure is the oldest in the world to achieve gold status.

Assistant Treasury Secretary for Management Dan Tangherlini, on receiving a framed plaque at a press conference, said, "the fact that the home of much of our nation's financial history has achieved this distinction for environmental leadership adds new meaning to the term 'green' building."

Citing President Obama's recently announced campaign to achieve $2 billion in energy savings in federal buildings, Tangherlini thanked several Treasury facilities specialists for years of work on modernizing the building, changes estimated to save $3.5 million annually.

The improvements include increased use of natural day lighting; sustainable cleaning and landscaping techniques; advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; audits of waste streams to benchmark recycling programs; green procurement; more efficient use of office space; promotion of alternative transport; and enhanced utility metering.

The results, the assistant secretary said, include a 43 percent decrease in the use of potable water; a 7 percent decrease in electrical usage; a 53 percent decrease in the use of steam; and the addition of 164 workstations within the building.

Representatives of the building council welcomed Main Treasury as "the newest member to the family of over 8 billion square feet of LEED-certified green buildings." Amy Boyce, a LEED manager, said Main Treasury is the only Washington agency headquarters to receive the gold certification for an existing building, though some newly constructed federal buildings have achieved LEED status, including those of the Transportation Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The fiscal 2012 Defense authorization bill passed by Congress this month prohibits the Pentagon from spending extra money to achieve LEED gold or platinum certification. Buildings council staffer Melissa Gallagher-Rogers told reporters that the change would not eat into the department's return on investment in improving building sustainability.

The fees the buildings council charges to review a facility's sustainability average $4,000 to $5,000, and can go up to $22,000, she said.

Tangherlini linked the gold building status to Treasury's other ongoing cost and energy savings initiatives, such as moves to electronic benefits payments and tax returns. "We're kind of competitive when it comes to environmental and sustainability initiatives," he said.

He noted that the building, constructed in phases from 1836 to 1869 and outfitted with 15-foot ceilings and gilt-edged portraits of past Treasury heroes, is the third oldest continuously occupied office building in Washington, after the White House and the Capitol. He also said that the historic office of Lincoln administration Treasury Secretary Samuel Chase was the site of Washington's first flush toilet.

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