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Navy at the Leading Edge of Green Design


In what may be one of the most significant developments in green building in recent years, the Department of the Navy has become the first Federal agency requiring all facilities and infrastructure-related design and construction to incorporate sustainable design principles. While energy efficiency and sustainability have long been mentioned in federal building and procurement guidelines, the Navy became the first to actually put it into practice when it issued new policy statements covering design, design criteria, and architect/engineer (A-E) selection. This could be a very significant shot-in-the-arm for green building and a strong incentive for mainstream A-E firms to take green design and building seriously.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) handles domestic construction for the Navy, Air Force, and Marines, along with about half of domestic Army construction and about half of all offshore military construction. (The Army Corps of Engineers handles other military construction.) NAVFAC has an annual construction budget of about $5 billion—roughly one percent of all construction in the United States—and builds all types of buildings, from homes to schools to hospitals. NAVFAC’s Sustainable Design Program was initiated in 1993, with a policy directive from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. According to Terrel Emmons, FAIA, chief architect for NAVFAC, the Navy learned a difficult and expensive lesson with the environmental cleanup of Naval bases that were being closed. “Every time we went to close down a base, we found out how badly we’d done,” he told attendees of the EEBA conference in Washington this October.

Beginning in 1995, NAVFAC began holding regional design charrettes on greening Naval facilities and launched the first of eight pilot projects to test out the ideas emerging from the charrettes. Amory Lovins and Bill Browning of the Rocky Mountain Institute were instrumental in guiding the agency during much of this planning, and Emmons credits Lovins with convincing Navy officers that a sustainability agenda could be implemented without significantly increasing first cost.

The Navy’s new design approach is spelled out in three separate Planning and Design Policy Statements issued on June 18. These include significant detail and exhibit considerable understanding of, and insight into, green design. NAVFAC’s definition of sustainable design includes:

In signing the new policies into effect in June, Rear Admiral David J. Nash, Commanding Officer of NAVFAC, stated that the policies will “entail new ways of conducting business.” According to Emmons, who authored the new policies, all A-E firms wanting to do business with NAVFAC will have to demonstrate “extensive knowledge and experience in applying sustainability concepts and principles to facilities and infrastructure problems through an integrated design approach.” In fact, he told EBN that A-E firms that have long done business with NAVFAC may no longer be able to do so. “There’s quite a bit of panic,” he said. He hears from A-E firms, “You mean I’m not qualified any more?” and responds, “No, you’re not.” Emmons explained that simply claiming to be a green designer or just bringing a consultant on for a project will not be enough. “We want A-E firms whose entire culture—how they think, how they operate—is this way,” he said. These mandatory requirements will be reflected in all future Commerce Business Daily announcements.

Specific evaluation factors that will be used for determining A-E firm knowledge and experience in sustainable design are described in the Policy Statements. For example:

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