Building AGU: Achieving Sustainability and Leading by Example

Guest blog written By Chris McEntee, Executive Director/CEO at AGU

AGU is a global community of 60,000 Earth and space scientists. They are celebrating their Centennial year reflecting on past accomplishments and looking to the future to transform and improve our world.

This drove AGU’s decision to renovate its headquarters building in Washington, D.C. When AGU’s original building and infrastructure began to show its age, a course of action that aligned with AGU’s science and values was a priority. The AGU community decided to take advantage of this opportunity to make the building a living representation of the organization’s mission of science for the benefit of humanity. The way to do that was to strive for net zero energy.

As construction winds down, AGU is already seeing the benefit of this decision—not just for staff and the community, but for our neighborhood, the city, and the country. AGU’s building is the first net zero energy commercial renovation in the District of Columbia. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed historic legislation at AGU’s headquarters, making Washington a leader in shifting to clean energy sources. AGU was also honored this spring with the city’s first Clean Energy D.C. Award.

These notable achievements were made possible by the support AGU received from our city, project partners, water utility, engineers, architects, and policy makers. By focusing on four engineering principles—reduction, reclamation, absorption, and generation—AGU was able to target net zero energy.

For reduction, AGU looked to reuse and recycle as much material as possible during the demolition and renovation stages. Windows, sinks—and yes, even toilets—[SH1] [LF2] [LF3] from the original building didn’t go to waste. Instead, they were crushed up and utilized in the renovated building’s terrazzo flooring. In addition, we are reducing our overall energy demand through the use of efficient systems and equipment, such as installing LED light bulbs and Energy Star appliances. AGU will also monitor the energy usage of individual workstations to ensure we stay within our energy budget.

AGU also looked at ways to reclaim energy and water. We have a Dedicated Outdoor Air System and a hydroponic phytoremediation (green wall) to enable us to recover conditioned air for free cooling. Through our rainwater collection and cistern systems, we reclaim water for irrigating the green wall and flushing toilets.

AGU literally broke ground to absorb energy from surrounding resources. Our team thought outside the box and proposed utilizing a municipal sewer heat exchange system to help reduce AGU’s carbon footprint. AGU installed a Huber system, the first of its kind in the United States, to tap into the city’s sewer. This sewer heat exchange system extracts material from the sewer, screens the solids, and then pumps the liquid into the building to provide cooling and heating.

Once installed, AGU’s photovoltaic (PV) array will generate electricity to power everything from the building’s LED lights to computer monitors and workstations. AGU has been able to target net zero energy while located on a tight urban footprint by generating electricity through the installation of more than 700 solar panels. Most of the panels will be installed flat on top of the roof canopy, with approximately 20 more panels vertically mounted on the south wall of the building.

As a trailblazer, AGU faced some challenges during the renovation process. For example, to truly maximize the number of solar panels we could install on the building, we needed to extend the PV array beyond our property line. Fortunately, we were able to work closely with partners in the D.C. government and they gave us the right to expand our solar canopy structure over the line. These are just a few highlights of AGU’s key strategies. I encourage communities, local leaders, policy makers, and building owners, as well as members of the broader building industry, to support and embrace these strategies. Even if they each undertake just one key strategy that AGU has employed, those combined efforts can have a huge impact on creating a more sustainable future for us all.