Turning its need to relocate to maximum advantage, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Office for North America (UNEP RONA) now has a refurbished 'green' office suite it can be really proud of. Housed in an 11-storey building in Washington D.C., it provides its staff with a working environment whose standard is matched by a 'gold' rating for building sustainability.
Gold certification is the second highest so-called LEED rating, awarded by the United States Green Building Council under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scheme, whose stated aims are to promote design and construction practices that increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improving occupant health and well-being.
UNEP RONA won this important award because of the standards it set for its new offices, and the eco-friendly building practices employed to implement them. These included salvaging most of the construction debris from its old office. Glass panels were recovered and carefully placed to enhance the design of the new space, where partially frosted panels provide privacy to perimeter offices while allowing natural light to filter into corridors and interior work areas. Almost all the existing furniture was reinstalled in the new offices. Recycled, sustainably sourced and locally manufactured products were also used wherever possible. The floor, for example, is made from recycled plastic bottles, the desks from compressed wheat straw, and the doors from wood sourced from sustainable forests, as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Employee comfort and indoor air quality were made a high priority, the overall aim being to provide staff with an energy-efficient, healthy, environmentally sound and sustainable office. So the project team chose low-emitting adhesives and paints, as well as lighting and thermal controls which enable individuals to manage their indoor environment.
To minimize energy consumption, lighting fixtures were chosen that decrease lighting power density, and installed with controls that sense occupancy and respond to daylight, while 97% of all the appliances and equipment are Energy Star rated items. All these features help UNEP RONA to lower its carbon footprint, putting into practice the principles it advocates. Separate bins collect paper, glass and plastic for recycling, and staff follow working practices attuned to the goal of reducing energy and water consumption, and reusing and recycling waste as much as possible.
Last but by no means least, UNEP RONA paid attention to the possibilities of reducing the environmental impact of employees commuting to work, by working with the real estate agent to select a building near metro and bus lines, within walking distance of a range of services, and with secure bicycle storage and access to a gym, showers and changing rooms.
UNEP RONA is now setting an example for others to follow. Within the building, it is already having an effect on the occupants of other floors, with some green practices spreading to the entire building; the management is lowering the thermostat temperature in winter, for instance, and raising it in summer.
It is also providing the rest of the United Nations with a case study of good practice. UNEP RONA recently shared its LEED Gold experience with representatives from other agencies at a workshop on “Implementing UN Climate Neutral Strategy in Leased UN Properties: Opportunities in New York City”, showing how its achievement resulted from an unprecedented collaboration among a team of partners including landlords, architects, contractors, real estate agents, and building management companies.
“It has been extremely satisfying to work on the greening of the UNEP RONA office”, says John Peter Oosterhoff, who was part of that team as Associate Fund Management Officer. “The support received from all the partners made it a true team effort. Working in a beautiful, functional and environment-friendly space is not too bad either.”
The main benefits of this relocation and refurbishment project can be summarized as:
• A showcase project for the UN
• Improved working environment for UN staff
• More work stations, meeting rooms and conference areas
• Reduced overall operational and maintenance costs
• Awareness-raising among staff
• A smaller carbon footprint
• Lower water consumption