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EPA's Region 10 Remodels With EPP

At a Glance

Environmental Attributes:
The remodeling of EPA Region 10's offices incorporated:

Contract Language:
Interior remodeling specifications available online.

Key players:
EPA established a "Green Futures Team" representing EPA regional staff, a local interior designer, and outside experts, including nonprofit organizations and consultants.

Environmental Information Sources:

EPA Region 10 incorporated a wide variety of green features including certified wood products, recycled content upholstery and countertops, reusable carpeting tiles, and movable walls.

Contact Information:
Listed at the end of the case study.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Region 10 set out to remodel the 14th floor of its Seattle, Washington, office building, it recognized a tremendous opportunity to showcase the latest innovations in "green construction" and environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP). In April 1999, Region 10 put the finishing touches on the 2,085-square-foot executive office space. With its wide variety of green features—from certified wood products to reusable carpeting—the project serves as an innovative model for others in both the public and private sector.

Specification Development Process

The success of the project was due largely to detailed interior remodeling specifications developed by a dedicated group of EPA employees in Region 10. These employees joined forces in November 1997 with a local interior designer to form the "Green Futures Team." Over the course of a year, the team reviewed case studies, conducted Internet research, reviewed product specifications and literature, and networked with experts in the field to learn how to make the new office space as green as possible. The group even prepared and sent a questionnaire to carpet and fabric companies known for their environmental leadership to learn more about their manufacturing practices.

With the luxury of a full year to develop the specifications, the Green Futures Team took a methodical approach to upgrading the 20-year-old office suite. They began by setting goals and objectives for the project, including maximizing the use of products the team deemed environmentally preferable. As defined in the specification, this included purchasing "materials and products that minimize the content of toxic or harmful substances; release minimal amounts of volatile organic compounds or chlorofluorocarbons into the environment during manufacturing or use; contain significant amounts of postconsumer recycled materials; are reusable and recyclable; are produced, transported, and installed in a resource efficient manner; and do not impact rare or endangered natural resources."

The specifications provided both a list of acceptable products and the minimum performance criteria for all of the items to be used in the construction project (e.g., wood, plastics, adhesives, doors). In the case of insulation, for example, the specification listed four products from which to choose (along with the manufacturers' phone numbers) as well as the criteria that the "recycled postindustrial content of the product shall be 75 percent postconsumer material." The Green Futures Team conducted considerable research to identify acceptable products and to develop the performance criteria. "While we had a difficult time finding products that met all of our EPP attributes," noted team member Judith Leckrone of EPA's Region 10, "the guidelines we developed provided a useful framework for our product research."

The specification also required interested contractors to develop a waste management plan detailing how they would handle the construction and demolition (C&D) debris resulting from the renovation. As part of the request for proposals (RFP), Region 10 developed guidelines for the waste management plans and provided contact information for local outlets of waste materials. The RFP made it clear to bidders that the plan would be a key component in the contractor selection process. Although the reviewers did not use a formal system that assigned a certain weight to the management plan, it was nevertheless an important factor in their evaluation.

Because EPA's Region 10 leases its office space, the remodeling work was actually performed under a contract issued by the building owner, not by EPA. The building owner was very supportive of Region 10's efforts to green the office space and simply adopted the Region's proposed specifications. It helped that EPA had a very positive relationship with the building owner, having been a tenant for more than 20 years. This arrangement provided Region 10 with added flexibility and a more streamlined contracting process, since the building owner was not restricted to government contracting requirements. In addition, the building owner prequalified contractors through a questionnaire assessing their ability to tackle the project.

Use of Environmentally Preferable Products

The following materials and products deemed environmentally preferable by EPA Region 10 were incorporated into the remodeled offices:

Construction and Demolition Debris

The contractor reused, recycled, or salvaged more than 95 percent of the waste generated during the remodeling project. The Green Futures Team credits detailed specifications and the contractor's waste management plan with this high level of reuse and material recovery. Region 10's specifications outlined a waste management hierarchy that was closely followed by the contractor: (1) prevent waste in the first place; (2) salvage and reuse materials on site; (3) salvage and donate materials for reuse off site; (4) recycle or reclaim remaining materials; and (5) dispose of all nonuseable or nonrecyclable materials in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.

Cost Considerations

While the environmental products resulted in slightly higher costs, Region 10 justified the expense by making the project an educational model for government agencies and others in the Northwest building community. Region 10 estimates the project was approximately $9.00 more expensive per square foot than a conventional construction project. This represented a 23 percent increase in cost—from $34.67 per square foot without any "green features" to $42.84 per square foot with the ones selected by Region 10. The increase in project cost, however, was not due solely to the incorporation of environmental features. Region 10 attributes the 23 percent price differential to the fact that the project was small (and thus did not benefit from economies of scale), it was completed in three phases so employees could be properly relocated, and Region 10 decided to pay more upfront for products such as the carpet tiles and moveable walls to allow greater flexibility and save money over the long term.

On average, Region 10 found the environmentally preferable products to be cost-competitive with traditional products. Region 10 decided to pay a premium for some products. As a guiding principle, Region 10 considered how its purchase might impact the overall market for the product. The biocomposite countertop, for example, was manufactured in the Midwest, which resulted in high shipping costs to Seattle. Yet, because the product was so new, it would benefit greatly from the exposure gained through the remodeling project. Region 10 also considered using recycled glass for an etched glass office wall; however, the team was unable to justify the higher cost given the strong market for recovered glass. Finally, in order to reclaim the carpet recovered during the renovation, Region 10 had to ship the material across the country to a facility on the East Coast—the closest reclamation center. This resulted in high shipping costs, as well as excessive fuel and energy use, but the team felt the environmental benefits outweighed the cost.

Lessons Learned

Based on the success of the interior remodeling project, EPA's Region 10 offers the following tips to others embarking on similar projects:

Future Projects

Region 10 views its remodeling efforts as a direct extension of its EPP program activities. With its first remodeling project complete, the Region has turned its attention to its next venture—renovating the 16th floor of the same building. Region 10 plans to use the same specifications with slight modifications, primarily because the 16th floor (unlike the 14th floor) contains no executive office suites. "With all of the experience gained from the first project," said Andy Hendrickson of EPA's Region 10, "we hope for significant time and resource savings, as well as even more opportunities for purchasing environmentally preferable products."

For more information on the project or the interior remodeling specifications, contact EPA Region 10's Donna Brookfield at 206 553-0082 or brookfield.donna@epa.gov, Jonell Allamano at 206 553-2954 or allamano.jonell@epa.gov or Andrew Hendrickson at 206 553-0302 or hendrickson.andrew@epa.gov. There is a more detailed case study entitled Building a Green Future: A Case Study of EPA Region 10's Building Renovation.

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