Energy & Sustainability
Management Consultants

LEED Certified Case Study: Operations Upgrade

Building on existing strategies, Discovery Communications earned LEED Platinum for its global headquarters.

By Anne Vazquez
Published in the October 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Pursuing LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) certification was a wholly new endeavor for Karen Kiley, vice president of building operations and security for Discovery Communications. In early 2007, upper management at the global media company (whose 100+ television networks include Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and TLC) issued a directive to increase the sustainability of operations at Discovery’s global headquarters facility in Silver Spring, MD. The 544,000 square foot building had been constructed several years prior with green initiatives in mind but, as facility professionals know, there is always room for improvement.

“There were three factors that contributed to this decision,” Kiley explains. “For one, the company was preparing to launch Planet Green, a 24 hour environmentally conscious television network. Additionally, it was expected that increased sustainability would reduce operating costs, and third, it’s a good thing for the environment.”

In order to establish the best approach to “green” the facility further, Kiley, along with colleagues and green project leaders Bradd Meadows and Marc Parsons (both LEED APs), assembled employees from various departments. Representatives from the facilities, IT, communications, human resources, creative, and Planet Green network departments were asked to identify how the company could move toward this goal. “Once it was decided we should implement more green initiatives,” says Kiley, “this team, with support from Larry Laque, Discovery’s executive vice president, facilities and real estate strategy, considered the options and decided LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council [USGBC] was the best way for us to do that.”

And while Kiley had more than 10 years of experience in facilities management (FM) at this point, this would be her first LEED endeavor. The decision was made to hire a consulting firm to assist the company in evaluating what was already in place at the headquarters and what should be done to achieve certification.

Discovery hired CQI Associates, LLC of Columbia, MD as its LEED consultant. “They completed an initial assessment, helped us identify initiatives that would provide energy savings, and compiled all the materials and completed the submission [to the USGBC],” explains Kiley.

In December 2007, less than a year after the process began, Discovery’s headquarters was recognized with LEED EB version 2.0 Platinum certification, the highest level in the rating system. Kiley points out that team collaboration and existing sustainable elements and strategies were crucial to the outcome. “At the start, we expected the facility would earn at least Silver level certification,” she explains. “But, as we were working on this, we realized we could do more [to increase sustainability]. So we kept going and adding to it.”

Under LEED EB, the USGBC requires a project to earn 40 to 47 points for Silver level certification; in the end, the Discovery team earned 66 of a possible 85 points to land the facility in the Platinum range.

A Chat With Karen Kiley, vice president of building operations and security,
Discovery Communications

What are your responsibilities at Discovery Communications? I am the vice president of building operations and security. I am responsible for the building operations and security functions for eight of the company’s U.S. locations. Under the facilities department are repairs and maintenance, as well as mailroom, copy center, and reception/office services.

How long have you worked at Discovery Communications, and how long have you worked in the facility management profession? I’ve worked at Discovery for 10 years and have been in the profession for 15.

What notable changes have occurred in facilities management during your tenure in the profession? Thinking about green/environmental actions has been a very big change in several ways. Not only are there many more programs and products than there were in the earlier years of my career, but these also have become easier to find. A few years ago, it was more difficult to find all of the products and services we needed. Now, they are more readily available and offered at more competitive price points. What has come easier with that particular area is we can find the products and services we need much quicker. That’s on the green side.

On the technology side, what has become easier is being able to adjust building systems from a computer. For instance, we don’t have to go from thermostat to thermostat to change temperature settings.

With the LEED certification complete, what other facility projects are you working on? We have transformed a portion of office space in the headquarters building into a daycare facility—Discovery Kids Place. This is a new offering here at the headquarters. In fact, we just recently received word that we have been awarded gold level LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI) for that space.

Building On A Baseline

Starting the LEED pursuit meant taking stock of the facility. In early 2003, Discovery had completed construction on the new global headquarters, and environmentally friendly design and operation had been part of that plan. Kiley, who has been with the company since 1999, recalls, “We put a lot of thought into environmental issues when we built this facility. So as we went through the LEED process, we identified areas where we could receive points—the use of bamboo flooring and prevalence of natural light inside, for instance.”

Natural light shines into at least 75% of the interior spaces. And, as Kiley explains, with the exception of several executive offices along the outside of the floors, all enclosed offices are located toward the interior, so the open workstations are exposed to natural daylight.

Points in the LEED rating system are earned in six categories—Sustainable Sites (11 of 14 possible points were earned in this project); Water Efficiency (2 of 5 achieved); Energy & Atmosphere (19 of 23 earned); Materials & Resources (12 of a possible 16); Indoor Environmental Quality (17 of 22 earned); and Innovation & Design Process (5 of 5).

Under “Sustainable Sites,” existing conditions that earned points included: siting the building on a former brownfield site in a high density area, situating it in close proximity to a mass transit station, and encouraging employees to bike or walk to work when possible. (The company offers a one time reimbursement of up to $350 for a bicycle purchase and $100 annually for walking shoes.)

In the “Water Efficiency” arena, Discovery added a rainwater capture system as part of its LEED pursuit. This system, which consists of three 400 gallon underground tanks, supplies water for all the plants (though not the grass) located in the company’s sensory garden, which has been in place since 2003.

Another strategy was to install low flow fixtures in all the restroom and kitchen areas.

In tracking water use at the facility, Kiley’s team has found these initiatives have helped to reduce consumption by 25%.

Other than the “Innovation & Design Process” category, Discovery achieved the highest percentage of possible points under “Energy & Atmosphere”—19 of 23. Energy use, Kiley explains, was an area where the company wanted to make significant changes. “We made it more of a high level project and looked at the big picture,” she says. “Early in the certification process, we relamped with compact fluorescent lighting in the majority of spaces. And we have continued to assess where lighting might not be necessary all the time.”

Another part of the LEED pursuit involved installing occupancy sensors in an area referred to as Main Street—a central hallway situated between two office towers that make up the bulk of the facility. Since this area is illuminated with natural light for much of the day, lighting does not need to operate constantly.

Looking at other energy opportunities, the Discovery team decided upon the ongoing purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs) equal to the amount of electricity used at the facility; the energy source chosen for this was wind power. Apart from electricity, the company uses natural gas for a small portion of heating needs, and carbon offsets are bought to account for that consumption.

These initiatives have helped to reduce energy consumption by 26%.

Under “Materials & Resources,” Kiley was pleasantly surprised to learn that elements original to the building qualified for points. She cites bamboo flooring and carpet tile used throughout much of the facility as examples, in addition to the overall approach in original construction.

“The initial design of the headquarters employed a ‘universal plan’ approach to maximize use and reuse of standard furniture, demountable office partitions, and carpet tile, while allowing flexibility for individual department needs,” she explains. “Maximizing daylighting and views, was also part of this.”

While many aspects of the LEED pursuit involved direct action by facilities staff or third party service providers, Kiley has been pleased with strides related to employee involvement (there are approximately 1,400 employees on-site). She points to the increased recycling of waste—paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic.

Each floor in the building has a kitchen area, and prior to this project, each contained a large, central trash can and several recycling receptacles. However, the central trash can became a “catchall,” since many occupants neglected to walk across the kitchen to recycle. The central trash can was removed, and people now use the recycling area which also contains a small bin for non-recyclables.

Kiley reports the recycling rate has increased by an average of 40% since that change. “And, here’s the best thing about it,” she says. “It costs nothing to do! We had the recycling bins from the day we moved in, but we couldn’t get people to the bins.”

In addition to points earned for daylighting under “Indoor Environmental Quality,” efficient scheduling of HVAC systems gained points. Kiley’s team had already been focused on efficient scheduling during non-peak hours, but additional moves included increasing cooling set points and lowering heating set points by several degrees. “Employees have been comfortable with the changes,” says Kiley. “And if there is a problem, we can make changes quickly with our building control system.”

Green cleaning initiatives also contributed in this category. The project team worked with the janitorial service to switch to cleaning products compliant with LEED. “We were using some green products; we had switched to green paper products in restrooms a few years ago,” says Kiley. “But we wanted to do a complete switchover. Our provider made recommendations, and we’ve been very happy with what was chosen.”

Under “Innovation & Design,” the project received two points for existing employee engagement programs. Says Kiley, “I was surprised we could get LEED points for that, and I was very happy we could. People are accustomed to green here; they recommend things constantly. It’s very positive.”

Programs have included contests between departments. For instance, Kiley’s staff would perform audits to find out which group saved the most energy overnight (e.g., turning off lights and computers). Another challenge was to create a baseline for paper use and track the consumption for a month.

Keeping It Going

Speaking on the task of maintaining sustainable operations, Kiley notes it has been going “very well. It’s absolutely top of mind.” She points out that this focus has been in place since the building was constructed, so the foundation for staying on track already existed.

“I really liked the collaborative effort and working with people from multiple departments here,” she says. “I learned a tremendous amount on this project, and I’m sure a lot of other people did as well.”

This article was based on an interview with Kiley.


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