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Confessions of a USGBC tour guide

Published on Written by Posted in LEED

As an 11-year USGBC veteran and headquarters tour guide, you could say I've developed an affinity for our space.

Check out my Q&A to get the inside scoop on the USGBC headquarters tour program.

Q. Why does USGBC have a tour program?

A. As the creators of LEED, we knew we had to use our office space to broaden the public's knowledge and awareness of green building strategies from a lessons-learned perspective. By inviting people to tour our space, we are able to share insights on how the project came together and use the space as a teaching tool by outlining its environmental and human health benefits. 

Plus, the tour is considered an Education Outreach Program, which earned us a point under the LEED Innovation credit, IDc1. (During construction our general contractor also led green toolbox talks discussing specific LEED strategies, which contributed to this credit).

Q. Was the space designed with public tours in mind?

A. Absolutely. A specific tour route was designated on the floor plan so that acoustic measures could be implemented to minimize disturbance to staff. Prior to the public grand opening in July 2009, we modified the tour to include a “demo desk” area, we added more signage, and we installed a materials wall with samples of the products used in the space. These additions enhanced the tour experience by providing visuals and things that people could touch and feel.

Q. What level of LEED certification did the USGBC headquarters project earn?

A. We wanted to lead by example, so we asked our design team to think outside the box, which led to us achieving 94 points and earning a LEED Platinum certification. 

Q. What rating system was used to certify the project?

Our space was the first project to be certified under the LEED for Commercial Interiors rating system updated in 2009.

Additionally, our building was originally built in 1975 and underwent a major renovation in 2007, which earned certification under the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance rating system. We're also pleased to note that the spaces of two of the other major tenants are LEED Platinum and LEED Silver, so five out of ten floors in our building are LEED certified. It’s really a testament to the building’s commitment to sustainable design and operations.

Q. Who tours your office?

A. Our most common visitors are building industry professionals such as architects, engineers and interior designers. The next categories by volume are government officials, contractors and international delegations, especially groups from China.

Product manufacturers visit often, especially those who donated materials to the space and want to show clients their product in a high-profile project. I once had a product manufacturer walk his two young sons around the space to take photographs of themselves with his company’s product. It was really sweet how proud he was. 

We also get students from grade school to grad school, as well as an occasional group of scouts. One of my favorite annual visits is from Penn State. Every spring our general contractor Davis Construction hosts 100 engineering students for a tour. It’s our largest group of the year, and it's a lot of fun.

I’ve also hosted people on vacation with their kids and even a couple on their honeymoon!

Q. Who gives the tours?

A. Over the last five years I’ve trained about 30 staff members, so we have specific individuals available to lead a tour depending on the audience. I think it's important to pair guides with groups, so we can provide proper context. For example, if we have a group of students coming in, I’ll ask a guide from the Center for Green Schools to lead the tour. Furthermore, each guide has the knowledge to lead high level tours or very detailed tours, depending on our guests' schedule and interests.

Q. What are your favorite design features of the space?

A. I have a lot of favorites, so it's tough to choose, but here are a few:

  • Sweet gumwood walls: These walls are an incredible feature in our elevator corridor and front lobby. The wood was salvaged from the Tennessee River after being logged in the 1800s. Each piece of wood has a different color variation based on how deep it was in the riverbed; the deeper is was, the darker it is. 
  • Eco-corridor: This space is located throughout the office, next to our floor-to-ceiling windows. We pulled the workstations away from the windows and created a perimeter walkway of beige carpeting, which acts as a light shelf to bounce sunlight deeper into the office. On bright days, there's no need for overhead lighting because there's so much daylight streaming in. We’re also able to keep the eco-corridor area a few degrees hotter or cooler, depending on the season, because it’s not regularly occupied, which allows us to save a lot of energy and money. The return on investment to install these energy-efficient systems is more than 400 percent over a 10-year period!
  • Biophilia: I love explaining this concept to visitors. It means “love of life, love of nature.” Studies have shown that people who feel connected to nature are happier and more productive, so we knew it was important to have a biophilic consultant on the LEED project team. Examples of biophilia are views of the outdoors from a seated position (97 percent of our desks have a view), pictures or symbols of nature, water features and plants. All of these were incorporated into our office design.
  • Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair: These chairs are part of the informal seating in our kitchen, and I think they are the most comfortable seats in our space.

Q. What are some unique features of the space?

A. There are several worth mentioning:

  • Quiet room: This space is equipped with a recliner, table and lamp. This room provides privacy for nursing mothers, staff in need of a quick power nap and those observing their religion.
  • Showers: Because we have a dedicated bike rack in the building garage, LEED requires us to have a place for staff members to shower and change. While there is a state-of-the-art fitness facility in the basement, it’s a great amenity to have showers in our space that are easily accessible.
  • Water-saving features: Our water-savings strategies include dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, low-flow faucets and low-flow showers. All of these efficient fixtures got us to a 40.3 percent reduction in water usage. We also have high-speed, energy-efficient hand dryers and solar cells on the faucets to help automate the water flow in the sinks.
  • Game room: While the room is used more by children of our staff, it is fun that we have the option to take a break by playing Wii, PlayStation or foosball. 

Q. What do you enjoy about giving tours?

A. In the last five years, we have welcomed more than 8,500 visitors to tour our space. I really enjoy people’s reactions, which have been overwhelmingly positive. A popular question is, “How do I get a job here?,” and that makes me proud. Even though I’ve given hundreds of tours, I always learn something new on each tour, and that’s pretty exciting. I'm grateful for the dozens of thank you cards and letters from visitors all over the world. One of the greatest rewards for me is knowing that our office has inspired so many people to action in their own spaces.

Interested in visiting USGBC? Schedule a tour of our LEED Platinum office.

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    Ana Leilani Ka'ahanui made 3 contributions in the last 6 months
  • USGBC

Ana Leilani Ka'ahanui

Manager, Communications, LEED Green Associate U.S. Green Building Council

1 commentLeave a comment

Architect USGBC Faculty, Greenscape, LLC
Pro Reviewer
I can testify firsthand....Ana gives an incredible tour!

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