LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the premiere accrediting organization that recognizes green buildings in Connecticut and internationally–including the River building. Adam Thatcher, Grace Farms Foundation’s Director of Operations, is passionate about sustainability and ensuring that Grace Farms Foundation continues to be a steward of our environment through our daily operations. During a conversation with Thatcher, we learned about his goals related to sustainable operations and discussed the process for further LEED Certification for Grace Farms.
There are two primary types of LEED certification. The first is Building Design and Construction (BD+C), which Grace Farms acquired by utilizing green building materials and minimizing environmental impact during construction. The second certification is Operations and Maintenance (O+M), which requires certification in several categories including sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation. Thatcher and a team of New Canaan High School interns—summer college students from USC and Stanford—and Foundation team members are spending the summer with hopes of submitting all documentation by September of 2018 for LEED’s Gold Certification.
As a result of the LEED certification process, we’ve made changes in nearly every aspect of our operations and facilities. Thatcher said, “While we have always made decisions about how to operate Grace Farms with the environment in mind, the LEED certification process has forced us to reflect on and research all our processes and make necessary changes one wouldn’t normally think of.”
See below for examples of ways Grace Farms has made changes to its operations, and the results we have seen.
Energy usage makes up about 35 to 40 percent of all greenhouse emissions, so we are doing our part to reduce our energy consumption and decrease the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. We worked closely with partners, including Eversource, to reduce our energy consumption at peak demands. We pay close attention to small details at Grace Farms, which can make a significant impact. We reduced the intensity of brightness and wattage of our lightbulbs where appropriate at certain times of day. We also carefully considered the mercury content of the current bulbs, and the appropriate time to replace them with LED bulbs. So far, we’ve reduced our electrical consumption by 30 percent, and anticipate more to come.
Our geothermal system is also constantly undergoing refinements for increased efficiency, as 80 percent of our heating and cooling is supported by our geothermal wells. Utilizing a Building Management System (BMS) has enabled us to adjust our heating and cooling settings and lighting schedules seasonally. We’ve also reviewed our occupancy sensor settings to identify equipment that can be put on timers or turned off completely.
Furthermore, Grace Farms purchases 100% Renewable Energy Certificates to offset its electrical consumption.
Procurement of Supplies and Purchasing:
All of our purchases—from our trash bags and paper towels to office furniture and supplies—are reviewed to ensure they are made from post-consumer recycled materials and FSC certified where possible. We purchase only rechargeable batteries, have switched to reusable plates and cups site-wide, and use EPA Safer Choice chemicals for cleaning. This has also led to some surprising cost-savings for the Foundation, which goes directly to benefit our programming.
Recycling and Compost:
We have started an on-site composting program to repurpose food scraps into valuable compost that we can reuse in our gardens and meadows. This includes purchasing a composting machine that will allow us to become “full-circle”—meaning that all the food waste we create in our Commons will be composted on site and turned into natural fertilizer for our 80 acres of property. This will encourage our trees and meadows to absorb more carbon dioxide, in addition to saving us about $3,500 each year on our current composting costs.
Restoring the Ecosystem and Habitats:
Restoring the natural diversity of the landscape has been central to our Nature Initiative. Since construction, we’ve partnered with Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, who helped us return 70 percent of our landscape to native meadows in order to restore the fragile ecosystem. Additionally, we track all the water used for irrigation to establish benchmarks we can improve on year over year with careful monitoring of our water schedules. We’ve also implemented erosion control measure through plantings, implement invasive plant removal programs each year, and even installed rain barrels to capture and reuse rainwater runoff to be repurposed in our garden.
Using Accredited Partners:
Finally, for anything we can’t maintain and oversee ourselves onsite, we’ve identified vendors that have comparable accreditations and similarly eco-conscious missions to ours. For example, we work with an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) service that is GreenPro certified and a carpet cleaning company that uses only earth friendly detergents and certified equipment.
“Getting the LEED certification is really just a way for us to demonstrate our on-going commitment to being great stewards of this beautiful property and building. As a space open and free to the public, we want to be a role model in the community for responsible operations,” Thatcher said. As we share our progress toward these initiatives, we will show how it enables us to fulfill our other goals, including limiting our operating costs and inspiring others to make green choices in their own lives.