With nearly 5,000 square miles of surface area, the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. Its watershed covers some 60,000 square miles in six states and is home to over 17 million people. Yet this vast ecosystem owes much of its continuing vitality to a piece of sticky paper you could cover with your hand: a bumper sticker bearing the simple, emphatic message "Save the Bay." Those three words are the motto of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF)—the 2015 recipient of the Hanley Award for Community Service in Sustainability—which for nearly 50 years successfully has made the case for protecting and restoring the bay in courtrooms, classrooms, state legislatures, and out on the water.
For decades, CBF also has made pioneering investments in sustainable construction, including two of the world's greenest buildings, notes Michael Hanley, president of the Hanley Foundation. Hanley calls the CBF "a shining example for other companies and nonprofits in designing buildings that are not only good for the environment, but beautiful and functional as well."
From the Headwaters
CBF's involvement in green building began with a series of educational centers it commissioned in the 1980s, says foundation president William C. Baker. "When we started talking about a green building," he remembers, "one builder said, ‘Son, I can paint that building any color you want.'" By 1998, when CBF began work on the Philip Merrill Environmental Center, its flagship Annapolis, Md., headquarters, the field had advanced considerably, but so had CBF's aspirations.
"We wanted to make the building and grounds as ‘invisible' to the bay as possible," Baker says. The Merrill Center's composting toilets and its use of stored rainwater for handwashing, laundry, and irrigation reduced consumption of potable water to a tenth of that used by a typical commercial building. Restoring the site's streams, vegetation, and shoreline improved its ability to filter runoff and its resilience in severe storms. The 32,000-square-foot structure—the world's first LEED Platinum Certified building—incorporated natural ventilation, passive solar design, geothermal technology, and natural daylighting to reduce energy consumption by some 70% compared with that of a conventional building.
"Part of CBF's mission is that every fourth grader in the state comes to the Merrill Center," says project architect Greg Mella. Business leaders, government officials, and hundreds of thousands of building industry professionals also have toured the building. And while inspiring others to follow its example, CBF paved the way by helping mainstream once-exotic materials and technologies. Since the Merrill Center's completion in 2001, "the cost of geothermal drilling has fallen by half," Mella says. "You need that pioneer client that's willing to try these things out."
Into the Mainstream
"In 1998, no one was talking about sustainable design except for a very small group, and LEED was kind of an unknown," Mella says. "Now we know that you can do net zero energy, net zero water, and net zero waste," a point he proved when his firm was tapped to design CBF's recently completed Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, Va. Exploiting advances in mechanical equipment and computer modeling, and a precedent-setting permit to treat rainwater for drinking, the Brock Center hit all three of those targets, while also addressing the increasingly pressing issue of resilience. In siting the building, the architects used NASA projections of sea-level rise by the year 2100. Wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, and cisterns that hold a six-week water supply equip the building to serve as a neighborhood shelter in case of a severe storm. "It's about as resilient a building as you're going to get," Mella says.
Leveraging investments for maximum impact is a hallmark of CBF's approach, says Nat Williams, a former director of the Maryland chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "They made ‘Save the Bay' part of the lexicon in this area," he says. "That was a huge accomplishment." And CBF's work in green building has been a beacon to leaders in business and government. "In 40 years we'll say, of course you build that way," Williams says, but someone had to go first. "People refer to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation a lot when the idea of how you build a green building comes up. If you want to invest in a green building, they're generally considered to have done it right. If you want some answers, go talk to them."