Constructing Resiliency

Inaugural award recognizes innovative ideas

As part of the greening diplomacy initiative, the U.S. Mission in Geneva installed solar panels on their roof. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

By Ricky Gill

With a unique worldwide portfolio in 291 locations, spanning more than 80 million square feet, and valued at nearly $100 billion, U.S. diplomatic facilities operate in a wide range of conditions. Department of State buildings exist in environments with temperatures ranging from -40 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in every type of climate, from arid deserts to damp tropical regions. In addition to dealing with climate challenges, the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) has been designing and constructing facilities in places with political or economic risks. Building secure facilities that demand continuous operations in such variable conditions with uncertain access to reliable resources means that OBO, as the portfolio manager, must place resiliency at the forefront of its priorities in order to ensure that Department buildings are secure, functional and reliable.

Through the Greening Diplomacy Initiative (GDI), OBO recently announced and selected the winners of the inaugural GDI OBO Resilience Award. The award was developed to recognize and fund up to $1 million in innovative ideas from posts to advance resiliency in Department operations and facilities.

“The 10 posts were selected for the innovative and forward-thinking projects that will enhance the resilience of their communities,” said OBO Director Addison “Tad” Davis IV. “Promoting these projects not only adapts operations more efficiently to local and global risks but also displays American innovation and know-how and will further enhance the Department’s ability to maintain, sustain and adapt our facility portfolio around the world.”

Water scarcity is affecting Department operations in several locations, and two of the winning projects are taking action to reduce these risks. Embassy Harare will be securing a renewable energy source in an area where regional drought intensifies electricity shortages. The project will harness solar power for five residences, which is expected to result in significant cost savings in energy as well as decrease dependence on the energy grid. The Consulate General in Johannesburg will become more water resilient by installing a drought-tolerant landscape at the consulate to take advantage of stormwater catchment. 

Embassy Bucharest will replace site lighting with light-emitting diode technology to reduce power consumption for security illumination. A project at Embassy Stockholm will increase energy efficiency by expanding already successful residential geothermal heat pump installations.  

From left: OBO’s Principal Deputy Director Henry Jardine and Director of the Office of Management, Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation Jim Schwab announced the first annual OBO Resiliency Award at the GDI Awards Ceremony, April 24. State Department photo
From left: OBO’s Principal Deputy Director Henry Jardine and Director of the Office of Management, Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation Jim Schwab announced the first annual OBO Resiliency Award at the GDI Awards Ceremony, April 24. State Department photo

Cleaner solutions to lower operational and maintenance costs won in Bern, Switzerland, where the embassy team will implement a solar charging station for electric landscaping tools. The station will charge equipment and reduce the need to store gasoline and other hazardous chemicals. Embassy Windhoek will be installing solar panels on its warehouse, reducing reliance on city power and running a more cost-efficient operation. At the Consulate General in São Paolo, outdated air-conditioning units will be replaced with more affordable, modern and efficient models. 

Embassy Accra will improve occupant behavior by developing an electricity conservation education campaign projected to save more than $100,000 in utility costs.  

A water garden at Embassy Nairobi is their part of the greening diplomacy initiative. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
A water garden at Embassy Nairobi is their part of the greening diplomacy initiative. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

In Kathmandu, a new 48-kilowatt solar array will provide a clean energy solution in a country struggling with electrification and air pollution. Embassy Lomé will empower staff with a comprehensive recycling program to reduce waste. A second project in Bucharest will install metered water dispensing stations to reduce plastic waste. 

A resilient facility posture is a national security imperative for the U.S. government. In making this an organizational priority, OBO is ensuring that the Department’s diplomatic platforms remain reliable and secure. Resilience is a powerful instrument to promote American diplomatic effectiveness and the embrace of U.S. values abroad. 

“I have personally been dedicated to resiliency throughout my career both in the government and the private sector,” said Davis. “From that experience, I know colleagues that have witnessed environmental risks firsthand have innovative and efficient solutions to improve the world around them. I look forward to seeing the tremendous impact this year’s GDI Award winners will have on resiliency at posts across the globe.”

Ricky Gill is a senior advisor in the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. 

As seen from above, the photovoltaic installation that was at Embassy Amman as part of the greening diplomacy initiative. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
As seen from above, the photovoltaic installation that was at Embassy Amman as part of the greening diplomacy initiative. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations