The windows on Embassy Asunción’s north façade are oriented north and south to avoid heat gain from direct sunlight, keeping the building cool in summer and warm in winter. Photo courtesy of Embassy Asunción
By Olivia Fisher
Embassy Asunción’s Facilities Maintenance team and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ (OBO) Asset Management and Transition Division harnessed innovative new technologies to develop human capital, and find sustainable solutions for landscaping, cleanliness, and comfort at the new embassy campus. Construction began in 2017, and the campus will open for business in October of this year.
The work demonstrated how the new embassy will usher occupants to a meaningful workplace that is symbiotic with, and attuned to, the local environment. The embassy is built to operate sustainably for many years, serving as the Mission’s platform on environmental stewardship for the host country. The embassy was also designed for comfort and efficiency, incorporating clean air, adequate lighting, and even appealing fabrics to create a meaningful work environment for staff.
In the wake of a global pandemic, clean indoor air and surfaces are paramount to protecting health and safety. The new embassy in Asunción employs commercial green, non-toxic cleaning operations resulting in indoor air quality that is safe for the occupants and the environment. Additionally, the HVAC system facilitates proper ventilation while optimizing building pressure and filtration.
Every detail of the new embassy campus is designed to promote occupant comfort. Visitors and embassy staff have access to natural light and views; indoor shades are controllable to reduce glare; the building’s façade keeps the interior cool in summer and warm in winter; and the glass windows are oriented north and south to avoid heat gain from direct sunlight.
The Operations and Maintenance (O&M) team supported the integration of the embassy’s building systems (e.g. water irrigation, plumbing, stormwater, wastewater treatment) by developing human capital in a motivated and skilled team. Recruiting and developing this team started very early on in the project. The process involved administering aptitude tests to customize an intense training program for facility personnel. The three-pronged approach included familiarity, shadowing manufacturer operation levels, and post-occupancy training. The team received 1,500 hours of formal and informal training before occupancy, and another 1,000 hours after occupancy to train staff how to operate all of Embassy Asunción’s new building systems.
This training produced skilled and motivated personnel adept at handling the technologies of the new campus. Waste management studies and climate and power analyses aided in the development of the O&M programs led not only to a significant technology transfer, but also to an exchange of knowledge with experts in the community concerning local weather and waste management sources, which increased the human capital of the host country. Additionally, the local engineering and design companies that will be fulfilling some of the service contracts for the new embassy will have exposure to these complex systems, encouraging innovation and economic development.
The new embassy also applies a holistic approach to environmental responsibility. Smart bathroom fixtures and an efficient in-ground drip irrigation system conserve water. Stormwater is collected on-site and re-used for irrigation, and the embassy’s wastewater recycling and reuse system (one of only two such wastewater treatment systems in Paraguay) has had the highest impact on the operation of this sustainable facility.
The new embassy campus is a natural wildlife habitat due to its dense tree coverage and lush vegetation. Given the site’s importance as a natural nesting area for migratory and native birds, the O&M team ensured that the grounds management plan incorporated additional animal shelter, food, and water sources into its design. A tree management plan is in place to ensure that the native trees located on the campus are maintained, including the iconic national tree of the host country, the lapacho tree, that welcomes embassy visitors at the main entrance with its showy pink floral arms.
The embassy generates gray water and other waste that requires disposal or recycling. Paraguay does not have a formal recycling program and 60% to 80% of the city’s landfill is composed of organic material. To gauge the local effects of the waste generated by the embassy, OBO’s Zero Waste Program (ZWP) piloted a one-year audit of the embassy’s waste stream that provided insight on the amount of waste the campus produced throughout the year. The ZWP then put in measures that allow for the diversion of 35,000 pounds of waste per year from the landfill. This program also supports the local economy by providing an opportunity for local companies to sell the compostable waste generated by the embassy.
Data on power consumption, ambient temperature, humidity, and dewpoint over four years led to a consumption profile unique to Embassy Asunción’s operation. By tracking operations using power monitoring and fuel management systems, the O&M team at post can now gauge and predict consumption and quality of the embassy’s power supply. The collection of power and consumption data guides the team’s decisions in energy efficiency. Newly generated data is fed into the building automation system and extrapolated to produce energy audits and build energy profiles for post. These can be used as comparative data for other diplomatic facilities.
Achieving day-to-day operations without waste is possible: more than 50 diplomatic facilities are certified sustainable buildings. Sustainable O&M programs in Asunción can serve as a blueprint for other facilities to show how zero-waste management is possible.
Olivia Fisher is the facilities manager at Embassy Asunción.