Since 1922, San Antonio, Texas-based USAA has served US military service members and their families, initially as an automobile insurance company. Today, it is an association that offers a full-range of financial service products and services, including insurance, banking, investments, and retirement products. In that respect, USAA is steeped in tradition, but its McDermott Building is anything but conventional.
Part of a 280-acre campus with its own zip code, the McDermott Building serves as USAA’s headquarters and is one of the largest office buildings in the United States. Three-quarters of a mile long, the 4.2 million-square-foot building houses office space, two data centers, two fitness centers, four cafeterias, warehouses, and vehicle maintenance facilities. Construction began in 1971, and over the course of 40-plus years, the space has been renovated, expanded, and improved upon, but the building has never had a facelift quite like the one it received beginning in 2009.
Last year, the McDermott Building was awarded LEED Gold certification by the USGBC and became the sixth USAA building to be LEED certified, the largest LEED-certified office building in Texas, and one of the largest in the country.
Les Hansen, USAA’s executive director of facilities engineering and sustainability, says sustainability and energy conservation have always been a part of the financial service provider’s culture in some capacity, but it has not been as formalized as it is today.
“In 2008, USAA formalized a program across all lines of business because it’s our belief that if you’re not conducting your business in a sustainable manner, you’re not doing the right thing for your customers or your community,” Hansen said. “Sustainability is being driven from the very top. It’s important to us, and we see the value in it, not just for the environment, but for our members as well.”
Making a building of this size energy and water efficient comes with its challenges. Hansen says one of the biggest concerns was water usage. With more than 235 restrooms and countless faucets, toilets, and water fountains to account for, it wasn’t immediately clear how the massive building would fare. As it turns out, there was little cause for concern. Both energy and water consumption were reduced by a whopping 23 percent, and, according to Hansen, the building has an Energy Star score of 96 for overall operational efficiency.
Its success is attributable to a number of smart building features and operational changes. The McDermott Building features reinforced concrete and anodized aluminum panels with large overhangs that help to control sunlight. The HVAC and lighting systems are controlled and monitored with a digital energy management system, and irrigation is controlled by a central irrigation control system utilizing recycled water and designed to conserve water.
The building also now features low-flow fixtures and high-efficiency lighting, including motion sensors that turn off lighting when areas are unused. Even more impressive, and part of the formalized structures Hansen mentioned, is the campus’s recycling program. According to the executive director, more than 60 percent of the trash generated on-site is diverted from landfills. Overall, USAA has reduced its landfill waste by 30 percent.
“We have a role to play in this city, and in this community, and I’d like to think that we’re setting a good example,” Hansen says. “This 40-plus-year-old building is a part of the city’s history and we’ve shown that no matter what you’re working with, no matter how old the building, you can make it more sustainable if it’s important to you. We’re incredibly proud of how efficiently the McDermott Building is operated. We hope it inspires others.”