Aspects of the NGA Campus East design relate specifically to the NGA’s mission to provide geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to the White House, Pentagon, intelligence agencies, and other clients. The NGA describes its mission this way: “Everything and everyone is located somewhere on the surface of the Earth, and that’s what GEOINT depicts.” The agency played a critical role in mapping the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.

“Because we are who we are, we have considerations for safety in case there were a blast event,” says Thomas Bukoski, director of the NGA executive secretariat. “We are a defense agency, and potentially a target.”

So it was not entirely an aesthetic concern behind the selection of a transparent membrane for the NGA’s atrium roof. Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE)—the same material used to clad the shimmering Beijing National Aquatics Center—was chosen for the atrium roof for security reasons. “It’s simply resilient,” says Bukoski, who served previously as the assistant program manager for design and construction for the NGA Campus East. “In order to get light into this atrium, if we were to use glass or plexi, it would be much heavier. And in case of a blast event, this material [ETFE] is very resilient. While it might rupture, it would not shower down on our people.”

The NGA Campus East demonstrates the military’s commitment to energy efficiency at the largest scale yet. However, the sheer size of military construction projects can directly affect their surrounding communities—in terms of sustainability and in ways that the DOD does not necessarily provide for.

The Fort Leonard Wood net-zero design was motivated in part by a dispute with the installation’s energy provider, the Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, which announced that it would no longer provide energy to Fort Leonard Wood, a non-co-op customer. Alexandria, Va., has seen a crisis in reverse: The introduction of the Mark Center, the home of the DOD’s Washington Headquarters Service, has forced the city to radically revise its municipal planning.

The Mark Center supports 1.7 million square feet of office space for some 6,400 DOD employees—a significant addition to the dense and over-trafficked municipality of Alexandria. In 2009, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) published an editorial in The Washington Post asking the DOD to step up its funding of transportation upgrades around the Fort Belvoir BRAC plan (which includes Alexandria’s Mark Center).

“We don’t have a lot of say-so as to what actually happened on the base property,” says David Grover, BRAC coordinator for Alexandria. Grover has worked to coordinate the city’s transit response plan. “Once the army acquired the property, they became immune to all local regulations, including the building codes.”

Joanne Hensley, USACE New York District chief of project development for BRAC 133 (that is, the Mark Center), says that she anticipates LEED Gold certification for the project. The design team achieved lighting savings of 34 percent, she says, by installing occupancy sensors and LED lights at desks and in fixtures. “We actually recycled or salvaged 88 percent of the construction waste,” Hensley notes.

From a sustainability standpoint, some of those savings could be offset by an increase in traffic from thousands of commuters. So the DOD is subsidizing additional city bus routes between nearby Metro rail stations and the Mark Center during peak hours, and, in addition, paying $20 million for local road and intersection improvements. (The Virginia Department of Transportation has spent still more to redesign traffic flow in order to connect a high-occupancy vehicle highway lane to the Mark Center.)

Today’s military describes net-zero as a force multiplier. As the DOD continues to shape its sustainability goals, its stance applies not only to combat readiness but to civilian service. One USACE ambition for Fort Leonard Wood, for example, is to develop a net-positive energy stance—so that the installation can supply energy to the larger community in the case of an emergency.