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Vermont’s First LEED Certified Building: ECHO

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Photo credit: Chris Stone

Source: ECHO Website and Kevin O'Connor, EAN/University of Vermont Clean Energy Internship Program

The ECHO (Ecology, Culture, History, and Opportunity) Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, is a dynamic, nationally acclaimed lake aquarium and science center that has inspired and delighted visitors for over a decade.  Located on Burlington’s waterfront, it is also Vermont’s first LEED-Certified building, and holds the honor of being the only lake aquarium in the U.S. with this certification.  This achievement is all the more impressive because caring for fish, reptiles, and amphibians takes a lot of energy!

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally accepted green building certification system verifying that a building was designed and built focusing on energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. ECHO’s 29,000 square foot building was awarded Vermont’s first LEED Green Building Certification by the US Green Building Council just five months after it opened its doors in 2003. The process to obtain the LEED Certification was done with help from Andrew Shapiro of Energy Balance Inc.

ECHO’s strong commitment to environmental health and integrating green innovations comes to life throughout the building. See some of the highlights for yourself:

Temperature Control:  The glass stair-tower at ECHO is cooled by gravity, with windows opening and closing automatically in response to temperature changes. ECHO is also located in a very windy location and, to combat this high wind, ECHO has state-of-the-art triple glass, low leakage windows to increase energy efficiency.

Natural light:  Through ECHO’s vast high-efficiency triple-paned, low-e windows and sky lights, natural light floods the building, reducing the need for artificial lighting and energy use.

Smart Building Lighting and HVAC systems: The computer controlled sensor systems register how much light is needed and senses when people are in the building. This sophisticated network allows ECHO to constantly adjust to the needs of guests and animals—no matter the weather—to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Water Conservation:  From the waterless urinals and dual-flush, low-flow toilets to water-efficient landscaping and a stormwater rain garden, ECHO makes protecting and conserving water—a precious and limited resource— a priority.

Local Materials: Take a seat on one of the local—materials come from within 500 miles of ECHO— stone or wooden benches. The Waterwall, front desk and stone benches are fossil filled limestone (also called black or Chazy marble) quarried from Isle La Motte region on Lake Champlain. The reclaimed “live-edge” wooden benches were originally harvested from Shelburne, Vermont and made locally.

Renewable Materials: All of the beautiful birch wood throughout ECHO is just one visible example of all of the Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) wood used in construction. The linoleum—it’s trade name is marmoleum—flooring under your feet is a natural and durable product made of linseed oil, jute/burlap, pine rosin and pigments.

The Other Side of the Equation – Where Energy Comes From

In addition to focusing on using less energy, ECHO has invested in onsite renewable energy generation for electricity, heat and airconditioning.  As part of the Revision Lake Side Pavilion project, ECHO maximized its roof space and installed 117 solar panels.  These produce approximately 27kw of power, or about 8% of ECHO’s annual usage. ECHO also installed a geothermal closed-loop heat exchanger system. The system uses the ambient temperature of ground to cool the air inside ECHO during the heat of the summer.

The Man Behind the Curtain

Steve Smith, the Director of Animal Care and Facilities Management is essentially the brain of ECHO’s energy efficiency system. Steve controls the lighting and heating from his desktop computer at ECHO, tweaking software to minimize energy consumption as much as possible. Using a cell phone, laptop or home computer, he can control these systems from anywhere to ensure the highest levels energy efficiency (and savings!). When motion detectors alone cannot optimize efficiency, Steve is behind the scenes. For instance, when fewer people are in the building, or when certain rooms aren’t being used, Steve can adjust temperatures or airflow in each room at ECHO to save energy.

With energy efficiency and renewable energy installations ECHO has reduced its cost of energy, while also reducing its carbon footprint.

Steve Smith explained why reducing energy use and pollution is so important: “We haven’t inherited this earth, we borrowed it from our children. So I have a responsibility to my kids to minimize our consumption. It’s their lake I borrowed, I didn’t inherit this lake. I have a responsibility to give it back to them as clean as it was when I came around.”

ECHO uses its energy efficient and sustainable practices as a way to teach visitors about the practices they can adopt in their own lives to help our planet.  Simply by choosing ECHO for your event, you are 75% on your way to creating a “green” event and you have committed 100% towards educating your guests and empowering them to make smarter, more sustainable choices in their own life.