Building the foundations for successful green diplomacy

Taking concrete steps to improve the environmental footprint of the Tri-Mission in Rome is smart diplomacy.

BY KENNETH L. MEYER

This “green” parking lot made of grass and cobblestones helps disperse heat and makes it easier to manage rainwater during stormy events.
US Department of State / Tri-Mission Italy

President Joe Biden has made tackling the climate crisis a national security priority, and Tri-Mission Italy has stepped up to do its part. Multilateral engagement through our three missions in Rome (United States Embassy in Rome, United States Embassy to the Holy See and United States Mission to United Nations agencies) is essential in the struggle for a cleaner environment with a better future; however, these are longer term actions that could take years to bear fruit. To help ensure short-term success which can strengthen our diplomatic engagement, the management section of Tri-Mission Italy has made environmental stewardship an important part of our approach to facilities management.

We have taken pragmatic steps to improve our environmental footprint in Rome, showing Italians that we are serious in tackling the climate crisis. We take these measurements right in their front yard, so to speak; and in the process, we are building the foundations for successful green diplomacy.

Simple concepts and complex projects

A maintenance van from the Tri-Mission Italy facilities is charged at one of the mission’s four electric car charging stations in Rome.
US Department of State / Tri-Mission Italy

To begin with, our main office buildings on our Rome campus are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. This means that we have complied with all environmental laws and regulations; occupancy, area and size ratios; and additional pre-certification requirements; and we share relevant data on our energy efficiency and water consumption. Achieving this goal on our historic campus, with buildings dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, demonstrates our commitment and leadership in energy and environmental design.

To reduce waste and increase recycling, the Tri-Mission became one of the first large-scale organizations in Rome to implement a waste recycling program in collaboration with City Hall Waste Management. Controlled results show that we recycle 80 percent of our waste, and the city government estimates that 90 percent of our recycling materials are reusable. As a result of our recycling success, we eventually built a one-stop-shop drop-off center on our Rome campus. The city was impressed with our center and assigned a specialized recycling affiliate to work with the United States to manage the program in the future.

Tri-Mission Rome has been converting interior and exterior lighting systems to LED technology for several years. Sixty percent of our functional spaces and 80 percent of our residences are now equipped. LED bulbs themselves cost more than ordinary incandescent bulbs, but due to their longer lifespan and low power consumption (LED consumption is 30-40% lower than fluorescent bulbs ), the long-term result is significant utility savings.

In a complex project that reduces both fuel consumption and water runoff, we redesigned our deteriorating asphalt parking lot (approx. 100 parking spaces) to include permeable paving under the parking spaces and installed electric charging stations for our new government-owned hybrid vehicles. Asphalt and concrete are materials that absorb and retain heat and contribute to “urban heat islands”, increasing energy costs (eg for air conditioning), air pollution levels and disease. and heat-related mortalities.

Our green parking lot provides on-site stormwater management by allowing runoff water to infiltrate the ground during storms, dramatically reducing the volume and rate of runoff, eliminating it entirely from small storms and capturing up to 80% of runoff from larger events. Charging stations will significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels for our official vehicles.

We don’t usually think of an elevator renovation as a way to reduce energy consumption, but that’s exactly what we did at the Tri-Mission. We replaced our chancellery elevators, installed in the early 90s and experiencing seriously degraded performance. The new elevators use an energy efficient traction system, reducing power demand by 50%, and are equipped with a regenerative drive that recovers the braking energy of the elevators (otherwise dissipated in the form of heat on the electrical resistances) . After converting the recovered energy into electrical energy, the regenerative drive returns it to the building’s electrical system for use in other applications, reducing the elevator’s power consumption by 20%. It sounds complex, but the principles are actually quite simple. Technology allows us to do amazing things with the right engineering.

Residential solar panels in Rome provide significant savings in natural gas.
US Department of State / Tri-Mission Italy

Reduce waste

The Tri-Mission Italy was one of the first large-scale organizations in Rome to implement a waste recycling program in collaboration with City Hall Waste Management.
US Department of State / Tri-Mission Italy

We have also applied new technologies and techniques to two of our Chef de Mission (COM) residences. After a major chiller failure at our US Mission residence to the UN COM, we installed new natural gas chillers with an engine that spins the compressor to produce chilled water. One of the main advantages of this technology is that the waste heat from chiller operations can be recovered and used to produce domestic hot water. This greatly reduces the energy required to perform this task separately, and it has reduced our utility bills for the property. In our historic Embassy Rome COM residence, we have installed solar panels to heat the pool water and provide hot water to the changing rooms. The use of solar panels resulted in savings of around 60% on the residence’s natural gas bills.

We also used solar technology in one of our government-owned apartment buildings, where we replaced the obsolete boilers with two small condensing boilers that integrate the heating energy produced by the newly installed solar panels. In sunny Rome, solar panels significantly reduce CO2 in the production of hot water. Additionally, we redesigned the system to separate the domestic hot water from the heating system, eliminating the need to run the heating boilers year round and increasing the overall efficiency of the system. We have also replaced the primary and secondary pumps with more efficient inverter pumps. The entire boiler room is controlled by an automated management system that adjusts the supply temperature of the heating system according to the outside temperature to save natural gas and prevent occupant discomfort on the hottest days.

Since the official Tri ‐ Mission campus is located inside Rome’s historic district, it is difficult to install renewable energy technologies such as solar panels on site. We therefore decided to purchase renewable energy from an external supplier via renewable energy certificates. This service, which we document by means of the supplier’s guarantee of origin certificates, contributes to the annual carbon offset of around 3,000,000 kg (3,000 tonnes) of CO2, or roughly the equivalent of the amount of energy consumed annually by 360 households in the United States.

The management section of Tri-Mission Italy continually seeks to make processes and facilities “greener”. This year, the ministry recognized our accomplishments with the Green Diplomacy Initiative Award for Excellence in Team Sustainability Performance. We hope that our efforts can serve as an example for other pragmatic actions here and now to address the climate crisis.

Kenneth L. Meyer is a Foreign Service Officer currently assigned as a Management Officer at the Tri-Mission in Rome, Italy. He previously served in Cambodia, China, Czech Republic, Iraq, Japan, Slovakia and the United States. He attended Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and has previously published on climate change and national security.

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