Region Forward Blog

Lori Arguelles: Blueprint for the sustainable future, one green building at a time

Jul 10, 2017

The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Environmental Center in Prince George's County, Maryland (The Alice Ferguson Foundation)

For more than 60 years, the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) has brought key concepts about environmental education to over half a million students through programs on our environmental campus, working farm, and in National Parks. In a world where the built environment can be a more common setting for schoolchildren than nature, we provide students from across the Washington D.C. region opportunities to see the natural world in action and to learn from it.

In today’s world, the built environment is where we work and spend most of our lives. And that’s why we were among the first organizations in the world to take on the Living Building Challenge(™). We wanted to “Walk the Talk” and build an education center that would surpass status quo green standards and regenerate the environment around it. Thus, AFF’s The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Environmental Center was born – a net-zero energy and net-zero water, carbon neutral, non-toxic and non-polluting structure that meets these and other stringent environmental building criteria. The Center received full Living Building Challenge certification in June 2017, and received the highest LEED platinum score for a commercial building in Maryland. The building’s dashboard provides up-to-the-minute numbers and tracking for how much water is being used or solar power generated. 

The facility is a learning lab, built to teach environmental concepts not only to the thousands of students who visit the Alice Ferguson Foundation environmental campus each year, but also to our region’s leaders and developers. Since the building first opened, we have had the privilege of hosting many groups of thought leaders in architecture and construction, including the American Institute of Architects, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

Building projects like ours help create a collective blueprint that enhance our region’s status as a leader in green building and energy efficiency. While not all buildings are going to reach for the full Living Building Challenge status– in fact, there are only 15 such projects in the world right now – each new success helps transition all of us to a new, greener normal. Since 2010, there has been a three-fold increase in high performance buildings verified by organizations like LEED, ENERGY STAR, EarthCraft, and Passive House, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Regional Climate and Energy Action Plan, making our region home to more LEED/green office buildings than any other metro area in the U.S.

From supportive policies on the local level and GSA’s green building requirements for federal buildings to the increased awareness of the advantages and accessibility of adopting green building standards by the private sector, our region is at the forefront of building a sustainable future.  


Lori Arguelles is the President and CEO of The Alice Ferguson Foundation. The Alice Ferguson Foundation connects people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices, and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship, and advocacy.


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