Archives for posts with tag: LEED

What is to be gained by certifying your project as “Green”?  Setting aside any discussion of whether or not to build a green project, I’d like to look at the decision to certify a project as sustainable.

As I mentioned in a previous post, LEED certification and GreenPoint Rating are examples of voluntary programs through which scrutinize a project and give a score of how “green” it is.  Points are earned in a variety of categories from selection of an appropriate site to the toxicity of the materials used for interior finishes.  Although there are prerequisites in each category, theoretically, you could certify a building that is nowhere near green in some categories as long as it is exceedingly green in others.

These certification systems are imperfect and controversial, especially with dyed-in-the-wool environmental advocates, but they do provide a starting point.  The certification process is very thorough.  It starts in the design process but appropriately most of the review is during construction phase to verify that the green specifications are actually being met as the project is built.

However, the certification process is not cheap.  It starts at about $20,000 and can be much higher.  Therefore, it is rarely seen in the residential industry outside of large housing or apartment projects.  We have begun to discuss LEED certification at the point of large office build outs of 20,000 square feet or more.

The decision to get the certification is almost always one of appearance and has little if anything to do with the desire to build a greener building.  After all, a design and construction team can include all of the sustainable features on a project without needing the certification process to do so.  However, like “Certified Organic”, the certificate shows that the sustainable features have been verified by a third-party.  The certificate expresses to potential tenants, buyers, future clients, or the general public that the design and construction teams are going to extra lengths for reasons of social responsibility.

So, the decision to get a project certified generally comes down to a business decision for the company; whether a certification get more or better customers, attract more talented staff, or somehow position the company at a higher level.  It is looked at with the same metrics as any marketing campaign. At the upper levels of the industry, a LEED certification can often be a prerequisite for a project.  Anything less would be considered lacking.

One of my favorite stories really makes one wonder about the usefulness of the certification process:  Facing a $27,000 certification cost on a new ice arena, the Mayor of Park City, Utah decided to not pursue LEED certification but instead took the money set aside for certification and purchased three wind turbines to power the arenas Zamboni.  Now if everybody considering certification would take this approach, we might get somewhere!

LEED.  Build It Green.  CALGreen.  There seem to be so many competing ways to measure the sustainability of a built project that it’s hard to keep them straight.  How do they compare to each other?  Should you do any of them?  Do you have to?

For starters, let’s look at how they differ.  Green Building Certification programs, such as the USGBC’s LEED program and Build It Green’s GreenPoint Rating System, are voluntary point-based rating systems with various levels of certification.  These provide companies or individuals a way to certify that their project is “green”.  This doesn’t mean that everything about the project is energy-efficient or sustainable but it does mean that they have sufficient features in a variety of categories to be certified as a green building under these programs.

Certification in these programs is usually done for marketing purposes, for pride, or to keep up with the Joneses.  After all, the important part is to build a green building, not necessarily to officially validate it as such.

CALGreen is different.  CALGreen is the California Green Building code which overlays the basic building code to set minimum green building standards for the design of a building.  In place since 2011, the code is being phased in over time. Currently, it applies to larger and mostly non-residential projects but will eventually apply to all projects.

Again, the LEED and GreenPoint Rating Systems are voluntary.  CALGreen is mandatory (for qualifying projects).

Prior to the state’s adoption of the CALGreen, it had become increasingly common for cities and other municipalities who felt strongly about green building to adopt legislation requiring projects to be LEED certified or the equivalent.  For example, in August 2008 San Francisco adopted the San Francisco Green Building Ordinance, requiring proof of green building practices and LEED certification for all residential and commercial buildings in the City.

Faced with this patchwork approach to green building regulation, the state decided to adopt a unified system. Perhaps when a handful of influential states have developed green building codes, those sustainable requirements will be written directly into the model codes and we can finally stop using the term “green building”.  There will just be one standard to which all buildings must conform, including health and life safety standards, accessibility standards, and standards that help reduce the impact of the building on our planet.