It Ain't Easy Being Green

April 25, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The U.S. Green Building Council marked a special occasion last month. Not only was it the fifth birthday of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, but the guidelines’ first with siblings present.

Late last year, the popular LEED for New Construction and Major Renovation (LEED-NC) designation was joined by two new certifications: LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) and LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI).

With several others in various stages of development, the LEED family will have at least seven certifications before LEED-NC reaches its seventh birthday, fulfilling the best-case scenario for the USGBC experiment.

Keith Winn, Catalyst Partners principal and Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc. (FTC&H) sustainable design specialist, was one of the USGBC founding fathers. He was a founding member as a Herman Miller employee in the early 1990s and today serves as vice chair of both the USGBC Steering Committee and the LEED-CI Steering Committee. Catalyst Partners was contracted to administer the LEED-CI pilot program.

“When we got involved in forming the council, there was no national standard for green building,” Winn said. “We recognized right away the value of establishing one. There were green buildings all over, everyone was making claims, and there was no way to substantiate those claims.”

That early green era was characterized by broad and sometimes false claims of green development — what Winn called “greenwash.”

But worse than the lack of measures to distinguish green building projects was the absence of a universal standard to serve as a platform for future projects.

“There were all of these projects happening around the U.S. and they couldn’t get any synergy or leverage to transform the market,” Winn said.

Energy modeling was a noteworthy example. An important tool for designing high-performance buildings, the practice was difficult to sell on a single project. The same was true for green products, materials and other building practices.

Manufacturers, architects and federal initiatives were all involved in early green building efforts, but without coordination.

“What existed was (The American Institute of Architects’) efforts, manufacturing efforts, government initiatives by two separate federal organizations that didn’t work with each other, stuff all over the place,” Winn said. “The founders realized that to get an agenda done, you have to get everyone in the same place. There had to be a central path, and given the growth of the council, it’s pretty obvious the market has responded.”

Since the launch of LEED, companies have flocked to participate in USGBC programs.

Hundreds of projects have been designed to meet LEED certification criteria. There are nearly 50 in West Michigan alone. There are roughly 270 LEED Accredited Professionals in West Michigan

With the launch of the new certifications, green building will expose itself to an even larger portion of the marketplace. LEED-CI has the potential to reach upwards of 16 times the LEED-NC market — LEED-EB at least twice that.

Each LEED rating system is developed within a steering committee and then filtered through a technical committee. Two hundred people are involved in the initial development. The proposed standards are then voted on by the USGBC membership. Following that, a Version 1.0 pilot program is launched. LEED-NC launched Version 2.1 in 2002 and is currently prepping 2.2.

Designed to cover building operations and systems upgrades in existing buildings where the majority of interior or exterior surfaces remain unchanged — such as HVAC, cleaning supplies and recycling — LEED-EB completed its pilot program last year and Version 2.0 was published in October. The FTC&H headquarters building and CascadeEngineeringLearningCenter were local pilot projects. Neither has completed the certification process.

LEED-CI addresses performance issues such as the selection of sustainable tenant space, water and energy usage and optimization, furnishings and indoor environmental quality. Haworth’s 2004 NeoCon display, the new BETA Design Group office and GMB Architects-Engineers’ Design Yard Front Door office renovation were local pilot projects.

Another GMB project, the Herman Miller BG Main Site, is the only LEED-CI certified project in the state.

Other ratings systems to launch pilots in the coming year include LEED for Homes and LEED for Neighborhood Development. Currently soliciting pilot RFPs, LEED for Core and Shell is a LEED-CI companion to address structural and envelope concerns.

Another rating, LEED for Organizations, is a few years away. Guidelines separate from the certifications are being developed for niche markets, including multiple-building campuses, health care, retail and schools.

While each rating system and guideline represents a different type of structure or use, all incorporate the same base LEED principles: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor air quality.

In LEED-NC, the five metrics include a handful of prerequisites and a 69-point test weighted with each. Points are rewarded for green features like bike racks, green space, the use of a LEED-AP architect and recycled materials.

As a guideline, LEED certification only requires a project to use as many green features as possible. Most LEED-certified projects earn no more than half the available points. A Gold rating is awarded for 35 points.

Because the new ratings address projects not starting from the ground up, the points are weighted differently. As an example, site selection is worth 14 points in both LEED-NC and LEED-EB, but because the building is already there in the EB standard, a different set of values is used.

The design can’t change the amount of green space or the footprint, but it can use different cleaning materials and upgrade the mechanical systems.

“LEED for New Construction represents a very small percentage of buildings in the market,” Winn said. “There is a demand in the marketplace for these new rating systems.”

With FTC&H, Winn recently completed the LEED-registered Grand Rapids Water and EnvironmentalServicesBuilding. His own firm, Catalyst Partners, is consulting on the new Alticor Marriott Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids.

With the launch of LEED-H next year, the West Michigan chapter of USGBC plans to step up its promotional efforts.

“The public doesn’t really know yet what LEED is,” said Manda Moore, chair of the West Michigan chapter. “If someone were to put a sign up, the average person driving by is not going to know what that means. We’re trying to change that. We want people to know that when they see LEED on a building, it’s a green building.”     

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