Progressive AE reaches a new pinnacle

June 17, 2011
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Progressive AE has made a new mark in the sustainability field by developing a Volume Certification Program for LEED accreditation in tandem with the U.S. Green Building Council, which grants those designations.

The local architectural and engineering firm has been quietly working behind the scenes for about three years to establish the VCP as a USGBC pilot project, which cuts the cost and the time to achieve multiple accreditations, and the new concept is just starting to surface publicly.

“It’s a streamlined method for organizations who have a prototype building they build over and over again, and in multiple areas, for them to get their projects certified through the LEED-rating system without having to go through the entire individual certification process at every individual location,” said Jeff Remtema, Progressive AE director of sustainability.

The VCP, for all practical purposes, lets companies that plan to construct the same building numerous times make one application for LEED accreditation for all the structures through a three-step process. The first step is receiving approval from the USGBC to enter the VCP pilot project, which Remtema said is largely a formality. The second step is becoming pre-certified, which means getting the USGBC to see the LEED value in a prototype building it plans to reproduce.

“Once it’s pre-certified, it goes into what is known as ongoing certification. What we do from there is, every project that we build to the prototype standard, we can send the plans in to the USGBC. Then they look it over and compare it to the prototype and say, ‘Yes, that meets the requirements,’ and they can certify it,” said Remtema.

What’s the payout for companies that go the VCP route? “It cuts a significant amount of time and cost out of the certification process,” said Remtema.

CitiFinancial was the company that suggested Progressive should become involved with the pilot project, after the financial services company had decided to seek certification and hired the firm to design its buildings. The USGBC, which is familiar with Progressive’s sustainability work through its applications for LEED certification on behalf of its clients, agreed with the recommendation.

Progressive has piled up some attention-grabbing results since developing the pilot project.

“We started with CitiFinancial three years ago now. It is a pilot and they had a lot of things to get through. But we actually got their prototype pre-certified before any of the other participants, even though CitiFinancial was one of the later participants in the program,” said Remtema.

“We also had the first ongoing certification in the program and we were the first partnership to achieve over 100 certifications in the program,” he added. “We were very happy to be part of that process.”

Another element of the VCP is if a company gets a prototype certified at, say, the Silver LEED level and it wants to move up to a Gold or Platinum LEED, the firm would only need to file an update with the USGBC for ratification.

“We would have to go through a finer alteration of that prototype, and there is a small charge for doing that type of thing. But it’s still a much more streamlined process than the previous full individual certification,” said Remtema.

The bottom line is that the VCP is more about the process than the points. Remtema said the USGBC and its sister organization, the Green Building Certification Institute, are concerned with maintaining the integrity of the LEED rating system, which assigns points to every application. But the focus of the VCP process is how a firm will preserve the quality of the designation it receives for its prototype across a series of buildings.

“What’s different in the Volume Certification Program versus the individual certification program is there’s a very large component regarding the quality control process. It very clearly outlines how, from project to project, the lines of communication and the hierarchy of quality control — not only just for typical standards of care in architecture and construction but also for the LEED-rating system — will maintain its integrity through what is really kind of a high-volume, high-speed process,” said Remtema.

“I think that’s where the differentiation comes in,” said David Bell, who directs sustainable engineering initiatives at Progressive.

“Too often what we see on the individual certification process is people chase points. The LEED rating system has been accused of being just a checklist that people design to. What we’ve learned from the volume process and what we’re actively carrying over to the individual certification is the upfront communication Jeff spoke about. It’s that process of making sure everything is streamlined before we start,” added Bell.

Remtema said it took his team about three months to put the process together of getting the CitiFinancial prototype to meet the LEED standards, designing the quality control system to ensure the integrity of the certification and developing an education program.

“It was kind of a full-bodied effort for us for a few months,” he said. CitiFinancial has had 125 buildings certified through the VCP over the past three years with Progressive, which is doing the same work for a number of other clients.

“It’s exciting to me to be part of this team working on these projects because we are applying what we’ve learned from other areas, with the volume certification being a big one. We’re applying it to everyday local clients, big and small. This isn’t just CitiFinancial, which wants to go out and build 250 of these,” said Bell.

Then there are the financial benefits that come from the VCP.

“We see a big price drop when we go to the volume system, which is part of the point of the system in the first place, for organizations out there that didn’t want to pay every single time to get all their buildings done, if they’ve got a big portfolio,” said Bell.

“So the volume-build process is a way to knock the price down, not just from the USGBC paperwork side, but also for the designers and the contractors. We learned the volume-build system from working with hundreds of contractors because we were working with hundreds of different projects. We made sure we got all the players in line, told them what we knew and did the work expeditiously.”

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