Fri, 03/12/2010 - 14:32 — admin
LEED® - Is it a Must for Construction?
As so much of our country has discovered, green is not a fad and it’s not going away. As this movement has become a mainstream practice by individuals, companies, non-profits and more, many have become at least vaguely familiar with practices and terms that are considered green. When it comes to construction, some astute advocates have recognized that sustainable steps, initiated from the very beginning of concept planning, deliver cost savings during the project and on an ongoing, long-term basis. As well, the masses have recognized the positive impact sustainable building practices can have on both the health of the building occupants and the overall environment. But, in so many of my conversations with both newbies and those with a reasonable scope of knowledge, too many believe that LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) equals green and vice versa. However, that’s just not true.
As leaders are faced with the prospect of a new facility, an addition to an existing building, or simply a remodeling project, many investigate the rationale of sustainable planning, design, and construction. The benefits are likely to include a healthier staff, a stronger bond with the surrounding community, a positive impact on the environment and ongoing costs savings related to operating the building. But, even seasoned leaders are often faced with a decision they’re likely to have never faced before: Should the facility be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED green building rating system? Many are trying to make sense of LEED and other certification programs and determine if any of them are right for their next project. Whether to pursue a sustainable building certification–and if so, at what level–are considerations that need careful research, processing, and discussion early in the project’s planning stages.
While there are benefits to aiming for a high sustainable certification level, it may not be the right decision for your organization. Owners should carefully consider the impact of certification on the project budget, staff time, and the perceived benefit in relation to the cost.
To Certify or Not to Certify – That’s the Question
However, there are other times when a project is highly sustainable, and yet pursuing LEED certification is not the right choice. Our firm knows this first hand. We recently moved our offices into a former, major, retail department store that we renovated in downtown Appleton, WI. This office space is an extremely sustainable retrofit. But, after much reflection, we decided that LEED certification was not the right choice. As we asked the same question we ask of our clients, “Is this the right business solution?,” we discovered it would have added $4 per square foot to our rent without producing any true benefit to the environment or our bottom line. For us to achieve LEED certification, we would have been required to purchase a $150,000 air handling unit for the 550,000-square-foot, multi-tenant building and also utilize a separate meter for electrical power usage. Instead, we installed carbon dioxide (CO2) detectors (approximately $200 each) which determine the levels of CO2 in the conference rooms. If the monitored CO2 levels become high, fresh air is brought into the room. This provided a creative, sustainable, inexpensive, and highly-effective alternative. It did not meet the criteria for LEED certification; however it did meet our criteria for a responsible business solution.
Leaders are also faced with a wide array of decisions regarding product selection throughout a design and construction project. These are decisions that must be made whether you choose to have your construction project be certified and validated by a third party or not. A prime example is the selection of carpet for our retrofitted office. We chose a product that was highly sustainable, available from a nearby supplier and within our budget. It was NOT the most sustainable carpet product available on the market. But it had impressive durability, a similar product warranty, and was able to be installed without harmful chemical adhesives. Our decision was based on the best green product that fit within the parameters of our project. Every decision regarding materials and systems can benefit from this same type of holistic criteria.
A Framework to Guide Every Decision
When every decision considers balancing all four of these elements—a holistic approach to true sustainabilitySM called the POWER of g®—superior solutions are reached that provide a positive, sustainable and financial impact on your organization, while minimizing the negative impact on the surrounding natural environment.
Making the Right Choices
Paul J. Hoffman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is owner and president of Hoffman LLC (www.Hoffman.net), a Wisconsin-based planning, architecture, and construction management firm. Paul, a frequent author and speaker, is currently Vice-Chairman of the Associated General Contractors of America Building Division.