4 tips on LEED
1. LEED Certification for Multiple Buildings
Today's tip of the day is about guidance for LEED certification for multiple buildings.
LEED certifications have become a little like baseball statistics — these days, it takes a lot of qualifications to make them stand out. For instance, it's not uncommon to hear something like this on the nightly highlight shows: "This was the first time in Major League history a 30-year-old catcher got two doubles and a home run off a left-handed pitcher during a Tuesday night game that had a 37-minute rain delay."
These days, when I get press releases about single-building LEED certifications, they have a similar ring: "This is only the third LEED-EBOM certified multitenant building at the Gold level in Chicago," as one made-up example.
That's not to diminish the accomplishment of a LEED certification. Clearly, any certification is a laudable environmental mission accomplished. But especially for organizations that own multiple buildings, the focus should by now have turned to a systematic approach to certification, rather than a single "showcase" building.
For that reason, among others, USGBC has ramped up its efforts in recent years to give facility managers tools to certify several buildings at once. Last fall at Greenbuild, USGBC released the LEED for Volume for New Construction system. In 2011, at the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) conference, LEED Volume for Existing Buildings followed.
Then, later in 2011, USGBC released Part 2 of its LEED Application Guide for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects (AGMBC). Part 1, which came out in 2010, gives facility managers guidance on how to certify projects individually on a new or existing campus. Part 2 gives guidance to help certify a group of projects as a package under single registration, and to receive a single certification.
While both LEED Volume and the AGMBC are useful tools for certifying multiple buildings, the differences between the two are subtle, but important. Volume is more intended to certify many, many buildings over a diverse geographical area. Indeed, according to Doug Gatlin of USGBC, owners or facility managers enter the program with at least 25 projects, savings on LEED fees will be about 17 percent. With 100 projects, the savings would be 70 percent. Facility managers submit templates of designs or facility management policies and practices, and the buildings certified must be similar.
AGMBC, on the other hand, gives guidance for certifying buildings on a single campus — like a college or corporate complex. It's intended to be used on a bit smaller scale than Volume; to help facility managers draw boundaries and build campuswide policies that will lead to LEED certification.
2. What Does It Mean To Be Carbon Neutral?
You've probably heard the stat: Buildings account for about 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. That fact, combined with President Barack Obama's promises for stricter limits on carbon emissions and better building-efficiency standards, has led many upper managers and organizational leaders to sharpen the focus of their "go green" mandates. Now, facility executives are being told that, regardless of other "green" initiatives, reducing emissions is the highest priority. For some, that mandate means going all the way to carbon neutrality.
But the term "carbon neutral" is different strokes for different folks. Some organizations will work hard, spend a lot of money and reduce their energy use as much as possible. They'll generate what energy they do use with on-site renewable technologies, like PV panels or wind.
Others will make a concerted effort toward efficiency and then cover the rest of their energy-spend by buying carbon offset or renewable energy certificates (RECs), also known as green tags. RECs are assurances that a specified amount of energy purchased has been generated by renewable sources. It's generally considered a credible way to offset emissions - LEED offers credits for purchase of a certain percentage of renewable energy. Carbon offsets are a bit different - they simply mean something somewhere is being done to reduce the specific amount of emission purchased. Offset money could be used for projects as wide-ranging as building a solar array in New Mexico to planting trees in Brazil.
As point of clarification, most experts agree that REC or offset purchase is credible as long as it is NOT the only strategy for working toward carbon neutrality. Buying these offsets or RECs certainly shouldn't be the main thrust of an organization's carbon neutrality strategy. If it is, these RECs or offsets essentially turn into "indulgences" or "green get out of jail free cards." Can you still emit as much as you want, and then buy your way out of your emission-related mess?
Most experts agree that the first and most important step toward carbon neutrality is to squeeze as much energy out of an organization through efficiency measures as possible. Energy efficiency is the true path to carbon neutrality - because it's the true of spirit of being carbon neutral. You're using fewer resources and directly emitting fewer greenhouse gases.
3. Is Your Building Green, Sustainable, High-Performance, or All of the Above?
You've just received the good news that your building has earned LEED certification. Congratulations! You officially have a green building. Or is it a sustainable building? Maybe you think of it as high-performance? Does it even matter?
At the risk of arguing over semantics, some would say it does — that while each really does have a particular definition, each can be used effectively in different situations to talk about buildings that are energy efficient and environmentally responsible.
"Green" may be the buzzword, but if upper managers still don't care about green, or don't believe in "green for the sake of green," try a different approach. Talk about the building as sustainable - that it'll prevent the need for future resources (and money). Or define it is high-performance, and talk about your energy-efficient systems and how those systems functioning together as a unit (as opposed to the old, piecemeal way) will save lots and lots of money on utility costs. Indeed, it's often this last one - tangible savings due to efficiency - that gets you the most attention from both upper managers and occupants.
4. Plan Ahead to Control Plumbing Costs
Typically, one main goal of a plumbing retrofit is to replace damaged or dated fixtures with modern, more efficient fixtures that result in a reduction of the amount of water facilities use and, as a result, decrease their overall expenditures on utilities.
But it is important for managers to be aware of problems that could occur during a fixture replacement project.
For example, scope creep can be a significant problem for any project. When assessing a potential plumbing retrofit, it is important to define the project's goals and expectations early in the planning process. When reviewing the financial aspects of the retrofit, it is easy for managers to become carried away with inaccurate savings projections.
Among the essential aspects managers must consider are the number of fixtures to be replaced, the difference in flow volumes between the new and existing fixtures, and the frequency with which occupants and visitors use the fixtures. Managers also must consider the cost of water and of wastewater, as well as the effect these costs will have on the project's overall payback.
For managers who run into problems developing the cost and return on investment values, they can consult many online resources to help determine an estimate for the frequency with which occupants and visitors use a fixture. Examples of such resources include the Energy Star program and the LEED rating system.
Alternatively, managers can seek professional help by requesting the assistance of a plumbing contractor or consultant familiar with the types of systems to be replaced or installed. When going this route, it is important to have the contractor or consultant review the as-built conditions and existing water consumption and compare those factors to the installation requirements and estimated reduction in water use. A good consultant can create a baseline and extrapolate reasonable expectations for future water use and the associated savings and payback.
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