As expectations and industry standards for reducing energy and water use, increasing building operating efficiency, and achieving carbon neutrality continue to rise, a critical connection is unfolding between the early adoption of sustainable design strategies and significant reduction of a building’s environmental impact.
Upgrades to green building standards have provided a solid framework to reach these goals, emphasizing sustainable operations as much as sustainable design. While various approaches help facility managers and designers collaborate on long-term building performance, some of the more impactful are the LEED credits that involve whole-building life-cycle cost assessments and monitoring-based commissioning as opportunities to extend equipment life, lower operating costs, and increase overall facility efficiency.
The energy and water reductions encouraged by green building rating systems continue to develop and raise the bar for building performance. For example, the New Buildings Institute’s 2018 List of Zero Energy Projects — containing almost 500 certified, verified, and emerging zero energy projects in the United States and Canada — shows that 70 percent of these spaces were LEED-certified/registered projects, with the majority achieving Platinum or Gold. By noting the significant overlap between zero energy buildings and LEED-certified buildings, this report illustrates how green building rating systems promote features that align with zero energy goals.
In efforts to emphasize the impact of design intent on operations, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has recently released LEED Zero — a new rating system that recognizes buildings for achievement of net zero carbon emissions, net zero energy use, net zero water use, or net zero waste. To achieve LEED Zero, a project will have to prioritize net zero goals during the early concept and design phases. And rather than awarding certification before the doors have even opened, this new version of the rating system will measure the impact (or lack thereof) of day-to-day operations, directly correlating this with the implementation of sustainable strategies. “LEED Zero encourages a holistic approach for buildings and places, which will contribute to a regenerative future,” says USGBC.
How can projects position themselves for success to address these increasingly urgent global issues? A LEED strategy that can help building owners and facility managers in budgeting and decision-making on steps to achieve efficiency goals is the Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction credit, specifically the whole building life cycle assessment option.
Conducted during the project’s beginning phases, a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) of the project’s structure and enclosure aims to demonstrate at least a 10 percent reduction against a comparable baseline building in at least three of the following six impact categories, as outlined in the LEED credit requirements:
• Global warming potential
• Depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer
• Acidification of land and water sources
• Formation of tropospheric ozone
• Depletion of nonrenewable energy resources
This assessment will help guide major decisions by weighing the change to each of the six indicators against other considerations (such as cost, consumption, or carbon footprint). The model created can outline “relative contributions of each material to the building’s overall impacts and tell you where the best opportunities are for further reduction — and where not to spend too much effort on alternatives,” according to LEED User. For example, a window assembly may have high embodied energy; however if the window-to-wall ratio of your space totals less than 20 percent, it is an obvious choice to focus on the wall assemblies instead.
The life-cycle assessment software tools and data sets used to evaluate the proposed building work as an iterative model that can inform decisions during the design process. Although it can be a time-intensive process, the results support broader project goals and validation of sustainability strategies that are otherwise difficult to assess. “Committing to using LCA as a tool throughout the design process will reduce the risk of missing targets and can help you get the most value from the process,” says LEED User.
Connecting Sustainable Design and Efficient Operations
Monitoring-Based Commissioning Brings Operational Efficiency
Data Drives Monitoring-Based Commissioning Success