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LEED-EB Gets a Makeover

After a slow start, the rating system has been revamped to make it more relevant and user-friendly

By Karen Kroll   Green

Ask about the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system and most of the discussion — as well as most of the examples — has to do with LEED certification of new facilities. That’s partly because LEED for New Construction (NC) is the oldest of the LEED rating systems. But there’s more to the story.

LEED-NC started with a bang. Pent-up demand for some sort of green building benchmark provided an ample number of organizations willing to underwrite the cost of certification — plus a ready supply of architects willing to advocate for a LEED certification for their new buildings.

LEED for Existing Buildings (EB) has been a different story. Three years after the first building earned LEED-EB certification, only 48 other buildings have followed suit.

As facility executives know, a building’s environmental impact isn’t concentrated during its construction phase, but is distributed over its life. LEED-EB helps facility executives make sure that a building operates sustainably throughout its life.

What’s more, new construction makes up a very small percentage of the total square footage of facilities in the United States. Given the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) mission of transforming the built environment, it’s critical to have a successful rating system dedicated to the much larger cadre of existing facilities.

To turn that situation around, USGBC has launched LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, more commonly referred to as LEED-EB: O&M. The revised system addresses issues that have slowed acceptance of the rating for existing buildings since it was launched in 2004.

One problem had to do with timing. Because LEED-NC was the first rating system, some of the criteria were carried over to LEED-EB, where they may not have been as relevant, says Sheila Sheridan, president of Sheridan Associates and a contributor to the development of LEED-EB. For instance, the original format included criteria on the density of the area in which a facility is located. Of course, that characteristic is already set when working on an existing building.

So Sheridan and others involved in developing LEED-EB decided to modify the program to more accurately address the issues particular to existing buildings. For instance, the new version includes credits for innovative ways to reduce water use in cooling towers, says Doug Gatlin, USGBC’s vice president of market development.

The new version also contains streamlined reporting and documentation procedures. For example, because many facility executives separate their purchasing processes into ongoing purchasing, such as paper products, and durable goods, such as furniture, the new LEED-EB also asks for data this way. “We want it to be user-friendly,” Sheridan says.

As part of the emphasis on user-friendliness, USGBC has stated that facilities that were certified under LEED-NC can register for LEED-EB free of charge, says Sheridan.

These changes appear to be having an impact. Of the 1,000 facilities that registered to go through the certification process, 750 occurred in 2007, Gatlin says. As of late April, 2008, 49 existing buildings had been certified, says Lauren Riggs, coordinator of LEED market development with USGBC. In addition, some larger real estate firms have expressed interest in applying LEED-EB: O&M across their portfolios, says Gatlin.

O&M Defined

To win funding for LEED-EB, facility executives have to be able to convince upper managers that there is a business advantage in operating a green building. To that end, LEED-EB credits are results-oriented and specific, such as having in place a stormwater management plan that collects and handles runoff from at least 15 percent of the precipitation falling on the project.

However, except for a few prerequisites, LEED-EB as a whole is fairly flexible, allowing facility executives to use LEED-EB as a framework for designing their own sustainable operations and maintenance plan based on what’s best for each facility. “You can do what fits your building,” says Michael Arny, president of Leonardo Academy.

Even so, some facility executives may be skeptical about all the perceived extra work required by LEED-EB, given all their other tasks that demand attention. LEED-EB does take time and energy. But the benefits are a greener — and more efficient — facility.

First, there’s the financial aspect. LEED-EB can help facilities run more efficiently. “Because the rating system is so comprehensive, you uncover missed opportunities,” says Gatlin. For example, increasing the percentage of materials recycled can cut tipping fees. Decreasing the amount of water used for irrigation saves both energy and money.

LEED-EB also helps facility executives confirm that a facility compares favorably to an established standard. “If real estate is a big chunk of a company’s operations, the best way, the most important way, to reduce the carbon footprint is through LEED-EB,” says Gatlin. Employees and tenants are often excited to know that the organization is taking steps to be environmentally responsible. For companies whose management wants to make a commitment to sustainability, LEED-EB can be the cornerstone of that initiative, Gatlin says.

On a more personal level, LEED-EB helps facility executives communicate to others in the organization the importance of sustainable facility management. “Facility management hasn’t gotten the credit and respect it deserves,” Arny says. “LEED-EB really elevates facility management by providing an explanation of why it’s important in terms people at a high level can understand. LEED-EB puts good facility management under the umbrella of sustainability.”

The Certification Process

While every building will require a different process and amount of time for LEED-EB certification, most experts say to plan on the process taking between six and 12 months, assuming the facility doesn’t require major improvements.

The first step is to register the building. In most cases, there is a registration fee based on the size of the building.

Next up is assessing the building to determine how it compares to the certification checklist. For LEED-EB, the checklist is divided into six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in operations. Certification requires a minimum of 34 points; the highest level, platinum certification, requires at least 68 points. Either the facility executive or a consultant can go over the prerequisites and credits and determine which ones the facility currently meets and which will require some work.

One of the biggest obstacles to certification is the energy prerequisite, Arny says. Buildings that are eligible for EPA’s Energy Star rating must receive a score of at least 69. Older buildings, which may not qualify for the rating, typically need to demonstrate energy efficiency that’s at least 19 percent better than the average for typical buildings of a similar size.

Assuming the building falls short of requirements in some areas, the next step is to identify solutions.

A project team also will need to pull documents that show how the facility performs, and how it meets the requirements. Most facilities will require a fair amount of documentation in order to show how it meets the various credits, Gatlin notes.

Meeting the credits typically requires a plan, or a program, Sheridan says. For example, Materials & Resources Prerequisite 1 requires the facility to have an environmentally preferable purchasing policy, while the Solid Waste Management Credit requires a waste reduction and recycling program.

Because certification is comprehensive — covering energy management, water efficiency, materials, recycling and indoor air quality, among other issues — facility executives should pull together a cross-departmental team to review the building and oversee improvements. “The facility executive can use LEED to pull people into one team,” Gatlin says.

Once the solutions are implemented, a facility typically proceeds through a documentation period of three months. During this time, the performance of the building is monitored and recorded, Arny says.

While some buildings will require significant improvements, facility executives often can make progress toward certification with no- or low-cost steps, or those with quick paybacks. The average cost per square foot required for LEED-EB certification was $2.43, according to a 2008 white paper by Leonardo Academy. But 60 percent of buildings certified had lower operating costs when compared to the BOMA average, the report found. Savings varied, but are worth considering nonetheless. Two buildings in the study reported utility costs 60 percent less than the BOMA median.

LEED-EB certification also takes time, which can be difficult to find. However, an organization can work toward certification at whatever pace makes sense. And it can re-apply for certification if the facility doesn’t make it the first time around. “There’s no stigma if you don’t get certified,” Arny says.

Starting Point

In 2005, The Getty Center in Los Angeles was the first facility to be LEED-EB certified. The Getty was recertified in April 2008, says Joseph E. May, manager of maintenance, planning and support.

The Getty’s design incorporates a number of characteristics that are environmentally responsible. “There’s a lot of natural lighting, a cool roof and green roof, and views of the outdoors,” says May. That helped get the building off to a good start. “Many of the requirements of becoming certified we were already doing.”

May engaged an outside consultant who worked at the Getty every couple of weeks. The consultant divvied up responsibility for the various types of credits to different employees, and then helped them prepare documentation showing how the Getty Center met the requirements. Altogether, about 20 employees devoted a total of 1,000 hours over several months to the project.

Among the programs implemented was a construction waste recycling program. One gallery at the Getty is devoted to special exhibits. Some demolition and construction usually occurs when the exhibits change. So May worked with the Getty’s waste contractor to ensure that they would recycle the waste that was hauled away. The Getty also switched to Green Seal-certified cleaners, along with paper products that contained a higher percentage of recycled content.

One innovative program concerns the Getty’s approach to managing wildfire risk. The museum covers about 750 acres, of which 600 are left natural. While the museum staff wants to keep this land natural, it also needs to be careful that the underbrush doesn’t contribute to the risk of wildfire, May says. To do that in an environmentally responsible way in the more remote areas, the museum brings in herds of goats each spring. The goats, along with several goat-herders, camp out for several weeks. By eating up much of the foliage, the goats reduce the fire risk.

Employee Involvement

Getty management has been aggressive in promoting new ways for its employees to get to work. Among other tactics, they offer incentives, such as $25 gift cards, to employees who have used public transportation for 25 days. Employees who use public transportation for 100 days get a day off. And most employees work a four-day work week every other week, reducing the number of car trips. Add it all up, and about 35 percent of employees are getting to work each day in a way that doesn’t require a solo car trip.

Getting employees interested in LEED-EB certification has been fairly easy, because most have an inherent interest in the environment, May says. In fact, as going green has become more mainstream, the staff has taken the initiative and begun scheduling speakers on the environment and offering suggestions that save even more energy.

Along with the environment, the Getty’s budget also has benefited. A case in point: By replacing incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lights, and installing high efficiency ballasts, overall energy consumption is down 10 percent. Switching from more frequent, shallow watering of the oak trees surrounding the complex, to less frequent but deeper watering, has cut water use by one-third. And, rather than continuing with scheduled trash pickups, the museum installed pressure gauges on the compactors. Now, trash pickups occur only when the bins are full. As a result, trash hauling costs have dropped from $175,000 to $60,000 yearly. In fact, management at the Getty evaluates each idea, at least in part, in terms of its return on investment, May says.

At the same time, May and his colleagues consider their responsibility and desire to do what’s right, environmentally speaking. As a cultural institution, the Getty wants to take the lead in this regard. Moreover, “LEED is not a program that costs money,” May says. “It’s all about reducing waste, and the benefit comes to the environment and the organization.”

Karen Kroll, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who has written extensively about real estate and facility issues.

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  posted on 6/1/2008   Article Use Policy

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