LEED Lessons

Achieving certification requires that managers understand their facilities, as well as the right steps to take on the road to enviromental friendliness

By Renee L. Shroades  

Since 2002, the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) program has offered organizations valuable guidance in improving the performance of their facilities, as well as minimizing their buildings' impact on the environment. Meeting the program's criteria presents different challenges for different types of facilities. A closer look at the experiences of these four facilities will help managers gain insight into the challenges their organizations might face while pursuing certification. For more information on the LEED-EB program, visit www.usgbc.org.

Emory University: Environmental Efforts Connect With Campus

The LEED-EB program is a natural fit with university culture. So says Robin Smith, Emory University's building commissioning manager, who was instrumental in getting LEED-EB certification for the university's Goizueta Business School facility on the Atlanta campus.

"Students like anything having to do with the environment," he says. They appreciate the university's efforts to conserve resources.

"They like recycling," he says. "I don't think our recycling program has ever made money, but it causes people to feel like they are doing the right thing, and that is worth a whole bunch." Building occupants also want indoor environments that promote good health and comfort.

For example, "connecting with the outdoors is very important," Smith says. University planners have arranged interior spaces so that the largest number of people possible work near windows. Such efforts can improve productivity, he says. Occupant satisfaction also improved in facilities where the university took steps to enhance the indoor environment.

While the LEED-EB program can help managers improve indoor comfort, it doesn't tend to benefit buildings featuring laboratories, Smith says.

"Emory is a research university, and the USGBC does not have a category for laboratory buildings," Smith says. The fume hoods, outside air and air exchanges that laboratories require make it impossible for such facilities to meet the current LEED-EB requirements, Smith says. He tried to qualify one of the university's laboratory facilities for the program but was not successful.

"The USGBC is really into energy efficiency, and laboratory buildings are just not efficient enough," he says. "Even the best of them are wasteful by USGBC standards." While he hopes the USGBC will create a category for laboratory facilities, Emory will only pursue LEED-EB certification for buildings containing classrooms and offices.

Meeting the LEED-EB energy-efficiency criteria is also more difficult for older facilities, which are common on university campuses nationwide. But even newer buildings can have trouble meeting the program's requirements.

Initially, Smith says he believed the six-year-old Goizueta facility was an ideal candidate for the LEED-EB program because it was relatively new and seemed to have no problems.

"It turned out to be more difficult than we thought, and there were more things wrong with it than we realized," he says. A retrocommissioning program helped the university uncover and solve areas of energy waste in existing buildings and systems.

"The problem is funding," he says. "Commissioning for new buildings is a line item in the capital budget, but it's not covered in the budgets for existing buildings. To pull that expense out of the operating budget, which is always stretched anyway, is almost impossible."


The Getty Center: The Art of Environmental Friendliness

Housing priceless works of art, the Getty Center in Los Angeles presented managers with unusual challenges in meeting LEED-EB's energy-related criteria.

"Art museums use more energy than office buildings because we have priceless works of art that require a steady temperature and humidity levels," says Jim Bullock, the center's director of facilities. "It's not like an office building. If we go away for two weeks, we can't shut down the entire building or set a minimal temperature." About 70 percent of the facility's energy use is dedicated to areas housing fine arts and ancient books.

The center was the first facility to receive LEED-EB certification in the program's post-pilot stage. Built in 1997, the 1.6-million-square-foot site includes seven buildings, two underground parking structures, and 10 acres of highly maintained grounds, which sits on 800 acres. Like all art museums, The Getty Center has strict air-quality standards. As a result, it was able to obtain only a few points in the area of energy efficiency, Bullock says.

Despite this challenge, achieving LEED-EB certification "was pretty much an administrative effort," Bullock says. "It was just a matter of documenting what we were doing and how we were doing it.

"Because we're an art museum, we already had a very sophisticated historical tracking system for our HVAC system. We need to have historical data that we can show to lenders to prove that we maintain temperature and humidity."

Bullock's staff had access to most of the data required for LEED-EB certification. It took Bullock, his staff and an outside consultant only three months to fulfill all of the program's criteria. In November 2004, the USGBC offered to attend an event in February 2005 and present an award to the facility's managers if the museum could achieve LEED-EB certification by that time.

"So during a six-week period starting in mid-November, we pulled all the information together," Bullock says. "We had 15 to 20 people working half of their time on LEED-EB. Even though we had all the information, it had to be in a certain format and had to be documented properly."

Bullock advises managers seeking LEED-EB certification to set a schedule and hire a LEED-accredited professional for assistance.

"You have got to have a schedule and set an end date," he says. "If it is an open-ended project, it is more likely to never get done. Having a third party gave us the necessary encouragement to keep us moving. Having a consultant saying, "I'm coming back on this particular date, and this is what I need to see," I think was helpful.


The Oregon Convention Center: Making Something Old Like New

The Oregon Convention Center in Portland received LEED-EB certification for its 401,000-square-foot expansion, which was built in 2003. Now, managers are aiming for certification for the facility's older section, which was built in 1990.

Unlike the expanded area, which required very little renovation to meet LEED-EB criteria, the older portion needs equipment upgrades.

Managers can find many surprises when they participate in the program, and the challenges they face depends a great deal on the building, says Mike Brown, the convention center's director of operations. Today, it is more common for organizations to incorporate technology that meets LEED-EB criteria. But 15 years ago, the technology wasn't available, and architects weren't thinking as much about designing sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings.

As a result, the center's older portion must undergo major renovations, says Jeff Blosser, its executive director.

"We're changing the majority of our variable-speed drives, chillers and air handlers, as well as updating all of our lighting controls for the storage units and restrooms," he says.

The organization also budgeted $125,000 to upgrade plumbing fixtures. Brown, who oversees the installation of the fixtures, says it is a major challenge to coordinate the retrofits with the facility's schedule that includes almost 600 events a year.

"We might have a 30,000-square-foot room that is empty, and 10 minutes later, have 3,000 people in it," Brown says. "Our lifeblood is the shows," and renovations cannot interfere with these events.

As a result, Brown and his department have to create a specific strategy for restroom renovation projects.

"We might do half a bathroom at a time working around events," he says. "It's not like a standard office building, where we can close all the bathrooms in the facility except for one for a week." The inconvenience to the building occupants would be too great. As a result, Brown pays close attention to work around events.

"It is not a 8-to-5, Monday-to-Friday job," he says. "It's a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job." Scheduling renovation work around events can add significant costs.

"We do a lot of work in-house, but contractors have to figure in additional costs for working at night when there are no events in the building and for working around visitors," he says.

Despite these challenges, striving for a second certification is easier in some ways.

Says Blosser, "I think that the hardest thing about the LEED-EB program are the policy changes that you have to put in place. Our policies and procedures are already written, so now it is just a matter of including the rest of the facility in that."


Nike Headquarters: Clearing a High Bar

Investors and the general public tend to have higher expectations of large and high-profile companies. In addition to expectations related to sales growth and product innovations, outsiders also tend to set the bar higher when it comes to corporate environmental responsibility.

In 2005, Nike Inc. received LEED-EB certification for its Ken Griffey Jr. building at its world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Maintenance and engineering managers say Nike pursued the certification to show that it is looking out for the best interest of its employees and the environment.

"For us, (the program) was about telling our own employees that this is a building that is sustainable and it's a good building to come to work to," says Jim Petsche, Nike's director of corporate facilities.

Nike has always been concerned about environmental issues and sustainable building operations, he says, and the program verified that its strategy to build and operate environmentally friendly facilities works.

The Nike headquarters site contains 175 acres and features 22 buildings, two sport centers, soccer fields, 7 acres of wetlands, and a 4-acre lake. About 6,000 people work at the campus. When Nike erected the Ken Griffey Jr. building in 2000, it wanted the 95,000-square-foot facility to blend in with the environment as much as possible.

"We also wanted to build an efficient building because we knew we were going to own it for a long time," Petsche says.

The building is on the site's north campus, which features six buildings constructed using the same standards. Petsche says he is confident all of those buildings could meet LEED-EB criteria. But because of the time the program requires " the certification project took two years to complete " Nike won't pursue certification for those buildings.

"We thought LEED wasn't going to be too difficult because we were already doing a lot of it," says Lonny Knabe, Nike's sustainability coordinator for facilities. "It turned out to be a bit more difficult and took a good bit longer that we thought it would."

The most challenging element was writing policies to describe practices that the organization already was doing and providing quarterly reporting.

"That was a major time commitment," he says.

Petsche says his department didn't have to change any of its operations or the building's equipment to meet the program's criteria.

"Our operations are really sustainable - from recycling almost anything you can imagine in the building to drip-irrigation systems for water use to constant real-time monitoring of the electrical systems, variable-frequency drives and the HVAC systems to using biodiesel fuel in our landscape vehicles," Petsche says.

Adds Knabe, the LEED-EB program "has re-energized us and confirmed that we were on the right track originally."

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  posted on 1/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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