LEED Offers Guidelines for Green Design, Construction and Operations
When it comes to the number of buildings certified, LEED has far and away the most — nearly 13,000 certified at the time of this writing. Since its inception in 2000, the system has offered building owners and facility managers guidelines for green design, construction and operations. LEED is the most versatile, as it includes rating systems tailored to a variety of facility types. LEED is also far more recognized. Hammer points out that when her building was in negotiations for a new primary tenant, the sustainability requirements asked for LEED by name.
"Every request for proposal (RFP) that came across our desk had a sustainability section that specifically asked 'Are you LEED certified?' or 'When will you get LEED certified?" she says.
To qualify for LEED certification, facilities must first meet several prerequisites (NC has eight, EBOM has nine, for instance), ranging from compliance from meeting ASHRAE standards to simply not allowing smoking in the building. After that, points are awarded in a number of different categories, with a minimum total required for certification. Each LEED rating system has 110 possible points spread across the categories. For example, LEED-NC's points breakdown looks like this: Sustainable Sites (26 possible points); Water Efficiency (10); Materials and Resources (14); Indoor Environmental Quality (15); Innovation and Design Process (6); and Regional Priority Credits (4). A minimum of 40 points is required for Certified status. Facilities that earn more points can qualify for Silver (minimum of 50 points), Gold (60) or Platinum (80) certifications. The certification requires extensive documentation, all of which is managed through LEED Online, a Web-based document management system. All commercial LEED projects are required to use LEED Online for certification.
The two most widely used versions are LEED-NC and LEED-EBOM. In late 2011, LEED-EBOM passed LEED-NC for the first time in terms of total square footage certified.
Part of the reason is that with the economy in the tank, construction slowed. Another is there is simply a vast stock of existing buildings — as many as 125 million buildings, according to an estimate by the U.S. Green Building Council. And finally, organizations are starting to understand the importance of efficient operations. Brendan Owens, vice president, LEED, USGBC, says it doesn't matter how well designed and constructed a building is; if it isn't operated well, it won't be efficient.
"If you don't follow up and pay attention to the way that building operates, you're really missing the opportunity that exists," Owens says. "Certification is not an end point. Green is a state of being. It's a state of compliance with the objectives that we care about, because just building a building doesn't get you anything. You have to run it right. It's like buying a Prius and driving it so you get 15 miles to the gallon. That's possible, but it's also possible to get 50."
The importance of operations means that it's almost impossible to properly evaluate a building right away, says Robert Francis, vice president, university facilities, Drexel University. The university's Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building is currently undergoing LEED-NC certification.
"The LEED system, and others, account for this to some degree by requiring a break-in and demonstration period where, a year later, you're able to prove that the system performs as the basis for design suggested that it would," Francis says. "It was a good move to delay the decision on certification until after an appropriate proving period."
Having a large pool of buildings offers opportunities for LEED to provide a basis for comparison to building owners and facility managers on how their facility is performing. One particular tool is the Building Performance Partnership — a relatively new part of all the LEED rating systems that requires buildings to report five years of energy and water data. (Buildings with current certification can participate voluntarily.) It's part of a continuing effort to make sure that LEED and its participants don't rest on their laurels, Owens says.
"We have had a significant impact," in terms of sustainable buildings, Owens says, "but it's not nearly the impact that is necessary to address any of the issues that we're looking at, whether it's resource consumption or water use or energy use. We still have a long way to go."
The newest version of all the rating systems — collectively known as LEED 2012 — will be released later this fall.