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By Jacob Kriss, media associate, U.S. Green Building Council
The importance of green buildings lies not just in mitigating facilities' effect on the environment, but also in their ability to improve the health of the people who occupy them every day. To that end, USGBC is actively working in a number of areas to advance human health in the context of the built environment.
Foremost among these efforts was the launch of the LEED for Healthcare (LEED-HC) rating system in 2011. Research has demonstrated that green health care facilities lead to faster healing, shorter hospital stays, and fewer return visits. While there were already hundreds of LEED-certified health care facilities, the development and implementation of a rating system specifically for health care was a huge step forward for advancing green building as an enabler of positive human health outcomes.
Prior to LEED-HC, health care projects often had difficulty pursuing LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC). That's because such buildings often have strict regulatory requirements, 24/7 operations, intensive energy- and water-use demands, infection control requirements, and a heightened need for patient privacy. The LEED-HC rating system is also notable in that it is the first of the LEED rating systems to include a prerequisite for integrated project planning and design.
This April, USGBC certified its very first project under LEED-HC, the Group Health Puyallup Medical Center, Group Health Cooperative's new medical office building in Puyallup, Wash.
The LEED Gold facility earned a number of credits that were designed specifically for LEED-HC, such as ensuring patients have a connection to the natural world to improve recovery times and reducing the amount of potable water used for cooling medical equipment. Given the importance of indoor air quality in buildings designed to facilitate healing, Group Health Puyallup also earned credits for its hot water heater that emits very low levels of nitrogen oxides, as well as for the use of many lead-free building products in order to reduce the amount of persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs).
As of June 1, 2013, there were an additional 180 projects seeking certification under LEED-HC.
Many other health care projects are still successfully achieving certification under LEED-NC. One excellent example is Kaiser Permanente's 126-bed Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, Ore., which recently secured LEED Gold. And while it was the first Kaiser hospital to certify, it won't be the last, as the company has pledged it will pursue LEED Gold for all new major construction projects. Kaiser expects this $30 billion commitment to affect more than 100 buildings over 10 years, representing 14 million square feet of real estate.
Beyond certifying green buildings, USGBC has also actively encouraged and facilitated thought leadership in the human health space in other ways.
In February, USGBC announced the Green Health Partnership, a joint project among USGBC, the University of Virginia (UVA) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to accelerate the work of Dr. Matthew Trowbridge, USGBC's 2013-2014 Mark Ginsburg Sustainability Fellow. Trowbridge is a physician at UVA conducting pioneering research into the connections between buildings' design and operation and public health challenges such as obesity, asthma, physical inactivity and chronic disease. Trowbridge's idea, known as "green health," is that thoughtful, evidence-based design can help make our built environment part of the solution to these problems.
While these efforts are a great start, we recognize there is much more work to be done. Stay tuned in the coming months, as USGBC will announce a number of other initiatives to promote the positive impact green buildings have on human health.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, more than 100 projects have registered to certify under the beta version of LEEDv4. Expected to be officially released this fall, LEEDv4 "builds on the fundamentals of the past while offering a new system that prepares all LEED projects in a portfolio to perform at a higher level."
When the new rating system goes live, users will still have a two-year grace period to decide whether to use LEEDv4 or LEED 2009 for their projects.
For more information on LEEDv4, visit www.usgbc.org/leedv4
ASHRAE's Building Energy Quotient (bEQ) has been expanded to include an As Designed label. The program is now two labels in one: an As Designed label that rates the building's potential energy use under standardized conditions — independent of the building's occupancy and usage — and an In Operation label that rates the building's actual measured energy use as influenced by the building's occupancy and usage.
The bEQ label allows the industry to zero in on opportunities to lower building operating cost and make informed decisions to increase value, according to ASHRAE.
The As Designed label is based on the results of an energy model with standardized inputs as compared to a baseline median energy use intensity (EUI). The rating is based on simulated energy use — independent of operational and occupancy variables. Because the label compares a building under a standardized set of operating assumptions, tenants can compare different buildings without including effects of the current occupants, and facility managers can identify whether they are achieving the full designed potential for a particular building. To receive an As Designed rating, a standardized energy model must be performed by an ASHRAE-certified Building Energy Modeling Professional (BEMP).
The key component of the In Operation label is the in-operation assessment, which includes an ASHRAE Level I Energy Audit — the industry standard for determining a building's energy use — conducted by an ASHRAE-certified Building Energy Assessment Professional (BEAP), along with recommendations for energy improvement measures. The rating focuses on the building's actual energy use for the preceding 12 to 18 months and is based on actual operating data. This helps facility managers see how a building's energy usage compares to the energy usage of a median baseline building and highlights the building's potential for energy performance improvement.
For more information on ASHRAE's bEQ energy label, visit www.buildingenergyquotient.org
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