Tips for Facility Managers to Smooth the LEED-EBOM Certification Process
There are more than 650,000 Web pages about LEED and the LEED certification process, according to Google. Many days, you probably feel like you have to comb through them all for the advice you're looking for.
Especially now that many more facility managers are recognizing the benefits of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) certification, solid sources of information are more valuable than ever. From the economics to savings resulting from retrocommissioning to the competitive advantage a LEED-EBOM certification may bring to multitenant office buildings, the benefits are well documented. But getting from the beginning to the finish line isn't a slam dunk, so what follows is a roster of lessons learned and best practices that can help smooth the certification process.
First and foremost, many facility managers have to justify a LEED-EBOM initiative both to their leadership and to themselves. Succumb to the persuasion of economics. A study by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found that retrocommissioning has a typical payback of less than two years and another study by RREEF Research found that less efficient "conventional" buildings are more likely to lose value due to lower rents and higher vacancies than green buildings.
These are compelling studies, but even more compelling was a CoStar Group study which found that LEED buildings rent for more, sell for more and have higher occupancy rates than "conventional" buildings. The tipping point for green buildings is not far off, maybe as soon as the next economic recovery in the office space market. Why? Because as more and more tenants demand energy and water efficiency in clean, healthy buildings that have plenty of natural daylight, today's "conventional" buildings inevitably become tomorrow's obsolete ones.
What can you do cost-effectively to ready yourself and your buildings for this moment? To find out where you're going, you have to know where you are. So benchmark.
For a quick analysis, assemble 12 months of energy bills, add up the dollar total for the year, and divide by the approximate square footage of the conditioned space served. An average figure for general office space in the Southeast is around $1.25 per square foot. If your analysis generates a figure of $2 per square foot or higher, you should consider taking steps to improve your energy efficiency.
Check with your local power utility to determine a reasonable baseline for your region. If you are a member of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), looking at the Experience Exchange Report and comparing your building's performance with others submitted by other BOMA members is another comparison route you can take.A word of caution:Your sample size may consist of just a handful of buildings, so the numbers may not be statistically valid.
For more thorough and accurate benchmarking, and the one you need for LEED-EBOM, go to www.energystar.gov, click on "Buildings & Plants" and find Portfolio Manager. This online benchmarking tool allows you enter 12 months of utility bills, as well as additional key information about your building (e.g., square footage, occupancy, number of computers, and other energy-consuming features).
The Portfolio Manager generates a score from 0 to 100. Any score above 75 is considered outstanding, and any building with that score is eligible to become Energy Star-rated. A score below the average of 50 says you have some work to do.
If you benchmark your building using one of those methods above and find it scores below average on energy efficiency, what are your options? The first and most critical step is to determine energy saving opportunities in two categories by means of an energy audit:
a. Low cost/no cost operational measures that can pay back in less than a year
b. Capital improvement measures, meaning energy retrofits.
If you are lucky, most of the savings you need can be found in the "low cost/no cost" category, but even if not, remember that some of the best investments you can make today are investments in energy efficiency in your buildings. A good energy audit will identify your opportunities and their paybacks.
Speaking of good investments, retrocommissioning should be your next step. Study after study has shown exceptionally rapid paybacks, most recently one by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finding a 1.1-year payback for retrocommissioning. The same study determined average energy savings of 16 percent and found that savings tended to persist for three to five years. Finally, the study concluded that commissioning is "the single most cost-effective strategy for reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings today."
On to LEED
The first three steps — benchmark, developing energy-saving strategies, retrocommissioning — should be undertaken for any operating building. Now we get to LEED. Here are some LEED-specific steps to continue to smooth the process.
First, find a project champion and make very good friends with that person. In reality, many times the project champion is you. The project champion is the one person who pushes the project, and even more importantly, pushes the team members to complete their credits, do their calculations, attend the LEED meetings and so on. Even motivated engineers and cooperative contractors can lose their enthusiasm as a project goes on, or get distracted with other pressing issues, so the owner's champion is the one to light or re-light a fire under them.
Secondly, identify the credits you intend to pursue. Kick off each project with a meeting with all of the team members present in person. Go through the rating system checklist and ask yourselves three questions for each credit: Is it easy to do, is it cheap to do and is it good for the project? Try to get as many "yes" answers for each credit as you can.
When puzzling over a feature of your operations and maintenance plan to see if it might satisfy a LEED credit, focus on achieving the intent of the LEED credit and document accordingly. Ask yourself, "What is LEED trying to accomplish with this particular credit?" Read the entire section in the LEED Reference Guide for the subject credit, including the Benefits and Issues to Consider (item 1) and the Examples (item 8).
LEED's main focus in determining credit compliance is that the project is achieving and demonstrating that the intent of the credit has been met. If you're using LEED Online to submit your certification, use the Optional Narrative sections when available for certain credits and document generously. The Optional Narrative section is essentially an empty field where you can write additional clarifications, rationales, etc., to justify the credit. If you think about the intent, and if you interpret it properly, you'll probably be successful in attaining that credit.
Finally, develop your "credit cushion." Regardless of the number of points your team thinks the project will achieve, build in at least a 10 percent cushion to ensure certification level success. That is, if you are seeking LEED Silver (50 points), have 55 points available. If Gold is the goal (60 points), strive for 65 points, and so on.
Why? Because during the course of the certification initiative or the LEED review, credits may be lost or unexpectedly denied by the LEED Review Team. It is always wise to have a safety margin.
These tips will help lead you to a successful LEED project. You will no doubt collect your own as you go along. One final tip is that you assemble them for your own continuous improvement.
Wayne Robertson is a principal with Energy Ace, Inc., a sustainability consulting firm that helps people design, build and operate green buildings. He can be reached at WayneR@energyace.com.