Determining the characteristics that distinguish a first-rate building from a mediocre one is a bit like rating a restaurant — the answer depends on who you ask. The same can be said for gauging the success of an organization’s facilities executive. For upper management, a successful facilities executive adds value to the organization by keeping operating and other costs low, and supports the productivity of workers and other occupants. Occupants would probably measure quality based on whether the facility is a comfortable environment that enhances their ability to complete their day-to-day activities.
With the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) rating system, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has developed a blueprint for accomplishing many of the definitions of a quality building simultaneously.
Still in its infancy compared with USGBC’s LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC) rating system, LEED-EB is a set of criteria that covers building operations and system upgrades in existing facilities. The pilot version of the rating system was released in January 2002. The post-pilot version — LEED-EB v2.0 — was released last October.
LEED-EB has many of the same sustainable goals as LEED-NC: reducing energy and water use; maintaining good indoor air quality, using materials made from recycled content, ensuring that spent materials are recycled and preserving the sustainability of the facility’s site.
While LEED-NC is tailored to the design and construction of new buildings or major renovations, LEED-EB’s primary focus is a facility’s operating practices with the goal of maintaining the building’s sustainability throughout its life. Whereas LEED-NC is primarily a tool for architects and engineers, LEED-EB is specifically designed to be used by those responsible for the day-to-day operations of buildings.
“LEED-NC is an event-driven activity, whereas LEED-EB is more of a process,” says Tom Hicks, LEED-EB director at USGBC. “We want LEED-EB to be recognized as an ongoing opportunity to create operations that meet environmental standards.”
“LEED-EB illustrates the best practices of facility management and puts those best practices under the umbrella of sustainability,” says Michael Arny, chair of the LEED-EB committee and president of Leonardo Academy. “It combines sustainability with the things that an organization should be doing anyway, with sustainability as the vehicle that allows those best practices to happen.”
The structure of NC and EB are similar — they both contain six categories, each with several individual credits. Buildings are awarded points for credits achieved and the facility is conferred a rating based on the cumulative number of points. LEED-EB has 85 possible points, compared with 69 for LEED-NC. For LEED-EB, 32 points are required for a Certified rating, 40 for Silver, 48 for Gold and 64 for Platinum.
Several of the individual credits are the same in the two rating systems — LEED-NC Sustainable Sites Credit 7.2 and LEED-EB Sustainable Sites Credit 6.2, for instance. However, more often, credits are tailored to the specific focus of each rating system: design and construction for LEED-NC and operations for LEED-EB.
This difference in focus is evident in how the individual credits add up to create a sustainable whole building. With a LEED-NC-certified building, designers are expected to “connect the dots” of sustainable design elements with an integrated design process so that the new building is more than a collection of green parts — the individual LEED-NC credits.
For LEED-EB, the credits are designed to help a facility operate efficiently and sustainably after its opening and into its future. LEED-EB credits generally don’t specify a single green technology, like low-VOC paint or using renewable energy. Instead, LEED-EB requires that plans be in place to maintain total indoor air quality over the life of the building or to document the cost impact of using sustainable building strategies, like renewable energy.
In fact, several LEED-EB credits require the facility team to formulate plans, document that the plans are working and collect data to illustrate exactly how the plans are performing. For example, to get Energy and Atmosphere Credit 3.2, facilities executives must document that a program for adopting best practices of equipment preventive maintenance has been established. Credit 3.3 requires a system be in place that tracks and optimizes equipment that regulates indoor comfort, including temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels.
Planning and implementing a green cleaning program is a significant operational focus of LEED-EB, as well. As many as six points can be earned for various aspects of a green cleaning program. The goals of these credits are to reduce occupant exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals and chemicals that have a negative effect on indoor air quality.
Because of its relative newness, and the industry’s increasing familiarity with LEED-NC, several misperceptions about LEED-EB exist. One is that LEED-EB certification is only possible for buildings that have gone through major renovations or made significant infrastructure improvements with the intention of achieving a LEED-EB rating. “Certainly renovation is a niche of LEED-EB,” says Hicks. “But LEED-EB buildings are not expected to do so. It’s not mandatory.”
In fact, several of the buildings that have already achieved LEED-EB certification haven’t made physical changes at all. The Getty Center, a 1.6-million-square-foot campus in Los Angeles, home to an art museum, a conservation institute, a research library and a philanthropic foundation, achieved its LEED-EB Certified rating by reporting several practices already in place and by developing detailed policies and procedures based on existing data, says Jim Bullock, The Getty Center’s director of facilities. “We saw LEED-EB as an opportunity to get credit for the things we had already been doing,” he says.
The case was similar at the Joe Serna Jr. Cal/EPA Headquarters Building in Sacramento, Calif., the only Platinum-certified LEED-EB building. “To get the LEED-EB rating, we didn’t change a thing,” says Craig Sheehy, director of property management for Thomas Properties, the facility’s property management firm. “The only thing we had to do was put our policies and procedures on paper. Before they had all just been in my head.”
Another misperception is that LEED-EB buildings have to be newer buildings or buildings that, for whatever reason, weren’t LEED-NC-certified during design and construction. In reality, LEED-EB is applicable to any of the 4.6 million existing buildings in the United States, including those that have already been LEED-NC-certified. In fact, LEED-NC buildings are a natural fit to be LEED-EB-certified because LEED-EB becomes the vehicle by which a building that’s been designed green can be kept green over its life.
However, if a building is not already LEED-NC-certified, a prerequisite credit of LEED-EB mandates that a building must be at least two years old to be eligible for certification. That’s not to say that a building less than two years old can’t get started on the process, says Arny. Three months of data collection is required to achieve some of the metering credits before a building can be considered for certification. Additionally, if a building is older than two years, certain credits require that policies and procedures must be in place for at least a year from the time of registration — that is, signed up to go through the formal certification process — to the time the building can be considered for a certification.
Because LEED-EB certification is meant to be an ongoing process, recertification is required. The frequency of recertification is left to the discretion of the facility team, but the maximum is once every year and the minimum is once every five years.
For facilities executives, the potential benefits of LEED-EB are many. For one, the document provides a framework for achieving facility-related attributes that are important to upper management, to occupants and even to the community at-large.
A significant portion of LEED-EB is focused on helping a facility reduce operating costs, a strategy that certainly resonates with upper management. One way it does that is by helping facility executives determine their jumping off point in terms of operating costs. Once that is established, facility executives can examine all facets of a facility to identify what strategies may need to be employed to trim operating costs, especially energy.
This was the process for Bob Hascall, vice president of campus services at Emory University, as he began to look at certifying the 119,000-square-foot Goizueta Business School Building. The building was completed in 1997 and was selected to be the campus’ first LEED-EB building because Hascall says he thought it was one of the university’s top performers. “We thought it would be a slam dunk,” he says. “But much to our chagrin, once we began examining the building we realized we had some serious problems.”
Some collapsed ductwork meant that the building’s HVAC system was heating and cooling air at the same time. This was causing the building to use an excessive amount of energy. “The project turned out to be much larger than we expected,” says Hascall. “We spent $100,000 to fix it all, but we calculate that we’ll save $150,000 per year just in energy, so it was easily worth it.” The Goizueta Business School Building earned a Gold rating.
For many organizations, a reduction in energy costs helps persuade upper management to allow facilities executives to complete other projects that will help get the LEED-EB certification.
“Energy is the low-hanging fruit,” says Sheehy. “It makes LEED-EB economically beneficial. In real estate, most of the time no one is going to do an energy project only because it is good for the environment.”
Often, though, it’s difficult to communicate details like inefficient HVAC operation or collapsed ductwork in terms upper management can understand. Fortunately, LEED-EB is its own translator.
At the King Street Center in Seattle, a LEED-EB Gold-certified facility developed by Wright Runstad and Company, LEED-EB certification provided an argument for using the standard on other county buildings. “The benefit of LEED-EB is that it made us look closely at energy conservation,” says Theresa Koppang, lead planner for King County. “So we put the data together and realized we had saved money and energy use was quite a bit below code. The property manager could then go to the county and explain how much money had been saved.”
Because LEED-EB requires data collection, it allows facilities executives to look not only at the building with an eye toward improvement, but also to strengthen their argument as they pitch projects to upper management.
“LEED-EB is important as a communication tool,” says Arny. “It connects high-level folks in the organization with the facilities team and with occupants. It gives facilities executives the ability to deal with both of those ends of an organization.”
“After LEED-EB certification, there’s a renewed appreciation for the value of data,” says Bullock. “It’s one thing to collect data and never do anything with it, but since we’re processing data as part of the LEED-EB certification, the data provides tangible benefits.”
If reducing energy is the low-hanging fruit, though, productivity is the apple on the farthest branch of the tree. That’s because productivity data that confirm the benefit of LEED-certified buildings has been difficult to come by. Most green building advocates believe that because LEED-certified buildings are generally more occupant-friendly — because of strategies such as daylighting, good indoor air quality, and controllable and consistent heating and cooling, to name a few — occupant productivity increases and absenteeism and even health care costs decrease.
Much like LEED-NC, LEED-EB provides plenty of credits aimed at creating buildings that are both sustainable and occupant-friendly. But LEED-EB goes one step further. Indoor Environmental Quality Credits 4.1 and 4.2 in LEED-EB act as a built-in productivity study that requires facilities executives to document absenteeism, health care costs and productivity impacts of sustainable building performance improvements. Over time, as this data are reported back to USGBC, real evidence may finally surface of the benefits of sustainable buildings on productivity.
“We’re in a really good position to capture and disseminate data to the public,” says Hicks. “Early adopters don’t need to see the benefits because they’re already convinced, but as we get beyond the initial phase, the bulk of the market may need convincing.
“We are firm in our belief that LEED-EB will yield a fairly significant productivity benefit. The cost savings will dwarf those of energy reduction and other operating costs in terms of reduced absenteeism and reduced health care costs.”
There are more than 100 projects registered to be certified under LEED-EB and more than 20 that have been certified. Since LEED-EB v2.0 was released, about 10 registered facilities have elected to switch from being considered under the pilot version of LEED-EB to LEED-EB v2.0. The Getty Center is the only facility to be certified under LEED-EB v2.0.
With the recent release of the LEED-EB reference guide, though, Hicks says he expects an increase in the number of facilities that register and are subsequently LEED-EB-certified. The guide is intended to make the process of registering projects for certification much easier.
Much like LEED-NC, which is now in its third version with a fourth version expected soon, LEED-EB also will continue to evolve. Hicks says he envisions LEED-EB moving toward being easily adaptable for facilities across an organization’s entire building stock. “We see LEED-EB becoming more and more portfolio-centric,” he says. “The goal is to take LEED-EB to the organizational level, so that facilities executives don’t look at LEED-EB for a specific building but across an entire portfolio.”
The goal is to make it as easy as possible for organizations to be able to adopt LEED-EB as a standard operating practice.
“LEED-EB takes the highest level of commitment and a high level of organizational support,” says Hicks. “We want LEED-EB to be recognized as an ongoing opportunity for organizations to create operations and buildings that meet environmental standards.”
The U.S. Green Building Council launched its signature green building rating system, LEED-NC 2.0 (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction) in 2000. It has since released two other green building rating systems, LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) and LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI).
The council continues work on drafts of other green rating systems, including LEED for Core and Shell (LEED-CS), LEED for Homes (LEED-H) and LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND).
In addition, several LEED application guides tailored for vertical market sectors, such as retail, laboratories, health care facilities and schools, are in various stages of pilot launch or development.
USGBC works to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.