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The US Green Building Council’s LEED certification has been experiencing not only substantial market penetration since it inception in 1998, but has gone through many progressive changes to make the program a more holistic and inclusive green building standard that can be applied to almost any type of building type or size.
The changes have seemed to work- LEED has become almost synonymous with the green building industry, and for those who work in the construction field, it is becoming a rarity to find someone on a project team that has never encountered and worked with the standard before.
For those of us who work under LEED guidelines in our profession, LEED can be a very rewarding process for the building team and ultimately, the occupants- It challenges individuals and organizations to push harder for creative design solutions. It can also be a burden as well- it is no secret that LEED comes with its fair share of rigor to receive certification- meetings, documentation, and LEED reviews all add time and ultimately money to a project cost. This tends to drive many project teams down the path of least resistance, choosing points not based upon the necessity or positive impact of a LEED point, but based upon how easy or cost effective that point may be.
While no project team can throw cost considerations out the window, choosing specific points based on cost or ease not only misses the essence of why the USGBC have given project teams the freedom and flexibility of choosing a point-mix towards certification, but also misses the opportunity for gaining the true environmental and economical savings that LEED was designed to facilitate.
Here are three things to keep in mind to not only build a cost effective and environmental superior building, but to best take advantage of the LEED certification process:
Take Advantage of Multiple Point Credits
Energy efficiency has long been the center piece of the LEED standard, and not by accident. The LEED steering committee has designed it that way, and for good reason- energy efficiency has the most bang for the buck in regards to lessening the buildings environmental impact from heating and cooling, and also lowering the operational costs of the building. It is also a group of points that is reliant and synergistic on other credits to succeed- attempting to reduce the heat island effect of the projects roof via SS Credit 7.2 will no doubt also help you reduce your cooling load and increase your efficiency in the summer months, all of which help your energy efficiency points.
The good rule of thumb is that if there is a credit that offers the ability to gain multiple points, it should be one that your team should be going after. LEED committees have spent a lot of time reviewing the impacts of LEED credits and is trying to steer you towards the good ones with additional points, so don’t overlook the opportunity to create the biggest impact and gain the most points at the same time.
As mentioned, LEED has traditionally been synonymous with energy efficient buildings, but LEED has spent a lot of time being developed into a well rounded green building rating system that looks at a building through a multitude of lenses. While prerequisites in LEED make sure that you work with each of its categories, often many teams will lean heavy on one specialty to carry much of the weight to achieve points. For example, while going for as many energy efficiency points as feasible is encouraged, expecting an HVAC design team to earn 15 energy efficiency points in lieu of attempting points from other specialties abuses the flexibility the LEED standard allows for.
As a program, LEED is designed to work best in a collaborative process between design groups, and pushing the additional work load to one party not only flies in the face of the collaborative process and can overburden design team members, but can lead to occupants with unmet expectations. Remember, since the term “green building” is vague in its scope and particulars, a LEED plaque on a building means different things to different people. While some might expect an energy efficient building, others may put more weight on low VOC or locally-sourced materials. While a design team can’t meet every expectation, they can create a well rounded building that acknowledges the many aspects of what makes a building green by diversifying their point selection.
Push your portfolio
Trying new things is hard, no matter what it is. LEED is no different, and for many project teams, once you figure out how to earn and properly document some of the LEED points, often they find themselves in a rut, relying on the same point mix for different projects.
While anyone working on a LEED project should be commended for their hard work and effort, they should also not grow complacent either. The green building industry is only becoming more competitive, crowded, and skilled as we move forward, and it has no sign of slowing down. Neither does LEED in its pursuit of a more refined, and more challenging standard. As we look forward into the next year, the USGBC is releasing LEED 2012, which promises to set a higher bar for green building. In an industry that is built upon the idea of pushing the limits of knowledge and design, there is no room for complacency, especially when it comes to achieving a LEED certification.