According to 2004 figures cited by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), spending on products and services for green building exceeded $7 billion, a 37 percent increase over the prior year. All 50 states, as well as 12 other countries, have projects registered through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.
As interest in green building grows, much discussion has focused on aligning a project with the principles of LEED certification: cost savings through energy and water conservation; improved worker productivity; health, insurance and risk-management benefits; and enhanced building value. LEED provides a national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings, but building green is an important consideration regardless of whether a school is pursuing certification.
Throughout a project, green building experts — design architects, interior designers, lighting and landscape engineers, and facility managers — can offer insights that keep a project on schedule and on budget. The USGBC also offers accreditation for professionals such as architects, engineers and interior designers. Using LEED-accredited professionals can be critical in helping education institutions reach green building goals.
Building with experts
LEED accreditation is awarded to building industry practitioners who demonstrate proficiencies of green building practices and principles, as well as familiarity with LEED requirements, resources and processes on a comprehensive exam.
The LEED Accredited Professionals (AP) exam provides a standardized method for measuring the degree of green building knowledge and expertise. The exam tests knowledge of LEED credit intents and requirements, the coordination of projects and teams, the implementation of LEED processes, and the verification, participation and performance of the technical analyses required for LEED credits.
Green building requires thinking in new ways about space and budget allocations, design, site requirements and facility management. Rather than following a more traditional building and design process, teams follow an integrated approach and work toward a common goal. Often it includes non-standard design practices, such as computer modeling, that demonstrate energy efficiencies.
Hiring project managers with green building expertise can help streamline the design and building process. Those with the proper background and credentials can evaluate which green elements have the greatest impact and the most value. Their experience will help ensure accuracy, and lessons learned from other projects can provide insight into the best approaches for incorporating sustainable features. In turn, this experience can help reduce costs and result in a more accurate budget.
A team with sustainable-design experience can incorporate many green benefits:
Maximum daylight in a building.
High-performance windows and high-efficiency lighting.
A green roof to provide more roof insulation and to reduce storm runoff.
A light-color exterior material to minimize heat gain.
Concrete or grass parking lots to reduce heat islands and control stormwater runoff.
Bike racks and pedestrian showers to promote cycling as transportation.
Cisterns to manage stormwater inexpensively and provide water for irrigation and flushing toilets.
Water-efficient and waterfree fixtures to help reduce potable water use and lower utility bills.
Products made with recycled materials for resource efficiency.
Going for it
The value of LEED-certified professionals becomes more evident when a project is seeking LEED certification. The process of applying for certification can be difficult without green building experience. A design team that is fluent in the LEED point system can have an advantage in managing the process.
Each of the four progressive levels of LEED certification — certified, silver, gold and platinum — is reached by obtaining points from a rating system that offers seven prerequisite points and 69 elective points. To achieve any level of certification, a project must comply with the seven prerequisite points. The elective points then determine the specific LEED rating.
The key is deciding whether a particular point is achievable and appropriate for the scope of the project. Bringing together the right team early in the process helps determine the feasibility of each possible point. Projects often include a broad range of sustainable and high-performance features: daylighting, building orientation and siting, material selection, air-quality improvement, equipment recommendations and life-cycle costing.
In evaluating the cost of achievable points, expenses may be a pure additional cost, such as a bicycle rack, or a premium cost, such as a type of building material. Some design elements may have no additional cost, such as a site selection that earns a LEED point or a project feature that is already planned as part of the design of the facility.
Also, it is necessary to weigh the upfront costs vs. long-term operations and maintenance costs. A report by California's Sustainable Building Task Force found that allocating 2 percent of construction costs to green products and technologies typically will yield life-cycle savings of more than 10 times the value of the initial investment.
Experienced LEED professionals can determine how many points have little or no financial impact and can suggest ways to earn LEED credits without extra cost. For example, raised-access flooring can reduce the floor-to-floor height and minimize the cost of ductwork. This net equal cost ultimately creates a higher quality air-delivery system.
LEED professionals also can identify means of offsetting certain expenses with savings in other areas. Another added benefit is improved student performance. Numerous studies show that students with the right kind of classroom daylight perform better on tests compared with students that have little or no natural light in their classrooms.
A LEED-accredited professional (AP) also can help better manage administration costs associated with achieving certification. Knowing how to monitor the points during design and construction can be invaluable. A LEED AP can write specifications and manage the necessary documentation for final application to the USGBC. And, using a LEED AP earns one point toward LEED certification.
Jahnigen, LEED AP, is an associate project manager for Steed Hammond Paul, a Cincinnati-based architectural firm.
Allocating this percentage of construction costs to green products and technologies can yield life-cycle savings of more than 10 times the value of the initial investment.
Source: California's Sustainable Building Task Force