LEED: Requirement or Viable Option?

April 26, 2010
Is sustainable (but not certified) just settling?

Are you dreaming of your next building project? If so, you’re probably wrestling with the serious questions that many other building owners and facility managers do:

  • Should sustainable design and construction practices be used? (Hint: The answer is always "yes"!)
  • Should the project be certified as sustainable?
  • Should LEED be utilized? If so, what level should be targeted?

These are all important questions that should be discussed with knowledgeable experts during the inaugural stages of a project’s planning process. These decisions will impact many other decisions that follow in the design and construction stages.

A Question You Must Answer
When establishing the path for any project, Hoffman LLC always asks potential clients this question: "How will sustainable certification benefit your organization today and in the future?" If a convincing, affirmative answer is given, then the certification process is probably worth the expense and time. If validation by a third party is determined to be the right business solution, it’s important to realize that LEED isn’t the only choice for certification. LEED is commonly considered the U.S. standard, but other options (such as Green Globes) also exist.

If LEED … What Level?
The values, goals, and measurable impact to the organization are once again the influencing factors that guide the level of LEED certification. Nearly every decision has ramifications that influence certification. Other factors may be present to allow for very specific LEED points. For example, one building was recently completed some distance from a metropolitan area. LEED provides a point for accessibility to mass transit. This was clearly not a possibility and, thus, minimized the number of possible points. On the other hand, LEED rewards brownfield redevelopment, such as remediating a contaminated area. Initially, this seemed impossible, as there was no known contaminated area. But then, asbestos in an existing building was considered. After further research and certification, proper asbestos removal provided a LEED point. These decisions must be made in light of the desires of the organization.

Green without LEED
There are many projects that are highly sustainable, but without a green certification. An extremely sustainable building retrofit is a perfect example. A portion of a large retail department store was renovated to be Hoffman’s corporate headquarters. Hoffman had to answer the same question it asks it clients: "Is certification the right business solution?" Initially, the answer was "yes" as it targeted a high LEED rating. However, Hoffman soon realized that the answer was clearly "no." To become LEED certified, the organization would’ve had to invest in a $150,000 air-handling unit. Instead, it chose to install carbon-dioxide detectors (roughly $200 each) in conference rooms to detect unhealthy levels. If necessary, fresh air is sent to the room, providing a healthy, creative, affordable option. This alternative didn’t meet certification criteria, but it satisfied the criteria for a cost-effective, responsible business solution.

What Every Building Owner Should Target
As you embark on a construction project, the true target should be decisions that value four critical components:

  1. Initial capital costs
  2. Healthy, productive environments
  3. Life-cycle cost savings
  4. Sustainable design and delivery

Enjoy the Journey
Even though an airport is a vital part of vacation travel, nobody wants to spend a week in one. Similarly, LEED (or any certification) might be important to your design and construction journey, but don’t make it your ambition. Your objective is to create a facility that minimizes the impact on the environment, embodies social responsibility in the community, positively contributes to the bottom line, and produces a productive, healthy, and effective place for residents, staff, or customers. When you’ve made decisions with these benefits in mind, you can be confident that you’ve chosen wisely and you’ll reach the right destination. B

Paul J. Hoffman ([email protected]) is owner and president of Hoffman LLC (www.hoffman.net), an Appleton, WI-based planning, architecture, and construction management firm.

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