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13 Tips for Certification Success

Sept. 23, 2015

Smooth the way toward a green designation.

When codes and local mandates increasingly require building performance on par with what’s needed to earn certification, what difference does a plaque make?

In short, third-party recognition infers accountability – a neutral organization has verified the building manager’s claims. That counts for tenants and occupants, says Daniel Cote, Regional Manager for Piedmont Office Realty Trust and Vice Chair for the BOMA 360 Performance Program Council.

“Buildings may all look pristine on the outside, but as a potential tenant or employee, if you don’t know what differentiates one from another, you could end up finding out that a building isn’t run properly or managed efficiently,” explains Cote. “One of the key drivers for us to certify so many buildings in our national portfolio with BOMA 360 was that we wanted to announce to the marketplace that our properties are managed effectively.”

Is your organization about to launch its own certification effort? Take charge and make sure your facility gets the designation it deserves with these 13 tips from FMs, consultants and green building experts who have already walked the walk.

1) Enlist Tenants Early
If you manage a leased facility, you’ll need buy-in from the tenant before you can even think about certifying your building.Most green building certifications require hard numbers on energy and water consumption, and some may also examine things like your use of environmentally friendly cleaners. None of that paperwork will be possible if you can’t get the required information from your tenants, so get them on board as early as you can.

“Our tenants were very helpful because they had to provide us with specific information on employee numbers and how they conducted certain functions of their operation. They embraced the process 100%,” says Jordan Guenther, Director of Property Management for Eastman Companies, a real estate development, construction and management company that recently earned LEED Silver for its Eisenhower Corporate Campus office complex. Cooperation with the building’s tenants (which include Verizon) was vital in obtaining Existing Buildings certification for the 385,000-square-foot complex, which was built in 1984 and features four buildings joined by a common atrium in the middle.

Frequent communication can also help bring potential problems to the forefront where they can be dealt with more easily. At the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach, CA, a 531,000-square-foot justice center completed in 2013, a focus on LEED certification from the very beginning of the project enabled the team to tackle an emerging issue early and find a solution that worked for all stakeholders.

“Integrating LEED into the tenant’s requirements for the retail and food court space took some educating with smaller tenant contractors and the prospective tenants who initially felt overburdened,” explains Freddy S. Rayes, Chief Executive Officer of Long Beach Judicial Partners LLC, which operates and maintains the courthouse. “With guidance, they have since adjusted and now appreciate the value of compliance with sustainability.”

2) Grow Your Team
Bring in as many members of your team as you can, Cote suggests. You have valuable building management experience to contribute for everything from planning a lighting retrofit to investigating building automation systems.

“The owner’s representative doesn’t necessarily bring FM teams to the table at the right time during the process of designing and determining how to meet certification requirements,” adds Valerie Molinski, Sustainability Director for Vocon, an architecture and interior design firm. “But the FMs are ultimately the people who are going to run the building. The right people need to be at the table at the right time.”

3) Investigate Education
Before the certification effort starts, make sure the facilities team has all the knowledge it needs to contribute. George Denise, Director of Operations for Oracle RWS, Director of Sustainability for Oracle headquarters, and Chair of the BOMA 360 Performance Program Council, recommends taking classes and workshops targeted at building owners and managers while laying the roundwork for the coming certification work. Earning your LEED Green Associate designation (the personal certification that is earned before becoming a LEED Accredited Professional) will bring you up to date on how to certify buildings under LEED.

“Start by taking a class on ENERGY STAR and begin benchmarking your building with Portfolio Manager,” says Denise. “Attend the BOMA Energy Efficiency Program webinar series. Begin implementing no- and low-cost energy conservation measures, increasing your ENERGY STAR score as you go.”


4) Envision the End Result
With your team assembled, start looking at the targets you can reach. Start by identifying your goals, Molinski recommends. This includes not just the level of certification you hope to attain, but specifics about how you’d like the building to perform afterward – for example, lowering energy and water use by a certain percentage, reducing operational expenses, or simply making your building more comfortable and less wasteful. Then choose credits that will help you achieve those goals.

“There is an overemphasis on the plaque and what it takes to get to LEED Platinum or a certain ENERGY STAR score,” says Brad Pease, Executive Technical Director of Paladino and Company, a design/development firm focusing on green building and sustainable development. “Sometimes the certification program gets in the way of making sound business decisions. Focus more on finding value in the certification process – target those credits that will help you operate the building more efficiently, manage your utility costs, and obtain real dollar savings or operational improvements. If you focus just on certification, you’ll find yourself annoyed and spending time documenting things that don’t impact your building or occupants.”

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5) Manage Points Carefully
A self-audit will help you figure out which credits are best to pursue, Denise recommends. “LEED’s Energy & Atmosphere category offers more points than almost any other area, and while they’re expensive, they also offer the greatest opportunity for payback,” he says. “Establishing policies on green cleaning, integrated pest control, and smoking are some of the easiest to implement, though they usually require modifying existing contracts. Green cleaning is rapidly becoming the standard and can result in a reduction in fees.”

Just as important as choosing which points to pursue is charting how to get there. This is an area where FMs can shine, says Scott Lawson, Vice President of Clark Construction Group.

“If you look at the scorecard and see the 10 different ways to earn the point, FMs add value by finding the way to get the most out of the building and not just get the point in the cheapest, fastest way,” says Lawson.

If you’re submitting multiple buildings that have points in common, Denise recommends submitting the one with the highest score first. If your team isn’t 100% confident that they’ll be awarded certain “gray area” points, your highest-scoring building will help clarify which ones are documented adequately.

“See how the questionable points do. If they’re accepted, you know how the other buildings will do,” says Denise. “If they’re rejected and you have the same points for other properties, do some more work to strengthen them before you submit them.”

6) Understand Regional Advantages
Your location may offer considerable benefits when it comes to certain credits. LEED, for example, rewards points for purchasing materials within a certain radius of the project site – projects in resource-rich areas of the country would do well to target those credits. Other points hinge on the availability of local infrastructure and how well you accommodate alternative modes of transportation, says Daniel P. Perruzzi, Jr., Principal of Margulies Perruzzi Architects.

“Some of the most popular LEED credits are things like population density and accessibility of public transportation. Depending on where you are, those can be relatively easy to get,” Perruzzi says. “Providing bike storage and showering facilities for people who bike to work are often valuable.”


7) Adopt a Holistic View
It can be tempting to focus solely on the ROI of your intended improvements, but Perruzzi cautions certification teams not to develop tunnel vision.

“Things like occupant wellbeing and less sick time from working in a healthy building are benefits for an organization,” Perruzzi notes. “You also have to factor in staff retention. I know people who are looking for jobs today who want to know if their future employer is sustainable or not. FMs should think about green certification more holistically, and that’s hard to do when you’re focused entirely on the bottom line.”

8) Accommodate Space Changes
Thinking about reorganizing or remodeling? Space use impacts resource consumption, furniture needs and other factors that can affect your certification efforts. Integrate sustainability from the start so that you don’t handicap later certification efforts.

“The certification process has to begin when you’re programming out the space or building. Think about what you want the space to be and the sustainability profile you want it to have,” says Perruzzi. “As soon as you start thinking about remodeling, factor in sustainability so it becomes integrated into the process. It’s tougher when you’ve already made a bunch of decisions and then you wake up in the morning and say ‘We need to be sustainable.’”

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9) Manage Expectations
Smart change management will be a vital component of the certification process. You need buy-in from your team and all participating service providers to make sure everyone is taking the steps necessary to earn each credit.

“If you have a lot of client and team buy-in, everybody is on board and working toward the same goal,” says Molinski. “We’ve also had LEED projects where the contractor is on board but their subcontractor isn’t. Sometimes subcontractors have been fully paid out and then walked off the job before providing us with some of the documentation we need to finish the certification. We’ve started tying LEED performance to payments.”

When it comes to the rest of your organization, make sure your whole team is delivering consistent messaging regarding certification. Communicate your plans for changes – for example, letting people know in advance about upcoming construction or remodeling that could cause noise – and make sure to include why you’re doing it and how it benefits the certification effort.

However, some aspects of your project may require a different strategy. For changes like retrofitting energy-efficient lighting, Denise recommends making the switch while the building is unoccupied, then waiting to see if anyone notices. If you point out the new lighting, “they will ‘notice’ everything that’s wrong,” Denise notes. “That’s human nature.”

This phenomenon surfaced for Denise during a retrofit of garage lamps a few years ago. In the middle of changing high-pressure sodium lighting to fluorescent, a senior scientist argued that Denise’s team was using the wrong ballasts and that the new ones were interfering with his radio reception in the garage.

“I told him he never had reception in the garage. It’s a steel-reinforced building, and just like when you go through a tunnel or under a bridge, reception cuts out,” explains Denise. “He didn’t believe me, so I suggested he drive through the garage of the adjacent building that we hadn’t retrofitted yet. He did and then called me back and told me I was right. Change management strategy is critical.”

10) Perfect Your Policies and Procedures
Standard operating procedures that emphasize sustainable, efficient building management are critical. Some certifications, like BOMA 360, require you to develop a manual of policies and procedures emphasizing best practices in order to earn your designation. However, even if your chosen certification doesn’t require a manual, it’s a good idea to develop one – it sets a standard for your sustainable building management practices that will help you earn performance-based points and maintain your operations.

When you develop your new sustainable policies, maintain communication with your occupants regarding their needs for each space, says Mike Davis, Senior Customer Business Manager of Johnson Controls, Inc., which provides FM services for the Long Beach courthouse.

“Operating strategies and how they’re communicated will often need to be adjusted in an effort to balance energy savings, longevity, maintenance, comfort and appearance. Communication with the end user is critical so as not to interrupt their business operation,” Davis adds. “One example pertains to night setbacks on cooling. You’ll need to understand the customer’s business requirements so that systems have ample time to condition the space besfore they open for business. The intent is to start the systems at just the right time, allowing for maximum energy savings without sacrificing comfort.”

11) Emphasize Energy Savings
The average commercial building should be able to reduce its energy use by roughly 30% fairly easily, according to the EPA, and Denise has found he can usually reduce the electricity use of a building in his portfolio by 50-60% with simple strategies that minimize waste.

“We’ve found more savings in load management than in any other area – turning off the lights, metaphorically speaking,” explains Denise. “Specific measures included installing occupancy sensors, timers, and photocells, turning temperatures up in the summer and down in the winter, starting warmup or cooldown a little later in the morning and setting them back a little sooner at the end of the day, and reducing run times on equipment. Turning off the garage lights a little earlier, for example, saves $90,000 a year. Many of these measures cost almost nothing alone, but when bundled together they save millions of dollars each year. ‘Mind the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’ is the old adage.”

12) Examine Lifecycle Costs
Materials and equipment require a thorough investigation that accounts for first costs, ROI, energy used, and the expected life of the product, Denise says. Make sure your choices are guided by a deep understanding of the costs and benefits throughout the product’s entire lifecycle, not just first cost.

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“We have to change lamps anyway because they burn out from time to time. We can and should change to the model that’s most efficient and cost-effective on a lifecycle cost basis,” explains Denise. “Or maybe we have to change aerators on faucets – experiment with some and then go with the most cost-effective one. How much does it cost? How much water does it save? What is the cost of the water and sewage treatment fees? How long will it last? It’s the same with paper towels, toilet tissue, urinals, toilets, chillers, boilers, rooftop package units and so on.”

Your lifecycle cost analysis should also consider maintainability. Johnson Controls, which provides facilities management services for the Long Beach courthouse, looked beyond what was required to obtain a certain certification and sided in favor of slightly higher first costs on a few materials that would last much longer than less expensive options.

“We were doing lifecycle analysis studies with Johnson Controls early in the process,” says Lawson. “For instance, if carpet was planned for a space, Johnson Controls would look at their budget and how they would maintain it over 35 years and say ‘If you put carpet in there, we’ll have to replace it six times.’ In that instance, they paid for an upgrade to terrazzo in spaces so they wouldn’t have to replace it at all, which avoided upkeep and replacement costs over that period.”

13) Consider Commissioning
Many certification programs require you to commission new facilities or systems to make sure they’re providing the intended high performance. It ensures that everything in your space is known to be functional, installed correctly and performing well.

“With advanced or enhanced commissioning, which is an optional credit with LEED and other systems that clients don’t always do, there is commissioning training for FMs,” Molinski adds. “That’s key because they’re being given a brand new building or new systems when they’re used to operating systems that are 20 to 30 years old. The commissioning agent will also come back in the 11th month and check everything again before the warranties run out.”

With thorough commissioning, you can be confident that your post-certification space is off to a good start from Day 1. From then on, it’s up to you to maintain the building’s verified high performance. Are you up to the challenge?

Janelle Penny [email protected] is Senior Editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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