Volume Certification Takes a Different LEED Tact

April 27, 2010
Beyond the fact that it affects multiple buildings at once, the most notable thing about the LEED volume certification program is its flexibility
The USGBC’s LEED Portfolio Programis nearing the end of the pilot phase, slated for release later this year. More than 40 companies participated in the pilot program, which was created for firms or institutions that build and/or operate a large portfolio. The process provides a streamlined and holistic approach to incorporating green measures across a building portfolio vs. a project-by-project basis. Developers, retailers, government entities, REITs, universities, and property management firms all benefit from volume certification. Although the process has the potential to save you money, the price break occurs once you certify more than 15 buildings within a two-year timeframe.

Volume certification applies to all LEED programs. The best volume certification candidate is a building developer or owner with multiple similar projects, such as retail centers, hospitality groups, or office buildings. Not surprisingly, many retailers gravitate toward the program because of efficiency, but the requirements of LEED volume certification work for multiple unique buildings as well with some flexibility. A company doesn’t have to target its entire portfolio for certification. For example, a property management firm might identify 30 out of its 100 commercial properties for certification.

Not Your Average LEED

Beyond the fact that it affects multiple buildings at once, the most notable thing about the program is its flexibility. While certain requirements and thresholds must be met within the five LEED categories – sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality – you can create an approach that suits corporate culture and needs.

The framework has been developed for projects to submit design standards, a quality control plan, and an education plan. However, the details for how credits are met are flexible. You create a base prototype with design or operating standards and a quality control and education plan for each intended credit, and submit it to the USGBC. The reviewing committee examines the approach to verify that, if followed exactly, each building achieves the intended result without additional review. Similar to a typical LEED review process with preliminary and final review, the review team will provide comment on areas of improvement, if needed. Once your plan is approved, the prototype credits become pre-certified.

Sincere Commitment

While it might sound relatively easy to offer up a plan and approach to pre-certify a Silver prototype, for example, achieving pre-certification requires serious commitment. You must examine what sustainable measures can feasibly be incorporated across the identified portfolio of projects, which requires you to take into account building type, locale, climate, available infrastructure, and regional resources, and – if targeting existing buildings – age and condition. You need to think though how to ensure all multi-disciplinary team members adhere to the plan and how you will train team members, management, staff, employees, and vendors.

Design, Quality Control, and Education

First, your design standards require an in-depth review and update of drawings, specifications, systems information, company plans, and policies. They may or may not include site-specific criteria. For example, you may create a base prototype that will achieve a Silver certification level with credits that can be realized anywhere, like a green cleaning policy, the same HVAC system in every building, and low-flow fixtures. But you may seek to have specific projects certified at the Gold level with additional credits, such as agreeing to only build/operate the targeted buildings in urban areas, or following a local code requirement for efficient irrigation systems to achieve a 50-percent reduction in exterior water use.

Second, the quality control is the process-level component that assures all team members complete specific requirements as planned. Often considered the most important element of volume certification, the quality control plan is the strategy that aligns individual projects with the pre-certified prototype to ensure the integrity of LEED certification at a volume scale. The plan requires the incorporation of LEED requirements consistently across the proposed buildings and an outline of how this will be done. For example, if you plan to implement a construction waste management plan, your quality control plan will detail what recycling bins will be onsite, where the receipts from the waste hauler are stored, how often bins will be serviced, who will review and check the process, and, if problems arise, what actions will be taken.

Third, the education component ensures that all team members have the proper training to implement the design standards. The goal is to inform and assist the implementation, tracking, and adherence to the quality control process. Many organizations use manuals, live training seminars, webinars, info on intranets, team meetings, or a combination.

Fast(er) Track

Once your design standards, quality control, and education plan are pre-certified, you can move to the next stage for each building, train all multi-discipline team members on your process, and implement the LEED process during design and construction, or operation. Although you achieved precertification for the identified buildings, the USGBC still requires a certain level of review. The USGBC will perform full building documentation review for the 10 to 20 percent of buildings, but the developer or owner’s quality control reporting is the primary vehicle through which credit achievement is verified.

After your project team indicates that additional buildings have successfully followed the pre-certified approach, you need only submit an individual building scorecard and a letter agreeing that remaining projects have met the requirements. However, the USGBC will still perform spot checks on random building documentation to ensure compliance throughout the two years of pre-certification. Once approved, each building achieves an individual LEED certification at the level indicated on the scorecard.

Volume certification gives building owners and managers an efficient pathway to green their properties. By streamlining the process and allowing owners to create a prototype and approach that works for them, more companies will be likely to incorporate sustainable measures throughout their portfolio.

Webly Bowles, Associate AIA, LEED AP, is a project consultant at Green Building Services Inc. Webly can be reached at 866-743-4277 or [email protected].

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