The Launch of the First Industry Standard
for Green Buildings
Environmental Design & Construction Magazine
Written by Tom Paladino
The US Green Building Council (USGBC) recently launched
the building industrys first standard for green buildings. Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System
, or LEED , as the standard is commonly referred to, represents
the industrys definition for what constitutes a green building.
Further, it provides a mechanism by which the industry can measure,
or rate, the level of "greenness" of a building.
The USGBC is a national coalition representing all
segments of the building industry. Its members include architects, engineers,
product manufacturers, building owners, environmental groups, utilities,
universities and federal, state and local governments. The coalition
boasts as members industry leaders such as Armstrong, Carrier, Forbo
and BP Solarex, and architectural firms ranging from large national
firms like HOK and Gensler to sole proprietors. The USGBC began developing
LEED over five years ago, when it recognized the need not only for a
common definition of a green building, but also for a mechanism to provide
market recognition for building owners and design and construction teams
that achieved a high level of environmental performance for a building.
The launching of LEED is taking place over several
months. It began in January with the offering of training workshops.
In late March, the first of 12 certified buildings (depicted in the
photographs throughout this article) were announced. Other activities,
including the offering of consulting services, the launch of an interactive
website, and the completion of a reference guide, are all planned for
the near future. The new version of LEED (2.0) has just completed its
fifth balloting. As a consensus document, it must be unanimously approved
by the USGBC members.
Completing this standard was no easy feat given the
diversity of the coalition and the complexity of the issue. But the
strength of LEED is the process by which it evolved. Over the past five
years the green building industry has matured radically and so has its
Developing a Tool for the Industry
In its original format, LEED was organized in alphabetical
order (Asbestos to Water Quality) and served as an inventory tool, listing
a host of building features, strategies and goals that could be applied
to any building type. Credits or points were given for successful accomplishment
of the measures, and a minimum achievement of 50% of the available points
was required to achieve a "rating." The earliest buildings
involved with LEED typically used only parts of the system, incorporating
only those elements that seemed most applicable and desirable for their
Although having an inventory tool or checklist was
useful in making sure nothing had been forgotten on a project, it was
cumbersome when trying to trade off building features that had a competing
influence on system or building performance. For example, it has become
common knowledge that indoor air quality can be compromised with a building
that is tightly sealed to improve energy efficiency. However, in the
original version of LEED, one often had to make a trade-off between
the two, employing either maximum ventilation for maximum indoor air
quality, or minimum ventilation for maximum energy efficiency.
Based on feedback from the earliest users of LEED,
the system was reworked to add an understanding to this trade-off. The
next iteration of LEED (referred to as Version 1.0) grouped measures,
or credits, into five environmental goals. This focus on environmental
performance in addition to environmental attributes made LEED an attractive
tracking tool, affording a more rigorous analysis of possible measures
that all team members could understand. The five environmental goals
are: Planning Sustainable Sites, Improving Energy Efficiency, Conserving
Materials and Resources, Enhancing Indoor Environmental Quality, and
Field Testing LEED
Despite growing support for LEED an ever-increasing
number of projects using the system, Version 1.0 was not ready for an
official launch. While the environmental goals helped facilitate use
of the system, users reported that there were still many "bugs"
that need to be addressed.
With funding from the US Department of Energy, the USGBC launched a pilot program to help them better understand how LEED was being used in the field. In addition to technical feedback, the USGBC sought advice on what kinds of support tools it should develop to ensure LEEDs usability by a broad spectrum of the building industry. The day the Pilot Program was launched, over 20 projects signed up. Ultimately, more than 60 projects participated in the program during 1999, including the 12 that were recently certified.
The pilot projects were offered technical support
to aid their understanding on everything from the intention of a measure
to which strategies would yield them points. Pilot projects posted questions
to a dedicated website and received feedback from the Ruling Body, and
committee of volunteers comprising USGBC members from various disciplines.
Over a 12-month period, more than 200 questions were posted on the website.
Subcommittees for each of the five environmental goal areas were also
established and populated with experts to provide additional assistance
to the pilot projects and to help rework the credits that were identified
by pilot projects as unclear or inconsistent.
The pilot program culminated in a two-day industry
review of LEED, hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation at their
Pocantico Retreat on the Hudson River. The review was a brainstorming
session by 50 industry experts, including building owners, municipal
agencies, architects, mechanical, electrical and civil engineers, environmental
advocates, federal governmental officials, industrial hygienists and
industrial psychologists. Participants addressed issues raised by the
Ruling Body, subcommittees and pilot projects, as well as areas they
thought might create future obstacles. The combination of field testing
and expert review resulted in a final document that could be worthy
of widespread industry support.
The Pilot Program raised some fundamental questions
about what environmental building features should be rewarded and why.
In particular, coexistence of prescriptive and performance measures
within the system was found to be confusing and often contradictory,
and not adaptable across different geographical regions. The prescriptive
measures dictated the specific action that must be taken to acquire
points, while a performance measure suggested a goal of a certain level
of performance that the building team should aim for. This contradiction
was particularly evident in the energy section, which awarded points
for employing specific efficiency strategies, such as waste heat recovery
and natural ventilation heating and cooling, as well as achieving an
overall efficiency level exceeding the ASHRAE standard 90.1. The pilot
teams reported that LEEDs prescription of these two strategies
in particular gave the strategies unfair weight because the teams would
be awarded points for employing them, in addition to being awarded points
for their contribution to the overall efficiency of the building. In
addition, design teams might be encouraged to employ these strategies
even in situations where they were not appropriate or where they actually
worked against the overall efficiency of a building, simply because
of the number of points they represented. In the new version, these
prescriptive strategies have been wrapped into the credit for the overall
The pilot projects found many inconsistencies. For
example, the design team for the Oquirrh Park Speed Skating Oval in
Salt Lake City, UT, is taking care to protect the site from topsoil
erosion during construction. The credit in LEED for which they were
applying only allowed for protection from stormwater erosion. But the
problem in their geographic region is topsoil erosion from wind, not
stormwater runoff. It was apparent that the project had met the intent
of the LEED erosion credit, but in a different way from that envisioned
by the USGBC.
Upon review, the Sustainable Sites subcommittee proposed
two separate credits- one credit to address stormwater management and
another to address erosion and sedimentation issues. This distinction
was made because in some parts of the country, like in Utah, erosion
is actually an air quality issue, and not water quality issue. In addition
to the clarification of the points, these types of discussions resulted
in major changes to the format of the LEED document as well. Each LEED
criterion now has a statement of intent that describes the goals and
objectives as well as the environmental benefit of the measure.
In addition to eliminating prescriptive measures in
favor of performance-driven measures, LEEDs flexibility was also
increased through a credit equivalence option that allows projects to
apply for credits for which they believe they had met the intent, but
not the stated practice. For example, the Marion County Courthouse project
in Washington State was well underway when the commitment to pursue
LEED certification was made. The timing, therefore, made it difficult
for the design team to include salvage items in the new project. However,
by conducting an extensive salvage effort and finding outside practical
uses for over 90% of the building materials recovered from two small
structures demolished on the site, the team met the intent of the credit,
which calls for an increased utilization of salvaged materials.
Another flexible element added to LEED 2.0 as a result
of the Pilot Program are innovation points. These points are available
to acknowledge strategies or technologies that either significantly
exceed the performance goals of a credit, or are so new or advanced
that an appropriate credit has not yet been incorporated into LEED.
For example, Oquirrh Park Speed Skating Oval was awarded innovation
points for using a highly efficient cable suspension that significantly
reduces both the amount of structural materials needed and the overall
volume of air that requires conditioning. The system requires 1,105
fewer tons of steel than the conventional arena roof structure, which,
calculated at $1,400/ton (the average cost of steel for suspension structure),
also saved them over $1.5 million. The structural depth of the system
reduces the interior volume of air by 9% (880,000 cubic feet), thereby
reducing the HVAC system capacity by 9%.
To recognize and encourage such innovations, Version
2.0 authorizes up to four "catch-all" innovation credits.
These points will not only encourage projects to continue to "push
the envelope," but they will also help LEED to evolve by continually
supplying new strategies and technologies that can be incorporated into
future iterations. Projects petitioning for these credits must state
the intent of the feature, and explain the technologies and strategies
using a standardized format.
Challenging the Industry
The pilot projects contributed greatly to the "debugging"
of LEED. Equally important, they helped USGBC understand how LEED is
being used in the marketplace and what benefits it brings to projects.
At the Navys Bachelor Enlisted Quarters in Great Lakes, IL, the
design was one credit short of the certification level it sought. A
review of the project revealed that the tree coverage was low, so the
Navy decided to purchase approximately $10,000 worth of additional trees
to capture the needed credit.
At the Sundeck Restaurant, the Aspen Skiing Co. and
their team struggled to meet LEEDs non-smoking prerequisite. Various
architectural and engineering solutions were proposed to meet the intent
of the credit, including separately ventilating the air creating an
outdoor corridor between the bar and the restaurant. Ultimately, the
owner decided to ban smoking from the facility to capture the credit.
In many similar cases, the availability of a nationally
recognized standard and the tangible benefit of a higher LEED score
and a "greener" building have motivated building owners to
commit targeted funding for green building features. These examples
show standards for measuring performance. By creating the ability to
make comparisons with peer projects, the Rating System generates a friendly
competition among development teams, and provides a framework for rewarding
tough decisions to go green.
Debunking the Myths
One broad-ranging benefit of the LEED program has
been its ability to illustrate that green buildings do not necessarily
have to cost more. The pilot projects helped highlight these benefits.
The EPA headquarters in Kansas City, for example, determined that the
project would go green at no additional expense. Using "off-the-shelf"
or existing technologies and strategies, the team will qualify for a
LEED rating, as well as successfully meet the EPAs environmental
goals and the developers financial goals.
The pilot projects proved that there are many technologies
available on the market today that can significantly improve upon a
buildings environmental and overall performance at the same cost
as a traditional building. LEED has also been able to prove that green
buildings do not slow down the construction process. The Navys
Great Lakes Bachelor Enlisted Quarters were designed and constructed
in just two years. Another myth that the Pilot Program has dispelled
is that green buildings are somehow less attractive that non-green buildings.
Many of the pilot participants will receive recognition for the designs
as well as their "greenness".
"Despite the fact that LEED has not been considered
official until now, it has already shown itself to be a powerful tool
in the industry. It has been embraced in the public sector by commercial,
industrial, and multi-use building owners. Based on the pilot project
experiences, LEED is successfully fulfilling two critical needs in the
building industry, first as a design guide, and second as a market incentive
"Because the Bren School has achieved a LEED
rating, the Santa Barbara campus and the University of California system
as a whole are now reevaluating the way they build buildings and how
they use energy. It is even sparking master planning questions."
Mo Lovegreen, director, University of California, Santa Barbara and Lisa Matthiessen, project architect.