Energy Manager

LEED Complete set to change the face of green building

The LEED green building rating system is a useful guide for building owners and developers who want to create greener, more environmentally friendly workspaces. LEED Canada Complete is now taking the certification to a new level, making it easier for developers and owners to apply for certification, and offering more effective feedback on how buildings perform over time.

January 30, 2008  By Robert Colman

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System has been helping businesses in the U.S. and Canada for nearly 10 years design more energy efficient and environmentally conscious office buildings. However, it has also been criticized over the years for its fairly narrow focus, its complex reporting mechanisms, and the lack of monitoring for historical data on buildings once they have been certified.

The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) has set out to change this with the creation of LEED Canada Complete, a new approach to LEED certification that considers the whole life cycle of a building, from design to long-term maintenance. If the organization’s planned pilot programs are a success, this could usher in a new era for green building management.

Bold goals
Since its inception, the parameters for the LEED system have expanded from being specifically for new construction, to including standards for existing buildings, interiors and building envelope. Up until this year, however, there have been only incremental changes to the system. However as Ian Jarvis, former Chair of CaGBC explained recently, LEED Canada Complete sets out to do more.

“The vision of the (CaGBC) from day one has been the idea of transformation,” he said. “Transformation is not incremental change, it’s not doing a little better each year. It’s stepping back and revisioning what buildings can be, how they’re created, how they’re operated, how they’re renovated. The idea is that if we get buildings right, everything else will fall into place.”

Jarvis, who is also president of the energy consulting firm Enerlife, was addressing the Sustainable Operations Summit, held in October at Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was there to better explain LEED Complete, an initiative that “a lot of people have heard about but very few people understand yet,” he stressed.

He pointed out that “if we were able to cut energy use in housing and commercial buildings in half, the resulting 87 megatons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions would take us halfway to the original Kyoto Protocol goals.” The vision for LEED Complete is to aim for a slightly more modest goal, but still a bold one — to have 100,000 commercial buildings LEED certified and one million LEED certified homes by 2015. The buildings would include schools, hospitals, office buildings, and hotels.  

LEED currently only applies to certain building types, particularly commercial, institutional and multi-residential buildings, and certification is based on predicted performance. The new LEED Complete concept creates a rating system that is applicable to any building type during any stage of its life cycle. It can be a new or existing building, it can be a home or a commercial office building. The aim would be to have a 50 per cent reduction, on average, of energy and water use in buildings from a 2005 baseline.

Jarvis refers to it as “a no regret strategy. The economy grows by investing in buildings. By improving our buildings we get healthier space, productive space, we deal with deferred maintenance, and dramatically reduce water and energy use.”

The CaGBC believes that the new method they are introducing with LEED Complete should encourage school boards, governments and commercial building owners to join a series of pilot projects they are launching in 2008 to further refine the new system.

“It’s a progressive kind of certification,” notes Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of CaGBC. “For a new building, you first get certification after the design is complete — you receive a certain credit for that. You then get a second level of certification after the building is complete and occupied, then you get a third level of certification for operational practices.”

Maintaining momentum
Paul MacLatchy, director of Strategy, Environment and Communications Depart-ment for the City of Kingston, is pleased to see this change in LEED certification. Kingston is keenly observing the green energy and green building market, and has created a corporate energy plan to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Part of that plan is setting LEED certification as a standard for new buildings, and aiming for LEED Silver status for all new municipal structures.

"We fast tracked the endorsement of this plan by City Council because we had a very ambitious capital works program coming up and wanted to make sure we had a rating system in place before we went out to spend $200 million on new building projects,” says MacLatchy. “We were fortunate that council saw the business case for LEED, understood what it would mean in energy cost savings and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, and the quality of indoor space for the people that are going to work and visit there.” At press time, MacLatchy was waiting to hear back about LEED certification for the city’s new police headquarters. A new four-rink recreation complex and a downtown sports and entertainment centre also hope to achieve LEED Silver soon.

“I really think LEED Complete is progressive because it’s not an all-or-nothing deal the way it is now,” MacLatchy notes. “I’m particularly interested in the operations piece of the program. There are probably a lot of projects out there that achieve LEED, but then you put people into them who are used to running their old buildings, and for a whole host of reasons they may not be able to run the systems to the level required to achieve the energy efficiencies that were promised.

“We’re running into that with our new police headquarters, which was completed in September,” he continues. “The police force is now in there, and our maintenance staff is calling us saying, ‘the salt and sand guy is here, can we use salt and sand or is that going to conflict with LEED?’ We are lucky that these operational issues are really top of mind for them right now, they don’t want to do anything that’s going to jeopardize our investment in LEED. It’s a great mindset that not everyone may have once the construction and commissioning team leaves. I like the idea of LEED Complete because it gives you the opportunity to keep the momentum going after the grand opening of a building, and make sure you get what you designed for.”

Better data, continuity
Doug Webber, sustainability practice leader at Halsall & Associates, agrees with MacLatchy on the importance of life cycle management as part of the proposed system. “The new system will rely on actual building performance data to set benchmarks rather than predicted use, and that’s been the single biggest gap in moving the green building agenda forward — we don’t have enough real data. Particularly in respect to energy, we were using modeling and predictive software, which are incredibly valuable tools in the design process, but there’s not enough people who go back to see if what they thought was going to happen did happen.”

Webber points to a study funded by the U.S. Green Building Council that reviewed the performance of more than 100 buildings that had achieved LEED certification in the U.S. as an example of the challenge.

“The averages for the buildings were spot-on where they expected,” he says. “And as you stepped up the different levels of certification, the energy performance got better. But the scatter was huge. So as a system for reducing energy use across the market, LEED is a great product and is doing what it says it can do, but for an individual owner, you might not get what you’re expecting.”

Another benefit Webber sees coming from changes in the system design is that the credit system will create more continuity across building types.

“LEED developed so quickly that different groups went off and developed similar products with a number of differences that shouldn’t be there. Now, new construction, existing buildings, commercial interiors and other building types will use the same language and use similar benchmarks. At the same time, the type of credits you can choose from and that you will be pursuing will be slightly different depending on the type of building. For instance, if you’re working on a hospital, you’ll get a different set of credits to choose from than if you were doing an office building. There are simply different issues in healthcare.

“One of the criticisms of LEED is that it’s one-size-fits-all, and although that’s not entirely accurate, the system was developed for office buildings, so if you’re working on a spec warehouse, all the credits don’t make sense.”

The system will also rate certain credits differently depending on what concerns a certain environment must address. “For instance, if you’re in the Great Lakes Basin, water efficiency, while important, isn’t nearly as important as it is if you’re in the Prairies,” explains Webber. “Again, the program moves away from a one-size-fits-all to one that better reflects the issues in a particular market.”   

Critical mass
To establish the critical mass to get LEED Complete off the ground, and to create the data necessary for baseline measurement, the CaGBC is launching three pilot projects: one in commercial office buildings, one in government administration buildings, and one in schools. The projects will assess the current state of buildings and assist the organizations involved in the pilot achieve LEED certification.

“For the owner, it gives them a better building, for us, we can test LEED Complete — at least in those building types,” says Mueller. “The full program will be introduced in phases over a five-year period. We have a number of provincial governments signed up for the pilots, a number of commercial building owners, and a number of school districts, but we want to establish many more participants in order to have a very solid basis for benchmarks across the country.”

Mueller also noted that three more pilots will likely launch soon, for multi-family residential, social housing, and university campuses. Bank branches and retail could follow shortly thereafter.

The reporting process for LEED is also being revamped at the same time. An online reporting mechanism is being developed, in an attempt to make filing of results simpler.  

But the critical aspect of LEED Complete for everyone talking about it remains the life cycle management aspect, and the education this will demand.

“There are 50,000 school caretakers in Canada,” says Jarvis. “To get the performance we’re talking about from the schools, every one of them needs to be trained in what to do when, and have performance feedback on what they’re doing, so that they know if they’re getting it right.”
Anyone interested in participating in one of the pilot programs can contact the CaGBC at their Ottawa offices by calling 866-941-1184.

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