The notion of sustainable construction as “those materials and methods used to upgrade, construct, and maintain a structure that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” has been percolating through society for some time now. Conscientious and thoughtful architects, engineers, and constructors have been sporadically applying these sustainable or “green” principles for years but only fairly recently has it approached the status of a religion. By religion here we mean, unknown to some, not practiced by many, and devoutly followed by few.
KEEPING THE “GREEN” SCORE
The turn-around for green practices came as a result of the strong promotion of the LEED scoring system created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” program gave commercial design/builders a playing field upon which they could compete for points that ultimately recognized their commitment and ability to create a resource-conservative environment. While initially a rigid scoring system aimed at commercial building, the LEED concept has expanded to a variety of construction types and the formerly rigid application of program guidelines has relaxed in a manner that stimulates application of creativity on thepart of arcitects, engineers, and constructors alike.
The USGBC scoreboard tracks the award of points in six construction areas. There are prerequisites in some of these areas that must be met to even play the game. Once the basics are addressed, points can be accrued in the following areas: sustainable sites dealing with construction site usage, including redevelopment; water efficiency addressing reduction in water usage and waste water technology; energy and atmosphere where issues such as the efficient use of energy, global warming, and renewable energy use are addressed; materials and resources where efforts in the area of construction waste management and resource recycling are assessed; indoor environmental quality including ventilation effectiveness and controllability of systems; and innovation and design processes wherein sustainable issues not already covered by the other areas can be introducedand, if found worthy of merit, can garner points.
Clemson University, a land-grant university in the northwest corner of South Carolina, and striving for recognition as a “top 20” public university, has taken a leadership position in sustainability in the southeast. Clemson has stated that all new projects would seek and achieve LEED certification. The Clemson Advanced Material Research Laboratory (AMRL; Figure 1) sought LEED “Gold” with a proposal that identified 40 points that could be earned.
Figure 1. The Advanced Materials Research
Laboratory in the Clemson University Research
Park carries a silver LEED certification, the first
awarded to a public building in South
Scoring is done by the USGBC based on comparing the proposed building to a “standard” building created in accordance with local codes and practice. Application for certification is made prior to design and awards are made only after the building is complete with the sustainable features in place. This is not only a design exercise but a construction, commissioning, and operational exercise as well. The total project is judged. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of prerequisites that must be met. Once these are met, a total of 69 points can be earned in the areas described above. A platinum rating is awarded if more than 52 points are earned. Goldrequires 39–51 points, silver requires 33–38 points, and “certification” requires26–32 points.
The AMRL proposal identified 40 points that could be earned, hence a goal of “gold.” Whenthe dust settled at the end of the project, a total of 33 points were in factawarded (See Figures 2–5) and the Clemson team came away with a silvercertification; this was the first public building in the state of South Carolinato be so recognized.
Points were earned by completing a series of templates provided by USGBC. In addition to overview information, the templates called for a narrative that describes in detail the approach to be taken in earning points. The narrative is to be supported by data and calculations as appropriate to the points being sought. The judges evaluate the submission and make a determination as to whether or not the case has been effectively made to warrant awarding a point. Final awarding of some points may be held up until the end of the project to insure that the details of the narrative have been incorporated into the project.
GREEN ON A BUDGET
Several issues have to be addressed and overcome in seeking LEED certification. There exists a notion that being “green” means spending “green.” Certainly this has proven to be the case in early efforts at attaining awards. Not every project has a good shot at winning an award. Not every owner has the patience to seek an award. Not every architect, engineer, or constructor has the determination to jump through the appropriate hoops to earn certification. Still, as time goes on, more and more architects, engineers, and constructors see a value in building green. The learning curve is steep initially, but then that is true of most learning curves. Designers and constructors who have gone through the process find the second time easier, the third time easier still, and, before long, they have figured out how to turn a profit by working green. Those firms that have embraced sustainability have learned that it can be done profitably, if done intelligently.
Sustainable design/build should lower operating costs through decreasing energy usage; require smaller mechanical and electrical systems; and require longer maintenance cycles. Sustainable design/build should also lower absenteeism by producing a more healthful environment and provide a more productive work force by maintaining a cleaner, better lighted, more comfortable workplace. Sustainable design/build can result in lower overall project costs first if good planning identifies a menu of “achievable” LEED points, particularly those that enjoy energy, waste, and/or tax incentives.
Less tangible benefits might include a competitive advantage for clients who identify themselves as being “environmentally concerned.” The awarding of LEED certification is still new enough for a project so identified to get special attention in the trade and local press. Free advertising rarely hurts (for either owner or design/build team). Each project contributes to the knowledge base of designers, builders, owners, and government entities. This is a particularly valuable project outcome for some owners in a time of growing concern with all things environmental, including global warming,ozone layer depletion, and natural resource stewardship.
The Clemson AMRL project did not win all points for which it applied. In several instances the case built was deemed insufficient by the USGBC. In other instances, project economics, which looked acceptable at the outset, deteriorated and management decisions led to modifying the project approach, in effect, giving up the points. After all, “green” is not synonymous with “stupid.” It was estimated that at the final gun, the “premium” first cost paid for the silver LEED certification on this project was 3%. It is not unreasonable to expect some, or all, of this premium to be earned back by the operational savings projected. Nor is it unreasonable to chalk up thisamount as the fee required to learn how to play the LEED game.
CLIMBING THE LEARNING CURVE
The Clemson facilities group is positive about the experience and is working on newer and more challenging projects. Several caveats were offered by facilities personnel. It is important to believe in both the process and the notion that environmentally sound solutions, within the LEED guidelines, can be found. This attitude should exist throughout the team and, in fact, should be a criterion in evaluating experience of the architects, engineers, constructors, and managers that will be selected for the project team. A LEED “accredited professional” (AP) should be part of the team, first, because you get a LEED point for this individual and second, because the LEED process is different and requires somewhat unique skills that ought to be on the team initially rather than be acquired as the process unfolds. The process is paperwork intensive and requires organization, attention to detail, and timely submission of information between team members and to the USGBC. The AP should be the center of this organization but all team members should be aware of, and participate in, the process. As the number of projects seeking LEED certification grows, the procedures are being streamlined with increasing use of electroniccommunication. Still, attention to detail is essential.
Figure 4. LEED points were earned for water efficiency through the use of ultra low flow toilets, automatic flush controls, and reduced landscaped area requiring no irrigation.
Completing a project that is built “faster, better, cheaper, and environmentally sound” is our goal. Earning a LEED certification rating is recognition that the goal has been reached. A fear that has been voiced is that LEED certification may become the goal with the result that the project team “chases points.” That is, seeks points at a cost to the project, rather than for the benefit of the project. The AMRL team came to grips with this on several occasions and made decisions that cost points, but enhanced the performance (i.e., cost, budget, and schedule) of the project. With another team on another project, it couldgo the other way.
Figure 5. A reduction of energy usage of 30% over a standard HVAC design earned LEED points. The system incorporated free cooling, variable speed pumping,VAV air handling and DDC controls.
The AMRL is a mixed-use laboratory facility that contains electronic instrument device labs, laser labs, chemistry labs, and cleanroom space. The spacesare both educational and industrial-use laboratories. It is important to note that the LEED certification of the AMRL is for a project that includes landscaped space, office areas, common areas, and other non-technical spaces that are found in a typical laboratory complex. The existing certification procedure addresses many issues that are “commercial” in nature, rather than “high-tech.” The Clemson team demonstrated that a laboratory building can earn many LEED points. Yet, there are still many opportunities for sustainable construction within the laboratory proper. The USGBC continues to refine and expand opportunities for laboratory and “high tech” manufacturing projects to be recognized for employing sustainable design/build practices. Much good work has been done by “Laboratories for the 21st Century” — a joint effort by the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Energy, and members of private industry and academia. This work finds its way into the guidelines published by the USGBC, into the “innovation” point category described above, and into the evaluation process applied by theLEED judges.
The Green Clean Lab need not be our future, it is our present.
Ray Schneider is the Chair of the Department of Construction Science and Management at Clemson University.He can be reached at www.practicaltechonline.com.