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LEED has Legs in Northeast Florida
By: Inka Finley, MBA, Marketing Manager at Auld & White Constructors, LLC

LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and is an internationally-recognized green building standard and certification. Created by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998, LEED® provides certification that a building meets sustainability standards based on a rating system. LEED points evaluate a building’s green performance. Among others, criteria include water and energy efficiency, materials and resource choices, reuse and recycling of materials, and indoor air quality. A point scale determines the level of certification of a building - Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. In addition to the certification level, there are various rating systems applied based on the building type. Types include new construction, existing buildings: operations & maintenance, commercial interiors, core & shell, schools, retail, healthcare, homes and neighborhood development.

Northeast Florida has seen a large increase in the amount of green construction since the first building, a 150,000 sq. ft. office space located in Jacksonville, FL, was LEED certified in 2006. Since then, 55 more buildings (including seven residential) in and around the North Florida area have been certified according to data obtained by the U.S. Green Building Council North Florida Chapter (the North Florida Chapter is comprised of 11 counties). However, more compelling detail is revealed when looking at the increase in commercial LEED® buildings. Since January 2010, there has been a 264% increase in LEED certified commercial buildings in the area. In the last 5 months alone, 8 commercial buildings have been certified, notably at a much more rapid rate than the previous six years.

The concept of sustainable construction has undoubtedly caught on; entities in the area, both public and private, such as the University of North Florida, Mayo Clinic, Community First Credit Union of Florida, City of Jacksonville and other businesses are requiring LEED expertise when going through the procurement process for new construction and renovation projects. In 2008, the City of Jacksonville completed the Animal Care & Protective Services facility, a LEED Gold certified building that won numerous design and construction awards from the American Institute of Architects and Associated Builders and Contractors. In November, 2008, former City of Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton signed an Executive Order, establishing a Sustainability Policy for the City of Jacksonville. As part of this Executive Order, all new municipal building construction and major renovation are required to achieve the appropriate LEED certification. The Executive Order also requires all existing and future municipal buildings to be maintained and operated according to the LEED for Existing Buildings checklist. (Source U.S. Green Building Council North Florida Chapter).

The Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce (JAXChamber) is in the middle of the design phase for a renovation of the existing Chamber building. Ultimately the goal is to achieve LEED Certification – setting an example and continuing the green movement in Downtown Jacksonville and surrounding areas. The North Florida Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is also in the design phase of a project that will house the North Florida Sustainability Resource Center (SRC) in Downtown Jacksonville with a vision to provide a resource that educates and inspires the general public, the business community and decision makers on sustainability. The facility will house innovative green building and sustainability living demonstrations, a library and a training space. When completed, the SRC will seek LEED Platinum certification.

The “green” movement has undoubtedly taken off in Northeast Florida. “There are so many different stories around sustainable construction”, says Sarah Boren, LEED AP Homes & BD+C Executive Director of the U.S. Green Building Council, North Florida Chapter. “When construction firms promote green building, their subcontractors and suppliers are exposed to it, essentially greening the entire supply chain.”

In 2009, the Jacksonville City Council adopted Ordinance 2009-2011, creating the Jacksonville Sustainable Building Program and requiring all new municipal buildings and major renovations to existing municipal buildings to achieve LEED Certification. The program also offers numerous incentives to new residential and commercial buildings that achieve LEED certification including expedited permitting, density bonuses, and grants of up to $1,000 to cover to costs of certifying the project. (Source: U.S. Green Building Council North Florida Chapter)

Since the increase in LEED projects over the past several years, A/E/C firms in Jacksonville have answered to the need to provide expertise in sustainable construction. More and more technical professionals such as construction project managers, architects and engineers continue to obtain LEED Accredited Professional certifications because their firms insist on it. “Getting green projects under your belt is necessary to meet market demands and to stay competitive on an individual level” states Eric Hickox, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Pre-Construction Services at Auld & White Constructors. As of May 2012, there are 881 LEED Accredited Professionals in an 11-county area around Jacksonville, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, North Florida Chapter.

Auld & White Constructors, a Jacksonville-based, 100-person construction firm has been able to differentiate itself by providing sustainable construction expertise to clients. Project managers and technical staff of the firm are required to obtain LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) certification. Currently over half of Auld & White’s project managers and technical staff are LEED APs. If they are not, they are studying hard to obtain the certification in 2012. Auld & White President, Edward W. White, Jr. realized the need to obtain expertise in “green” construction. Since the emergence of LEED construction in Jacksonville in 2006, Auld & White has completed 14% of the total number of commercial LEED projects in the region. Currently Auld & White has four LEED projects under construction and three additional completed projects awaiting certification.

“It is definitely not a fad. Requiring LEED certification is becoming more and more common with our clients and I want to be sure we are ready for this change in the marketplace. We have repositioned our firm in the last year as a response to what’s important to our clients. One of the key differentiators is our expertise in sustainable construction”, states Ed White. Auld & White saw the need to include sustainable construction expertise in its branding. When the firm began a rebranding project in the fall of 2011, a conscious decision was made to include a “green” element. A green leaf signifying expertise and experience in LEED® construction was incorporated into the firm’s tagline and officially rolled out at the firm’s bi-annual company meeting in May 2012.

Auld & White routinely advises clients on green or “best” practices. Even if a project is not seeking LEED certification, Auld & White’s project managers and superintendents collaborate with clients to determine efficiencies or opportunities to recycle, reuse and divert from landfills. “Construction waste such as ceiling tiles, carpet and light fixtures during renovation projects can easily be recycled or reused without incurring additional costs. It is just the right thing to do”, states Ed White. During a recent 9-floor demolition project in a high rise building in Downtown Jacksonville, Auld & White worked with the client to divert 87% of the construction waste from landfills. Specifically, 100% of the carpet, ceiling tiles and light fixtures and 78% of metal and construction debris were recycled. Millwork, cabinets and doors were donated for reuse. “Recycling and reusing was very important to that client”, states Kevin Thompson, project superintendent. “We worked the logistics into the project schedule. It didn’t cost anything. Our client was more than happy with the results and we were able to help out our community with the donations. It made us feel good to do something like that.”

In 2009 Auld & White collaborated with long-time client Community First Credit Union of Florida (CFCU) on a case study to examine long-term financial gains from LEED construction. Having constructed several bank branches for the credit union, Auld & White and CFCU worked together to compare two identical bank branches - one LEED, the other constructed by means of “conventional” methods – a golden opportunity that doesn’t often arise. After examining energy consumption, water consumption and operating costs, it became evident that LEED makes a lot of sense, especially in the long-term.

Utility costs for the LEED-certified facility during its first year of operation were 33 percent less than those for the Conventional Branch. This yielded annual savings of $5,600 for CFCU, with $5,070 of the total dollars saved stemming from decreased electrical costs. Designing and constructing the Green Branch cost the credit union $40,373 more than the Conventional Branch, an increase of 3.5 percent. Construction costs comprised $12,300 of the additional cost, including premium HVAC, plumbing and electrical equipment, fixtures upgrades, skylights, and millwork upgrades. Other “LEED costs” include administration and design fees including registration, certification review, commissioning services, energy modeling, construction LEED supervision and administrative costs. However, the operational savings at the newer branch put CFCU on target to recoup this initial expense within seven years. Since the LEED-certified branch has a projected lifespan of 25-28 years, CFCU stands to realize net savings of between
$100,800 and $117,600 from their decision to build green – even if utility rates remain flat. Given the fact that utility rates will almost certainly increase, those savings will become even more valuable over time.

The Northeast Florida marketplace has shifted during the tough economic times of recent years. In addition to fewer projects getting off the ground, project types have changed. There are more renovations than new construction projects, traditionally yielding less revenue for construction firms. However, there’s a “green” way to look at this change. A giant opportunity exists to promote business by promoting recycling and reusing construction waste during renovation projects and in general. After all, the impact of our buildings, either in their construction or their operations, on the environment is tremendous. Our buildings use roughly 60% of our electricity each year, and use up 30% of our nation’s total energy consumption according to the U.S. Green Building Council.. 

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