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Convincing the Owner to go LEED®
By Robert Miller

What does LEED® cost? You know it is coming: dollars always seem to be the foremost concern. It inevitably becomes the focus within moments of entering a discussion about Green design. There is an ironic hope in the problem itself; rising fuel costs and the increased awareness of global warming has made sustainability a much easier sell. 

Financial payback comes in many forms. Educational institutions and commercial ventures are seeing a rising number of promising candidates who will base their choice on the institutions value systems. Recycling programs, Green building, healthy lifestyles, and even responsible portfolio investments are important criteria for the new generation of applicants. 

Ballard Library was completed in 2005 without LEED® certification for $6,500,000 or $260 a sq. ft. If one calculates in the sale of property made possible through thoughtful building siting the cost per sf is $196. It has been labeled one of the greenest buildings in Seattle.Frenzied marketing campaigns attempt to spin everything from vinyl to Hummers as Green solutions, but as people are becoming educated about Green design they no longer accept hollow promises. Owners increasingly demand sustainable strategies are integrated thoughtfully into strong design solutions that will be appreciated and cared for over generations. The soft costs associated with LEED® are lowering due to simplified documentation, increased knowledge, and availability of information. Commissioning, once seen as a cost deterrent, now demonstrates value to the Owner. These changes have allowed increased access to LEED® as a valuable tool to help Owners validate their efforts within the public arena.

LEED® promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Familiarity with these sustainable strategies provides architects with necessary tools to create thoughtfully integrated design. We believe the most important of all LEED® credits are those for innovation. We ask: How will this project affect the future? Buildings that educate, generate, and are valued by the community are the current golden ring. 

The cost of building sustainably is lowering and Green buildings now have a proven track record of increased property values. Every year more products are available at prices competitive with traditional products. Contractors are becoming familiar and comfortable with sustainable strategies. Through greater affordability and faster paybacks through decreased operating costs we hope that sometime soon we will need to ask “what would it cost NOT to build Green?” 

Seattle City Hall was designed through a set of environmental values which led to surpassing the goal of LEED® Silver and achieving LEED Gold.Is LEED® necessary? In a perfect world we would all be making educated decisions based on a strong code of ethics and moral values that would assure Green design as the norm for any project. For any set of guidelines it is difficult to keep up with the rapidly expanding product availability and knowledge base. It is important to remind ourselves that LEED® was designed as a tool to compare buildings based on specific criteria. Unfortunately many people have tried to utilize the system as a design checklist to obtain as many points as possible for the least effort and lowest cost. While this has caused some to be skeptical of the system, I believe all agree that LEED® has served us well in raising the public’s awareness. It has simplified the comparison of individual buildings in a way that the competitive nature of the industry has taken over to propel it forward. Each institution wishes to meet or exceed the rating of the last. This energy needs to be harnessed by industry professionals and utilized to bring the next generation of solutions to Green design. Owners are increasingly aware that Green design is rapidly becoming a datum point upon which they are being judged. Even owners skeptical of the LEED® system and associated costs are asking that Green design be incorporated when possible. They are recognizing that integrity equals profitability in the new Green economy. 

LEED® criteria will become increasingly stringent as our awareness, options, and experience increase. It is important to grow our knowledge as the system grows to maintain our place as leaders in our fields. Like any other practice, efficiency comes with familiarity. Familiarity with sustainable strategies provides architects with additional tools toward thoughtful design. Green solutions should rise to the top as second nature. 

For us, we chose to place our soap box in Seattle. Regional influences undoubtedly open opportunities for Green buildings like the Ballard Library to take root. Public support for Green design has a majority voice and resonates throughout the City. Successes in regions like this provide opportunities for projects in more conservative locations to review these successes and compare dollars spent against real results to build confidence to move forward and ahead of the pack. 

PEEC Environmental Center involved the client and user in clean up efforts which led to demonstration projects such at this wall of tires that not only educates but served to bond several generations of users during the process.What if my client cannot support a cutting edge design? No impact is too small. Simple choices can make incremental impacts on the environment. There are simple “no cost” alternatives that provide greener buildings. Thoughtful material choices can provide healthier indoor environments. Selecting materials that are manufactured locally keeps money local, builds community pride in a project, reduces carbon production, and can save money, including decreased shipping costs. Strategies such as prefabricating building components in a factory where off-cuts and waste can be effectively recycled in reasonable quantities can also benefit the owner with increased quality, faster construction, and decreased manpower requirements on site. Impacts that are more difficult to quantify are productivity and health benefits, however research continues to prove surprising results. 

So how do I convince an Owner to build LEED®? First, consider the alternative viewpoint to build thoughtful responses to the inevitable questions that will come up during your discussions. A prepared architect not only will be able to maintain his or her values but also open additional possibilities that are beyond the immediate perceptions of the project. Making value judgments with the Owner that have the most beneficial impact on the environment and inhabitants will inevitably lead to certification. The strength of your commitment and your ingenuity will determine the level of impact you have on future generations. We need the power of a grass roots effort. One individual educating a dozen others, who each educate a dozen more, resulting in awareness of the necessity for Green design to be spread exponentially.

Lastly, we all watch with keen interest the rising phenomenon of globalization. The United States is currently trailing Europe and Asia in the sustainable design movement. The majority of what we discuss as Green design is already commonplace in Europe. China is consulting with the leading experts from all international sources as well as continually pushing themselves to do more. We have boldly labeled our system of measurement “Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design.” For us to tout ourselves as leaders we must truly lead. The world can only benefit by all nations innovating, consulting and sharing information with each other. We have the resources and knowledge available to innovate and set a higher bar for both environmental design and values. Change begins with us; it is our professional and social responsibility to lead our clients to make informed and responsible decisions in how we choose to build.

About the author: Robert Miller, AIA, LEED AP is a senior associate of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, of Seattle, Washington. The company website is www.bcj.com


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