We sat down with Tracye Wynn AIA, LEED AP and Design Manager for BL Harbert’s International Group about the future of LEED. As an international contractor and green builder, we often have clients who are looking to build sustainable facilities. However, some clients come to us asking about the benefits, longevity and cost effectiveness of green building. We see this as an opportunity for our clients to build better buildings and leave a legacy to create sustainable and healthy structures. Tracye manages all LEED certifications on our overseas projects and is an expert in the subject matter. Check out her perspective in the future of LEED.
Kermit says, “It’s not easy being green,” but that’s changing rapidly in the evolving world of environmentally friendly construction. Yet some construction professionals remain reluctant to adopt green building strategies. They question whether green building is just a passing fad. There is also a general sense that green building is more expensive than conventional construction.
Green building is growing in part because government entities are beginning to mandate some form of green building for new construction. These agencies rely heavily on programs like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as a standard for required construction practices. Projects evaluated under the LEED system are awarded points based on several categories:
- Integrating energy- and water-efficient systems
- Utilizing recycled building materials
- Purchasing building supplies manufactured locally and in environmentally sensitive ways
- Utilizing natural airflow and ambient light
- Reducing stormwater runoff
- Using nontoxic adhesives and paints
Building owners and contractors often presume that integrating green building technology is expensive, but when adopted during the design stage the project costs are comparable to traditional construction. Recent data also demonstrate that the savings resulting from resource efficiency buildings can be substantial. Green buildings can reduce energy costs up to 30 percent over conventional buildings. Techniques to decrease energy use include high-performance fixtures, windows that open, efficient use of ambient light and solar power, increased insulation, and high-efficiency HVAC units. Generally, these techniques are easily integrated into a project at the design stage, can be constructed affordably, and do not require uncommon technical expertise to utilize. Additional savings can be realized through reducing water usage. Green buildings have been shown to use up to 50 percent less water.
Combined with the potential for reduced maintenance costs associated with newer equipment, these measures can increase the value of a building significantly. One study estimated that adopting green building techniques may increase a building’s 20-year present value by up to $50 per square foot. Finally, integrating interior furnishings and finishes that do not emit gas or other pollutants (i.e., low VOC paint) are believed to reduce the threat of sick-building claims and increase worker productivity.
As with all new ideas, there are potential risks associated with green building. The cost premium for integrating green building techniques after the project is under construction can be steep; the savings discussed earlier are most likely to be realized when the owner, design professionals, and contractors begin with the idea of utilizing high performance and energy-efficient systems and technology. Also, some of the technologies being used to reduce energy costs are innovations with short market histories. It can be difficult to assess the possibility of product defects or problems related to unproven technology.
However, assuming that building owners continue to see the financial and environmental benefits of green development, the green building trend will continue to grow.
The next step for LEED is LEED v4.1. For the last 18 years, the various versions of LEED have pushed the global green building market forward, with more than 93,000 registered and certified projects and a total of 19.3 billion square feet of space used worldwide. With each new version, LEED attempts to raise the bar to increase the impact on our built environment. LEED v4.1 is not a full version change, but rather an incremental update to the LEED rating system, slated to be the most inclusive and transparent platform to date.