Sunday, April 24, 2011

April AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Summer Gorder, LEED AP BD+C (my photo)

The success of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system has certainly surpassed its creators’ wildest dreams. Since 1998, LEED has become the de facto metric for establishing a building’s green credentials. Thousands of projects spanning the globe have achieved Basic, Silver, Gold, or Platinum certification. LEED has spurred or spawned entire industries, including a burgeoning new breed of LEED consulting services.

AIA-SWO’s April chapter meeting featured the dynamic Summer Gorder, LEED AP BD+C, president of eco:REAL LLC. eco:REAL offers a wide array of LEED certification services, from preliminary feasibility assessment through LEED project administration, whole building energy analysis, and specification & submittal review services. eco:REAL is part of design collective 202, a Portland-based collaborative group of architects, interior designers, engineers, and contractors that bridge disciplines to provide integrated building solutions.

Summer pursued an interest in sustainable design and construction throughout her studies in the Department of Architecture at the University of Oregon. Following graduation, she landed a position with Sienna Architecture during the firm’s halcyon days. Her portfolio while there included experience with a Living Building project in Oregon and a neighborhood development in Dubai targeted for LEED certification. Unfortunately, a perfect storm of circumstances led to the demise of Sienna in early 2009. Summer was unemployed but undeterred. She quickly founded eco:REAL to capitalize upon her knowledge base and fill a need in the construction industry for a thoroughly integrated approach to sustainability. Today, eco:REAL offers services to not only the design community, but also other construction and development-related businesses, non-profit organizations, and public agencies.

Summer’s presentation to AIA-SWO described how LEED has evolved over the years. Because the USGBC operates using broad-based consensus processes, LEED continues to improve with the input of its membership. The rating system is now much more comprehensive than when it began, broadening to include a suite of nine rating systems for the design, construction and operation of buildings, homes and neighborhoods. It is also increasingly user-friendly in response to well-founded criticism regarding the cost and complexity of the certification process.

Summer focused upon LEED’s most recent incarnation, v3 (also referred to as LEED 2009). Its noteworthy revision was to simplify the point scale such that there are 100 possible base points plus an additional 6 points for Innovation in Design and 4 points for Regional Priority. The Regional Priority points were added to address concerns that LEED was not appropriately site or climate-specific (architects could too easily make material or design choices to garner LEED points even though they might be unsuitable for the project). With LEED v3 buildings can qualify for four levels of certification:
  • Certified: 40 - 49 points
  • Silver: 50 - 59 points
  • Gold: 60 - 79 points
  • Platinum: 80 points and above
As with previous versions of LEED, points are distributed across credit categories for Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. Prerequisites in each category receive no points and are mandatory for all projects.

LEED v.3 incorporates five overarching categories corresponding to specialties available under the LEED Accredited Professional program. Those categories are:
  • Green Building Design & Construction
  • Green Interior Design & Construction
  • Green Building Operations & Maintenance
  • Green Neighborhood Development
  • Green Home Design and Construction
According to Summer, the USGBC intends to continuously upgrade LEED every two years or so. The next version is anticipated to be LEED 2012. Among the expected changes will be an attempt to encourage expanded reporting of whole building performance with a focus upon operations by including specific prerequisites for metering. Other possible changes include an expansion in the number of credit categories (from 7 to 10) and prerequisites (from 9 to 15), and greater alignment with other rating systems and requirements. The changes could include new credits for use of reclaimed wood, walkable streets, reduced automobile dependence, and low vehicle miles traveled.(1) The process to introduce LEED 2012 involves public commentary followed by ratification of a final draft by the USGBC membership.

Each iteration of LEED adjusts to the raising of the sustainability bar. Summer noted that LEED Silver has become the baseline level of certification for many public agencies. From an energy consumption standpoint, basic certification barely registers above code as state governments ratchet up minimum standards. Future versions of LEED will undoubtedly reflect this raising of expectations.

As someone who has not yet pursued LEED credentials, I was surprised to learn that the professional accreditation process is no longer directly administered by the USGBC. Instead, the independent Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) is responsible for managing all aspects of the LEED professional accreditation program, including exam development, registration, and delivery. It oversees a catalog of LEED professional credentials, including LEED Green Associate, LEED Accredited Professional (+ specialties), and LEED Fellow.

A major shortcoming of GBCI’s credential maintenance program is that many educational sessions that offer AIA Sustainable Design credits will not necessarily qualify as GBCI CMP credit hours. At the moment, the only GBCI-approved education reviewing body is the USGBC; thus, the only SD credits offered by the AIA that would qualify for GBCI credential maintenance are those authored by the USGBC. Summer was not confident that the GBCI would soon approve the AIA as another education reviewing body. Certainly, the AIA would have to appreciably increase the rigor by which the SD designation is applied to educational offerings under its sanction.

Summer pointed out that we must think of “green” as a thought process and not a prescription. LEED alone does not assure that a project is truly sustainable. LEED is merely the low-hanging fruit, a fundamentally limited means by which to measure the green merits of a project. The rating system’s greater value may prove to be the degree to which it has and continues to raise awareness of the building sector’s impact upon the global environment. In this regard, the work of Summer Gorder and her colleagues at eco:REAL is vitally important. The world needs more eco-evangelists like Summer, professionals who are spreading the gospel of LEED to the widest possible audience.

(1) I’ve always thought it is absurd that projects sited on greenfields many miles from urban centers can secure high levels of LEED certification without concomitant penalties for their total dependency upon travel by automobile.

No comments: