Going for the gold is going to be a lot tougher – in the construction industry.
New standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designations are stricter, greater emphasize future performance of the building and could be a lot costlier during construction.
Known as LEED v4 and unveiled in November at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Build event in Philadelphia, the standards are causing construction, development and design industry professionals to re-examine how they gauge sustainability.
On the front lines of the transformation in the green construction industry is an 800,000-square foot industrial warehouse being built by Liberty Property Trust on Emery Street in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII in Bethlehem.
The structure is the first industrial warehouse in the world to be pre-certified gold under the LEED v4 beta program for core & shell and may help shape the way green buildings are rated in the future as LEED v4 becomes the official standard in 2015.
“Liberty has been building LEED buildings for many years, and we decided participating in the beta would help us understand the changes and allow us to provide feedback to make sure things make sense,” said Marla Thalheimer, director of sustainability for Liberty Property Trust.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design was developed in the mid 1990s as a system to rate buildings for their use of sustainable products and energy- and water-saving features.
LEED v4 is a departure from the original system – that was based largely on points received for construction and design – to one that expands the focus to the ongoing performance of the building after completion, said Christa Kraftician, a director at Spillman Farmer Architects in Bethlehem.
LEED v4 is an evolution of the popular green rating system that addressed many of the concerns that builders, manufacturers and building owners have expressed over previous versions of the ratings program. At the same time, it calls on all parties involved in the design, construction and use of the building to strive to reach higher levels of conservation and efficiency.
The new system “looks at how the building is performing over years – over the whole life of the building,” Kraftician said.
As with any major change, there are challenges and some pushback, said Janet Milkman, executive director of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Green Building Council. She said construction firms and manufacturers have expressed concern about meeting some of the more stringent standards that have been set forth in LEED v4 standards.
“There are worries that [some of the standards] are cost prohibitive to the property owner because the energy requirements are so much more stringent,” said Liberty’s Thalheimer. “We also need the market to be able to support the costs.”
But, Kraftician said, one of the main reasons the standards were updated was to challenge those in the green building and manufacturing industries to do more with the growing and changing technology available to them.
Thalheimer agreed about doing more, saying that is why Liberty chose to be a LEED v4 beta tester with its Bethlehem warehouse as well as an office building in Malvern and a second warehouse in Texas.
“We want our buildings to get better and better. LEED is a great market driver,” Thalheimer said.
She said the biggest concerns she has seen are with cost and viability of meeting the new standards.
Her hope is that with beta sites, such as the Bethlehem warehouse, and feedback from firms such as hers, some of the more stringent components of LEED v4 will be more viable by the time they are official in 2015, and costs will come down.
Kraftician said she is a big supporter of the new standards and said any concerns that may exist are outweighed by the benefits LEED will bring to green building.
She noted that LEED v4 answered the concerns that many property owners had in that too much of the existing LEED concentrates on the construction process and not the ongoing life of the building – the main concern of the building owner, the ultimate user of the structure.
“Before, people were just looking at points,” Kraftician said. “It didn’t look at the habits of people and consumption and how they were impacting the overall sustainability.”
She gave a bike rack as an example.
Under existing LEED standards, having a bike rack would count as a point because it encouraged employees to bike to work as a means of alternative, greener transportation.
But, she said, having a bike rack at an office does little to help the environment if no one is using it.
“You have to show that your work site is accessible by bike, or you can’t get credit for it,” she said. For LEED credit, an applicant needs to show people are in fact biking to the building.
Thalheimer said such changes are part of a trend toward making LEED more user friendly to market sectors other than office buildings.
She said there are now components that address the needs of different styles of buildings, such as warehouses – which tend to be in more rural or suburban areas where biking to work is more difficult, but which can find energy savings in other areas.
“There is tailoring to the market sectors that hasn’t been there in the past, and there are a handful of points that are applicable specifically to the warehouse industry. That really helps,” she said.
To be sure, the standards of LEED v4 are far stricter than existing LEED requirements.
“A building that may have achieved a gold in the past might just be a silver now,” Kraftician said.
Thalheimer said, for example, Liberty had to upgrade the heating ventilation and air conditioning system it was installing in its office building under construction in Malvern in order to meet the new LEED v4 requirements. While the upgraded system cost more money up front, Liberty was able to get credits from its electricity provider to help offset those costs, she said.
Kraftician said that while builders and product manufacturers may need to try something new, there also are new and better technologies for them to use. And as more builders use them, the goal is that prices of the more efficient products decline so that building sustainable structures will eventually have lower up-front costs.
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