Green Sustainable Development

This is a bit of a lengthy post but something that has been on my mind for a while and is very active in today’s Construction and Development industry.

Who is USGBC? and what is LEED?  and how did they begin? Is green building and sustainable building a written design specification ? or a goal accomplished through varying designs? or more of a set of ideologies for engineering and design? What is coming for planning, design, and code compliance in the future? Why do some consultants and general contractors call Green the New Gold? and is this a disservice to the party financing the project?

I support energy efficient and sustainable development planning and construction; however, having been a property developer as well as a general contractor I always have had to find a balance between good practices and costs. It is very easy to get caught up in new ideas that can influence the balance in a bad way such as trying too hard to squeeze the costs or over run budgets; both can easily happen. I have taken some time to search,review, and add my personal experiences regarding  green building and sustainability in order to clear up some thoughts on the topic. This post only scratches the surface of  green building and sustainability goals of the building design and construction industry but there should be something helpful here to anyone thinking about these matters and a project they may be considering.

I have been in the construction and development business approaching 4 decades. During this time many methodologies and trends have come and gone while others have changed very little. Several times along the way energy use and energy efficiency was repeatedly one of those trends. That same issue is around today but is covered primarily by the Green Building or Sustainable building label.

Back in the early years of my career there was the push for water heater timers to lower usage of power during the day, set back thermostats, heat recovery units pulling heat for the A/C to heat water and solar panels to heat pools and compliment water heaters. As time passed we had the advent of insulated panel windows, solar films for glass, the push for natural gas or propane, high efficient heat pumps and boiler systems, insulated block forms, recycled newspaper insulation, various block fill insulation, better insulated duct work, duct work in cooled areas, Structural Insulated Panels ( SIPS ), various insulating systems, air barriers, and the list continues to grow.

During the last ten years the topic has moved more towards green building and sustainable building and it is definitely impacting building codes, building designs, and building costs. The organization predominantly referred to today is the United States Green Building Council and its LEED building rating system. Interestingly enough the USGBC was only a fledgling a few years ago. The organization was founded in 1993 as a membership based 501 (c) 3 nonprofit that were to promote sustainability in how building design, construction, and operations could be improved. USGBC is best known for its development of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, referred to as LEED, for its green building rating system. In conjunction with the LEED rating system through its partnership with Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) the USGBC offers a suite of LEED professional credentials that denote expertise in the field of green building. My research revealed that the GBCI was just launched in 2008 which is not even seven years ago and today everyone in the industry refers to it as the standard for green and sustainability certifications for professionals which is kind of surprising. The market place has many outstanding Architects, Engineers, and General Contractors that have been designing and building high quality structures for years. These professionals have been involved in energy efficiencies and systems that  promote structure longevity for a hundred years.

So what is NEW with USGBC?

I continued looking into this background.

Not many realize today that with the launch in 2000 LEED has grown from one rating system for new construction to a comprehensive system of nine or more interrelated rating systems covering all aspects of development and construction. LEED grew quickly from six volunteers on a committee to several hundred several hundred volunteers on twenty committees and a 200 person professional staff. The breadth, depth, and ever encompassing program for green and sustainable building and possible run up of building costs have met some resistance during the last five to six years. Now USGBC is massive and has real overhead and expenses and somehow this organization has to fund all of this bureaucracy. I know what this is like I have worked for small business that has went from 5 million in billings to 80 million annually in just a few years. The operation all of a sudden becomes incredibly serious and you can get pulled from an enjoyable small business to a beast that needs a lot of activity to feed it. The focus becomes how to feed the beast. This growth was surprising to me; what has been created and why so fast?

There are certainly many credits due and many given to USGBC, the LEED rating program as well as GBCI for developing a set of professional certifications. In this research of my questions of who is USGBC and what is LEED one can do just a small amount of research to find out how they developed and how quickly the rating program and its certifications have taken the industry by storm.

There are some misconceptions about the USGBC. First of all it is not by any means the only rating system used in the U.S. but maybe the most well marketed and promoted system with the audience. There is any number of ways to rate or achieve Green building ratings, to build efficient buildings and practice sustainability. It is a matter of what the project’s owner wants to achieve. What is interesting is one has to go back to the design and engineering team to accomplish the task. As I have confirmed USGBC does not design, engineer, nor is it even a set of strict codes.

USGBC and the LEED program’s rapid growth and acceptance have created a sense of building value if a project carries a LEED rating. USGBC created quite a stir with their various ratings systems they developed as they grew in influence including well known Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These ratings were adopted by federal and local governments where setting the examples for Green and Sustainable were great policy examples but the results added up to higher construction costs and there was no Return on Investment as required in the private sector. Just the same many privately constructed ventures have also adopted the LEED ratings into some of their most public ventures. It seems to me this is done due to the sense of value attributed to them and positive public appeal. Whether the value is more related to label appeal rather than true economic return on investment and longevity remains in question and has been challenged by several. Now, I understand why some of these consultants and general contractors say Green is the new Gold because there are added management time and subsequent fees for all involved.

In earnest my research is to just better understand the topic of Green building and Sustainability.

After reading several  articles (LINKS SHARED BELOW) it is clear what the LEED program is not; it is not a building code or a specific design process and really should not be considered as such. It is also not the single source for building green and sustainable but apparently the best marketed source for guidelines to such goals. There are other methodologies and some are code related. Another nationally recognized rating system is Green Globes and their goals are similar but have a different take on some products to be utilized. There is the International Code Council that developed the International Building Code. The ICC is one of the key organizations working to develop green building standards. In 2009, the National Green Building Standard, a collaborative effort by the ICC and the National Association of Home Builders, was approved as an American National Standard for residential construction. The ICC has now teamed with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and ASTM International in the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) initiative. There has been much progress and the 2012 IGCC has been released and a 2015  update is underway. Reaching beyond the limited scope of programs like LEED, the goal is to develop a green code specifically for commercial construction that is specific, reliable and enforceable and reduces or eliminates the need for post -construction certification programs and all the added bureaucracy. The USGBC (the developer of LEED) and the Green Building Initiative (GBI) support the International Green Building Code and reinforces that that such rating systems as LEED and Green Globes were never meant to and cannot replace standard building codes.

The events of developing actual codes are important and in my opinion should be the actual process for developing efficient green and sustainable building practices. The less we have to complicate the process the better with private organizations and costly independent certifications. Having experience in much multi-family development as an owner the goal was always to build the best product possible with the dollars available and to use thoughtful design and engineering and reputable consultants that would deliver on those objectives.

Here are some sites regarding  green building codes:

International Code Council 

International Green Construction Code

Green Building Codes: the alternative to LEED and other rating systems 

NAHB Green

One other interesting area that came up as I was reviewing data about this subject is the legal issues and concerns that build along with a new practice. If a Design Consultant, Engineer, or General Contractor is going to take on a project with one of the various Ratings programs like LEED or Green Globes for example then the parties need to address the desired outcome as well as the added responsibilities with in contractual agreement. Here are some articles I found that address this topic

Green Building Law Update , Construction Law Musings

My post here only scratches the surface; I was interested in looking at what is currently happening in the industry. Should one invest themselves fully in USGBC and LEED projects? As a Contractor should they be concerned about gaining all the certifications for LEED? Holding the various LEED certifications appear to open possibilities for added revenue streams but those will have to be weighed against a company’s capacity, business model and legal risk as well. Design Firms, General Contractors and Construction Managers need be able to discuss the subject of Green and Sustainability in order to offer information so a project owner can make a wise choice and not incur unexpected expense program? As a Building Owner is there a reason to follow the pursuit for gaining a LEED name tag for an asset to be developed to add value or are the costs and efforts not with the possible return on investment. As an project Owner maybe one of the alternative approaches are better.

Are actual written design specifications accompanying and efficiently designed and engineered building more valuable than a plaque in the lobby? I have some opinions on all of this that fit my goals and desires. However; each individual professional or project owner will have to tackle it themselves in a way that best fits their business model and their desires. Whatever or however anyone uses the direction of Green Building or Sustainable Building is individual choice.

Overall the idea to develop and build in an efficient and sustainable way is a worthy cause for everyone.    

You can read more regarding this topic by clicking the links below:


Exography: LEED certification doesn’t guarantee energy efficiency, analysis shows  published by Luke Rosiak of the Washington Examiner , Why LEED Certification is Gaining Importance,The Complex Issue of Green Building, Analysis: Buyer Beware Not All Green Certifications are Created Equal ,Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED Green-Building certification under attack by lawmakers,LEED Backlash,