Surprised Professionals Become LEED Believers

collaborative designFor those who often take part in sustainable buildings, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) can seem like a mature system that has become a notable part of the industry. At the same time, immersion can make it easy to forget that most of the building industry has yet to do a LEED project. Without a doubt, LEED is still a debated issue in the design and building world, but instead of taking part in the hype the best way to form an educated opinion is by actually taking part in a LEED project. Being on a project team can be illuminating the positive qualities of LEED and how their criteria can be refreshing quality control for our work,  even for seasoned professionals.

I recently started working on a new project for a residential condo building in Brooklyn in which the client has confirmed his willingness to pursue LEED for Homes certification. As those who have participated on a LEED project know, achieving LEED status is not the responsibility of any one office or trade, but a coordinated effort that requires attention from the architect, engineers, the contractor and the client combined. Having a LEED kickoff meeting helps to make sure that all parties are aware of their respective roles as well attempting a preliminary estimate of what the building will try to aim for in the LEED scale. In this case, our project will be striving for LEED Silver.

On many of our local projects I have the pleasure of working with Manny Rubiano who handles a large portion of our MEP engineering (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing). Hailing from Bogota, Columbia, Manny is a well-mannered, jovial professional who brings a welcomed taste of humor to the complicated innards of a building. He also has excellent taste in fresh-baked pastries that have at tendency to accompany him to our office for meetings. While a weathered veteran as a part of a building’s design team with over 30 years of engineering experience, this is set to be his first LEED project so his participation in our recent kickoff meeting came with a certain degree of anticipation.

Shortly after the meeting I got a call from Manny where he said, “Tyler, I was pleasantly surprised by the entire meeting!” Having heard his share of naysaying rumors, Mr. Rubiano admitted to coming into this process with a certain degree of sketicism. As a professional whose work revolves around calculations, he can recite both the NYC building code and ASHRAE standards with consistent accuracy. It was fair to expect that someone so learned in systems could cast doubt on a checklist of building measures, but the realities of LEED exceeded his expectations.

“It is clear to see that this goes beyond just paperwork and marketing. I can see what the system is trying to do.” Unsurprisingly, Manny was the most impressed with the balancing and testing of the mechanical systems that LEED for Homes requires in order to assure that it complies with federal EnergyStar standards. “These are the kinds of things that we always ask for but contractors never follow through on!” He commented on how commissioning is key to making sure that systems function as they are designed. Without this important (and often overlooked) step the final performance of the building is up for grabs.

Like the implementation of the LEED system, creating more sustainable buildings is not the responsibility of any one group. Greener buildings cannot only be the result of clients asking designers for a more ecologically responsible project. Architects and engineers have to help educate potential clients of the possibilities that their projects bring with them, but to do that they have to become educated first themselves.  Even after over 30,000 LEED certified buildings with millions of square feet, there is still plenty of educating that has to be done in a variety of trades and professions to bring us all up to speed on raising the standard of our built environment.

Having more architects and engineers with experience results in more clients—of buildings at any scale—that can be better informed. It also means that the cost of doing LEED projects can drop as going through the process becomes more familiar to architects and consultants, helping to whittle down the perceived premium that people have to pay to get a greener building. Even for people that are not building this will mean a reduction in squandered energy and resources.