Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Many Projects Registered for LEED Fail to Lead

Copyright: LeBard / 3 Design Consulting, LLC

By Ed LeBard, Associate AIA | LEED AP

As of April 2009 nationwide, there were 11,597 LEED - New Construction projects registered for the goal of certification and only 1,600 had attained certification, which adds up to a rather low 13.8% of total registrations. Factoring in all other LEED rating systems (i.e. LEED-CI, LEED-CS, etc), there were a total of 8,152 projects registering for LEED certification and only 876 have been certified, resulting in a 10.7% success rate. Combine them all and you get an average success rate of only 12.6%.*

Naturally, like all studies, the results are not exact and oftentimes require backtracking and eventual corrections (i.e. the federal government revising the nation's gross domestic product result from 2 previous quarters to a different number). With the constantly changing LEED versions, many projects transfer into the latest version; some version 2.0 projects switched to become version 2.1 and some version 2.1 switched to version 2.2.

Now with LEED 2009, the construction industry once again has to go through another transition from version 2.2 to LEEDv3. They all represent one looming problem: despite allowing extra leeway time for projects to upgrade to newer versions by as much as 18 to 36 months post - registration, most projects end up failing to reach certification.

There are several reasons for these rather shocking stats and they require us to re-evaluate our intentions and examine new ways to deliver the best product for our clients.

1) Most building owners do not fully understand the benefits of pushing their design teams to forgo the routine "meet, greet and forget" method where architects, engineers and other members of the project team meet a few times and go off on their own way. Owners should instead push heavily for an integrated project delivery approach where all members of the project team exchange thoughtful ideas even between inter-disciplinary members, stay in constant touch and coordinate via building information modeling, update design changes and keep everyone in the loop. The result would be a much more sustainable building for the owner at a cost-effective price. Some owners would object to raising design fee costs as a higher level of coordination would require more attention from the project team. It is one thing to keep in mind that a 10% increase in design fees is still much less than a 1% increase in construction costs for a typical project.

2) Unless there is a LEED consultant involved from the get-go, assigning responsibility for managing LEED documentation can be a nightmare due to confusion on who's in charge of gathering and coordinating the project team on the track for eventual certification. When this occurs, vital data gets lost in the mix, delays could occur and it may slow down the project construction timeframe. Normally if a design firm performs LEED documentation in-house, the responsibility of managing the LEED aspect of the project often falls on the lap of a young designer with little power to demand data / performance from other members of the building project team. Story short: it can get ugly. The best method is to hire a talented LEED consultant with strong project management skills - either contracted to the architect or owner. The LEED consultant should constantly stay in touch and coordinate with every member of the project team until eventual certification.

3) It's a well known secret that many architects, landscape architects, engineers, consultants, contractors, and subcontractors have the habit of performing their duties alone without much interaction. Yet, with the advent of the sustainable movement, more coordination is needed to ensure that buildings attain the level required by stricter energy and water guidelines. The lack of integrated design training for all design and construction team members should be rectified by attending training seminars together.

The project team and owner need to have a realistic expectation of LEED-related costs in both "soft" costs and "hard' costs. Soft costs are anything relating to design, process management /coordination, and documentation. Hard costs are additional net capital expenditures relating to project budget; so the owner and project team have to make sure the budget covers money for both capital cost increases and LEED documentation.

Developers and owners should hire those project teams with strong LEED experience if they want the best results. However, it is the tendency of institutional owners to hire teams with which they have had lot of experience although those teams may not yet have performed LEED projects. To successfully design and build a LEED project, having the right people on board is important and none is more vital than the owner. If the delivery method allows for the general contractor to come on board early, add him as he will provide invaluable advice as the project team moves through the process. General contractors can help with constructability issues, input on cost and schedule analyses.

In the end, successful LEED certification comes down to hiring the right people, the right attitude towards green savings from the owner down to the subcontractor, close coordination among team members (think integrated design approach), and following through from pre-design to substantial completion and certification. Taking this approach will help the project team and owner successfully have their building verified and publicly approved by the U.S. Green Building Council.

*"Green Building Facts: Green Building by the Numbers"-USGBC via

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