LEED green building standard clears first hurdle for governmentwide use

Thursday - 5/2/2013, 5:47am EDT

Kevin Kampschroer, director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, GSA

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The Green Building Advisory Committee is solving a long-standing problem when it comes to measuring progress on just how green the government is and will be.

The committee is recommending to the General Services Administration that the LEED standard should be the main way to tell how well agency buildings use energy and water, and are overall efficient.

Kevin Kampschroer, the director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings at GSA, said the committee's recommendations come from a study of more than 160 tools and standards. The study found only three of them addressed the entire building system.

Kevin Kampschroer, director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, GSA

"The Green Building Advisory Committee has been looking at this for almost a year-and-a-half now and they made a recommendation to GSA that from the committee's point of view, the use of LEED was most conducive to meet the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act," he said. "There are a whole series of areas about buildings. It's energy efficient. It's water efficient. It's indoor environmental quality, and all of these things lead to what a holistic building is. I try to remind people that there is a reason for measuring this stuff in buildings and that's because people use buildings. What we are trying to do across the federal government is make the benefits of buildings to the people in there as high as possible."

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is a voluntary standard overseen by the Green Building Council that is based on points for taking specific steps to lower a building's carbon footprint and address the wellness of the occupants. Since 2010, GSA has been requiring new federal buildings to be LEED Gold certified.

An interagency group made four recommendations and GSA released them in February for public comment through the Federal Register.

  • An agency should select the green building certification system that best suits its mission and portfolio needs.

  • The federal sector should formalize a process to maintain currency with the evolution of green building certification systems and underlying standards.

  • Green building certification systems maintain robust integrated frameworks of performance metrics, standards and conformity assurance aimed at evaluating building performance. These systems are kept current with market developments, including maintenance of professional training and accreditation systems for designers, engineers, auditors and assessors to ensure professionals maintain their expertise in the evolving market.

  • Green building certification systems currently serve as a bridge both in supporting the transformation to high-performance within the federal portfolio, and in harmonizing federal green building activities with the private sector. The government should work with green building certification system owners to develop better alignment with agency requirements and needs while continuing the federal government's role in market leadership.

GSA received more than 400 comments from 162 stakeholders, including academia, construction companies, state and local government agencies, and federal agencies on the suggestions.

The comments, which GSA will post later this spring, generally supported the four key concepts, especially around adopting an existing third-party certification system instead of building a new one. But the one area where there wasn't agreement on was whether the government should adopt one standard or multiple standards, or give agencies the flexibility to use the green building system standard that meets their individual needs.

Nuanced debate

For example, some agencies, such as the Veterans Affairs Department, have both office space and hospitals and one standard may not be appropriate for both types of buildings.

Kampschroer said the debate at the committee meeting was part of this nuance that will need to be solved.

"One of the things the federal government is very clear about is we use these as a really effective way to measure what the federal government specifies, but they are not the specification," he said. "Different agencies have different forms of expressing those specifications. In many cases, we will refer to standards. There are a whole slew of standards about what should go on buildings, and then there are state and local building codes, and depending on the environment we adopt those by reference as well. That's the requirement for what gets done. Then green building certification systems are one of the means by which you measure what you specified."

The committee decided by a vote of 10-6 with one abstention to have GSA strongly encourage the use of the LEED standard across the government.

Several committee members and industry representatives were concerned with encouraging LEED.

William Hall, an attorney with Venable representing the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, said choosing one standard creates a monopoly and that could lead to increased costs, less innovation and less flexibility.

He said the Green Globe standard, which is used mainly by the travel and tourism industry, and LEED were comparable in performance across existing and new buildings, according to the GSA study.

"Green Globe was developed closely with the ANSI process," Hall said. "There are questions whether LEED is built on consensus standards and is transparent."

Kampschroer said industry has expressed concerns previously in the comments submitted as part of the Federal Register notice. He said GSA is reviewing remarks and will incorporate them in the recommendations going to GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini.

He said Tangherlini will review the recommendations and send them to Energy Department Acting Secretary Daniel Ponemon by mid-summer.

Ponemon will work with Tangherlini, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other agency experts to come to a final decision based on the recommendations.

"You will see that the richness and nuance of our recommendations, the secretary will incorporate those comments and ideas," Kampschroer said.

The decision to go or not go with LEED is one piece of a large effort across government to become more green. The Obama administration has pushed agencies to be more sustainable and energy efficient over the last five years.

In fact, GSA announced earlier this week that 15 of its buildings met the benchmarks for the 2012 Energy Star National Building Competition and saved the government $961,470 through efficiencies.

Two of GSA's facilities achieved energy reductions of more than 30 percent and made it into the top 10 rankings in a competition that included more than 3,000 schools, businesses and government buildings nationwide. The Martin Luther King Jr. federal courthouse in Newark, N.J., achieved a 36.8 percent energy savings and the San Antonio federal building achieved 34.4 percent savings. GSA says it had 13 more buildings that were remarkably strong competitors in this contest and reduced energy consumption by at least 20 percent.

Driving waste, costs out of buildings

"Across the federal government, we are looking to drive cost and waste out of the system," Kampschroer said. "We're also trying to get toward energy independence, and a reduction in the consumption of energy and its costs. Energy Star is a terrific measure because it measures you against all of your like buildings in a like geography. What it really represents in the case of these buildings is the local people looking at everything you do to drive costs down. That means working with the tenants in the building, looking at what kinds of loads in the building, who is using what and how do you incorporate what you are doing as a building manager with what the tenants are doing."

He said one recent example of this effort of tenant-building manager communication involved an agency running its building systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But through conversations, they were able to reduce it to 16 hours a day, six days a week.

"If you don't have a really integrated look at the building, looking at how you are losing heat, how you are gaining heat, what your insulation is, what the mechanical systems are doing, and mostly what the people are doing inside the building, it's the integration that makes you really excel in this," he said. "That's what we are seeing across the board in the government."

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