I was recently invited to participate on a panel of LEED Project Managers at an event hosted by Recollective Consulting, a green building firm in Vancouver BC. Panellists were asked to share their tips, tricks and lessons on LEED Project Management, and while this is a Canadian perspective, the principles hold true across the border. The following are my top three lessons learned, in reverse order (David Letterman style):
3. Too narrow a view of LEED. The rating system is open to interpretation, but I have often observed green building consultants in meetings state with confidence what is and isn’t allowed, based on what’s written in the reference guides. As one of the editors of the LEED Canada reference guides I can say that they were not intended to (nor could they possibly) cover all scenarios that might arise on a project. There is a reason that the “intent” of each credit and prerequisite comes before the technical requirements – it describes the overarching goal to be pursued – and its possible to meet the intent of the credit in a manner that couldn’t either be foreseen, or included, in the rating system. Design and construction practitioners can be creative in how they meet the intent (I don’t mean “creative” like “creative accounting” on your tax return). As an example, the University of Victoria uses “recycled” aquarium water from one of their fresh water fish research facilities to offset potable water use for irrigation and toilet-flushing on their campus. Of course aquarium water is not listed as an alternative water source in LEED. Similarly, the Surrey Transfer Station, one of the first projects in British Columbia to certify under LEED, used the light entering from their large overhead doors to meet the requirements for daylight in the space. This is something that is specifically disallowed in LEED, because doors can be closed and the access to daylight is lost – however the Transfer Station has a policy that during operation, the overhead doors must always be open, and the USGBC accepted the policy as proof that the credit intent was met.
2. Thinking the CaGBC (or USGBC) is a black box. Anyone who works as a LEED Project Manager is familiar with the formal methods of communication with the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), such as project submissions and Credit Interpretation Requests, or “CIRs”. However the CaGBC is much more approachable than most realize. If you have a question about the rating system and how to apply it to your project, and can’t find the answer in the reference guides, on the web site, or in posted CIRs, you can just send the question to email@example.com (do your homework first, the CaGBC doesn’t appreciate questions from consultants where the answer is obvious). The LEED staff will answer the question if they can, and if they can’t, only then will you be directed to submit a CIR. The same is true of certification submission reviews. While it’s true that the CaGBC review team remains anonymous in order to keep the LEED third party validation credible, if you receive a review and don’t understand one of the comments, you can ask the CaGBC for clarification, and they will liaise with the reviewer on your behalf.
1. Forgetting that a LEED project is about the people, not the building. In this profession we’re often obsessed with points and building performance. You may be able to achieve a LEED Platinum certification, but if the consultants and contractors who worked on the project are disenchanted with the process, or the facilities manager who inherits the building isn’t consulted on the building systems during design and subsequently doesn’t manage these systems properly, then we’ve failed. Its more important to have the people who work on the project buy-in to sustainability than to achieve the highest level of certification, because those people will continue on to work on other projects, and their past experience will determine whether they embrace green building, or try to convince an owner it isn’t worth it. While it’s a joy to work on projects and see skeptics become advocates of green building, it’s heartbreaking to see the mismanagement of the process turn people away from sustainable design and construction.
I hope these observations will be helpful to those who are navigating their way through LEED projects, and that while sitting in that meeting talking about the score card, you remember the spirit in which the rating system was intended to be used – one of creativity, openness and inclusivity.