Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Part 2: LEED Certification: Is it Worth It?

Before we wrap up this week's LEED discussion with our verdict on Friday, we had the chance to discuss some of our questions with an expert. We sat down with Emile Chin-Dickey, a principal of Zero Energy Design, a green-focused architectural design and mechanical engineering firm based in Boston, to gather some professional insight into our queries.

Llenrock Blog (LB): What are the cheapest features of building green for a developer to implement? Most Expensive?

Emile Chin-Dickey (ECD): This type of question is best answered with an "it depends." For example, it depends on whether this question is asked for a new or existing building. For an existing building, it depends on how old it and its systems are, whether tenants will be occupying spaces or not (which would prevent envelope upgrades). For example, we did a feasibility study on a 128,000 sf building in FL that had recently replaced their chiller and upgraded to an energy management system which resulted in a 1/3 reduction in their electricity use. This was the best option for them because it didn't require major disruption of their 40+ tenants. In new construction, the general approach is to invest in efficiency measures before energy production features (i.e. renewables). This approach prioritizes more mundane things like walls, insulation, windows, etc. and puts the more "sexy" things like PV at the bottom.

LB: Is the LEED point system conducive to enhancing overall value for the developer? Is there a way, in your eyes, to improve the system?

ECD: LEED as a framework is great for thinking in terms of building design and using it as the definition of "green". Unfortunately, green means different things to different people, but USGBC, through LEED, serves to standardize the definition as it applies broadly across a wide range of areas (from operational impacts, like energy use, to human factors, like daylighting). Its value is in being a standard definition of "green".

However, at the end of the day, for a developer it still comes down to what the bottom line impact is. I have seen studies that point to LEED buildings commanding higher rents, so perhaps there is some value there. LEED will become more valuable as the benefits of its credits can be better quantified for the developer. This will come over time. LEED is still in its adolescent stages. For example, one of the big problems of the previous LEED versions was an internal problem--the seeming disconnect between credit ratings and the percieved environmental impact. The recent LEED 2009 update serves to resolve some of those problems. As LEED matures, its value to developers will grow.

LB: In a tough economy, which type of green ( cost-cutting or green building sustainable savings) do you see winning out in the short and long run, and why?

ECD: In the tough economy I think the features that have tangible impacts on operational expenses will win--generally anything that reduces energy costs would fall into this category. Paying a premium for a product that has a higher recycled content may be passed over for the time being.

Obviously, the tough economy means you go for the low-hanging fruit. For a new building, thats in the efficiency investments. For an existing building, the tough economy may mean the owner is not interested in major capital improvements like a new chiller or energy management system, so it may be as simple as replacing lightbulbs. If the owner is able to make big ticket capital improvements, the economy probably doesn't change the investment criteria.

.....Please check back on Friday for a synopsis of the challenges facing LEED construction and design, and our verdict as to the perceived value in the marketplace for both tenants and landlords as it pertains to LEED certification.

1 comment:

LD said...

its definitely worth it..
had a hard time finding the time to dedicated to studying but having passed the test and knowing
how difficult it was I'm glad to help others.. Glad to see I'm not alone! I fortunately had the
help of Clean Edison..took one of their two day intensive courses which I was able to get at a
discount..they really are awesome at what they do and deserve an award for helping ME pass.”