There are high-performance cars, high-performance athletes, high-performance organizations and high performance students. So it should not be any surprise that there are now high-performance building projects, and the race is on to craft environmentally sound buildings, neighborhoods, fleets, landscapes and a variety of other projects using sustainable design, construction and operational practices.
Sustainable projects are rapidly growing in number. In fact, the sustainable building market now accounts for more than one-third of the commercial construction market and is predicted to grow to more than half of the market within five years according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
Sustainability, LEED and Contractors
It is the contractor who is in the driver’s seat during all phases of sustainable construction projects, including predesign and design, construction and closeout. The contractor is involved before the race starts and continues driving sustainability through to operational training.
Though the word sustainability is tossed about like a flag waving at a finish line, it has specific meaning in the built environment. (See “Sustainability — What does it really mean?”) Contractors that play a role in design and construction of LEED projects need to understand the differences that define a sustainable project from one that is not. This understanding influences project decision makers, and the contractor is one of the principal players. Incorporating sustainability principles in practical applications is a major undertaking given the many building components, environmental considerations and changing technologies. LEED serves as a framework and benchmarking program for a project life cycle that includes designing, constructing and monitoring/operating projects that incorporate the six sustainability principles. (See “Sustainability — What does it really mean?”)
The minimum goal of LEED is to design, construct and operate new and existing projects to consume less energy, water and resources; produce less waste; provide a healthier environment for occupants and visitors; and reduce the project’s impact on the environment during its life cycle.
The certification process uses a 100-point system and evaluates each requirement within each category of prerequisites and credits. There are four certification levels: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points), Platinum (80 or more points). It is also possible to earn bonus points in Innovation in Design and Regional Priority. The steps to certification include the following:
- Choosing a rating system;
- Registering the project with Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI);
- Completing and submitting an application (LEED provides for two stages of document submittals which are Design and Construction. Projects also have an option to submit all documentation after construction closeout);
- GBCI reviewing application; and
- LEED awarding certification.
Before a building will be rated on degree of compliance, it must first pass the prerequisite requirements. Extensive documentation is required based on the rating system chosen.
THE Importance of the Contractor’s Role on LEED Projects
The contractor’s role on any project is critical, especially for sustainable design. LEED accredited professionals (APs) include general contractors, architects, engineers and other project stakeholders.
The LEED AP general contractor or Construction Manager (CM) for the project will participate on the project team of professionals to set the environmental target for LEED certification level and assist with value engineering of the design and construction of the project.