A publication of Site Selection
July 20, 2009
Vol. 1, Issue 4

 
Beyond LEED: There’s More
To Choosing a Sustainable Workplace
by Stuart Harris, AIA, LEED AP
editor bounce@conway.com
Stuart Harris
Stuart Harris, AIA, LEED AP, a principal at Houston-based PDR Corp., is one of the foremost authorities on LEED and sustainable design. He serves as a Project Manager for large-scale corporate relocations, comprehensive renovations and major facility transformations. Mr. Harris can be reached at sharris@pdrcorp.com.
A
s organizations continue to cope with an uncertain economic environment, the rising cost of energy and utilities has become an even greater source of concern, particularly for companies considering a new location. As a result, identifying sustainable workplaces has become a front-and-center issue for today´s site-selection professionals.
       For many, one of the easiest paths to workplace sustainability and lower operational costs has been to recommend a LEED™-certified building. LEED is the U.S. Green Building Council´s (USGBC) building rating system where points are earned by meeting established sustainable criteria. The more points, the higher the certification: certified, silver, gold or platinum.
       But there´s a catch. Not all LEED buildings are equal. For this reason, site-selection professionals should carefully evaluate the LEED scorecard of a building under consideration to determine how the facility achieved its points.
       For example, points earned by eliminating Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)-emitting materials may benefit the occupants, but they do not offer a cash payback to the business. In theory, the credits in the Water Efficiency and Energy & Atmosphere categories will yield the highest return by reducing operational utility consumption. Specifically, the energy optimization credits will identify the improved energy efficiency by a percent over a baseline design.
       The USGBC has acknowledged this limitation and, to address this concern, it recently released an updated version, LEED 2009, to ensure greater efficiencies in certified buildings. In the updated program, new LEED-certified buildings are now required to be at least 10 percent more energy efficient and use 20 percent less water than baseline cases.
       Not only are LEED buildings not created equally, many buildings being constructed today are not LEED-certified at all.
       Fortunately, there are plenty of other sustainable initiatives and features to look for when considering a new facility for a company.

 
Consumption Accountability
      Many multi-tenant office leases are structured with shared operational costs that are based on the size of leasehold, not actual utility usage. Such arrangements cause energy-saving initiatives put in place by one tenant to be shared among all tenants, thus making it more difficult to reap the benefits and control expenses. Companies can profit from the efficiencies they put in place by paying their utility expenses based on actual usage. This can be achieved by negotiating a lease with consumption accountability and installing utility sub-metering. As a side benefit, variances in usage can identify potential mechanical problems before they have a significant impact on company operations.

 
Energy Star™
      When sub-metering is not an option, consider an Energy Star™ building. Energy Star is a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy designed to promote energy- and water-use efficiency. Buildings that earn an Energy
The Schlumberger Solutions Center in Houston
The Schlumberger Solutions Center in Houston, one of author Stuart Harris´ projects, was Energy Star™ certified in 2001 and is undergoing recertification for that designation. The project was certified LEED Silver in 2007, scoring particularly well in the Water Efficiency (30-percent water reduction) and Energy & Atmosphere categories.
Star have documented their utility performance to be within the top 25 percent of their building class in the year submitted. On average, buildings carrying the Energy Star label consume 35 percent less energy than their non-Energy Star counterparts. However, keep in mind the Energy Star is a moving benchmark as the program compares building performance each year. Presumably, the energy efficiency of buildings improves each year, thereby making the label more challenging to achieve. Therefore, a recent certification can be more telling than an older one.

 
Enthalpy Wheel
       Find out if the building in question is equipped with an energy-saving device known as an enthalpy wheel. Essentially, an enthalpy wheel is a mechanical device that exchanges heat and humidity from one air stream to another. They are usually placed between the fresh air intake and ducted building exhaust. The wheel transfers the energy embodied in the exhaust air stream and transfers it untreated to incoming air. Whether the air inside the building has been cooled or heated, the energy that went into treating the air is not thrown out with the exhaust.

 
Geothermal Heat Pump
       A geothermal heat pump (GHP) is a heating and cooling system that uses the earth to store and return thermal energy. Although they can be implemented in all climates, these systems operate best in temperate climates where the winter heating and summer cooling seasons are balanced. A GHP system can reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling a building from 25 percent to 50 percent compared to conventional systems. The need for a cooling tower is eliminated in a balanced GHP system thereby saving large quantities of water.

 
Water Harvesting
       There are several methods of harvesting water, but the goal is the same – use captured water in lieu of potable. Captured water comes from sources such as rain, HVAC condensate or building dewatering systems. These are free sources of water and will eventually pay back the initial implementation costs and reduce operational expenses. Captured water can be used for a variety of services that do not require potable water such as landscape irrigation, cooling tower make-up and sewage conveyance.
       While LEED continues to be the standard-bearer for choosing a sustainable workplace, don´t let your site-selection process get bogged down on “LEED and only LEED”. There are plenty of other approaches a facility can take to practice sustainable design and control an organization´s operating expenses. You just have to know where to look for them.



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