Feature Article - April 2010
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Shades of Green

Eco-Friendly, Budget-Friendly Facilities

By Dawn Klingensmith

maddening number of articles on eco-friendly construction and operations start by quoting Kermit the Frog, yet his immortal words—"It's not easy being green"—are at odds with the message being put forward that doing what's right by the planet is a straightforward process, thanks in part to the "checklist" of sorts provided by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) point-based rating system.

"The idea that green is fun, it's easy and it's profitable is dangerous," corporate sustainability leader Auden Schendler told Business Week in October 2007. "This is hard work. It's messy. It's not always profitable."

Yet he and others argue vehemently that going green is the right thing to do, even as support for LEED certification is dropping. Some 92 percent of design and construction professionals continue to endorse green building despite the recession, while at the same time support for LEED certification has fallen by about 15 percent since 2007, down to 62 percent of designers and builders in 2009, according to the "Fourth Annual Green Building Survey" published in March by Allen Matkins law firm, Constructive Technologies Group and the Green Building Insider.

LEED continues to hold sway, though, due to its merits and the fact that it's become "the definition" of green building, according to Jim Nicolow, a LEED Accredited Professional and principal with the architecture firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent. And though a project can certainly be green without being LEED-certified, "If public recognition and acceptance of a project's green building credentials are desired, LEED has become the consensus standard," he writes in Building Operating Management, November 2008.

LEED certification does not make sense for every project, though. How can you decide whether it's right for yours?

First of all, "It's important to realize that LEED certification does not equal green or vice versa," said LEED Accredited Professional Sam Statz, director of construction services, Hoffman LLC, Appleton, Wis. "At times, choosing certification is critical to the project and is the right business decision. But even if certification is the best choice, LEED is not the only option. LEED has become the most recognized process for sustainable certification in the United States, but options exist, such as the Green Globes program."

Green building owners who don't seek LEED certification often cite cost as the reason, and the green movement is still fighting the perception that designing and building to certifiable standards will cost more than a conventional building. "We have on several occasions achieved a LEED Gold certified building at a total project cost below non-sustainable buildings," Statz said.

Confusion arises because most comparisons only take into account the cost of construction.

"There are additional costs to LEED certification versus a highly sustainable project without third-party validation," Statz explained. "The additional costs are the actual certification and the additional expense of the accompanying documentation that the process requires."