Existing Buildings = The 99%

It’s hard to overstate the potential (and necessity) of greening our existing building stock. Buildings account for 73% of electricity consumption in the U.S. and 38% of CO2 emissions. Can you imagine the dent we can make with added efficiency in this sector – environmentally and economically? Plus, existing buildings are all around us. Chances are, you’re inside of a building (an existing one) as you read this blog entry – talk about an accessible opportunity.

We caught up with two of USGBC’s existing buildings gurus to get the their take on the facts, figures, and future of the movement – including the evolution of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance.

Let’s start simple: What are the key principles behind LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance? What’s the point of greening our existing building stock, and what does it involve?

Lauren Riggs: As I see it, the primary role for LEED EB: O&M in the market is to provide a platform for existing buildings to demonstrate their success in implementing sustainable operations strategies. The majority of buildings are not new – and in fact have been in operation for quite some time; LEED EB: O&M is available to set these buildings up for optimal performance. The point of “greening our existing buildings stock” is to realize the massive potential that such a large number of buildings has to positively impact the environment through efficient operations.

What does this involve? Commitment to the ongoing process of operating a building sustainably. Start with practical and sustainable practices, implement them and update along the way – key words “update along the way.” If LEED EB: O&M projects continually try to make their processes better, they will see the full value of the rating system.

Christopher Davis: Look, the annual replacement rate of buildings (the percent of the total building stock newly constructed or majorly renovated each year) has historically been about 2%, and during the economic recession and subsequent years, it’s been much lower. Even if we succeed in making half of those new buildings green, that doesn’t sound like a very urgent response to a crisis. We’re deluding ourselves if we think we can solve all of our problems just with new, super efficient buildings. Existing buildings are, to borrow a phrase, the 99%, and we need to pay serious attention to them. Greening existing buildings is incredibly important for our planet, but it makes exceptionally good economic sense. Last year when the Empire State Building achieved Gold using LEED EB: O&M, they were a little over halfway through a deep energy retrofit program projected to cut annual energy costs by 38%. Just a few weeks ago they announced that in the first year they’ve exceeded their projections by 5%, already saving $2.4 million. Just think what kind of impact we can have if every aging building with leaky windows and inefficient chillers invested in these kinds of improvements. That’s the kind of innovation that LEED EB: O&M is trying to stimulate.

Can you highlight the changes we can expect to see in LEED EB: O&M within LEED v4?

LR: In LEED EB: O&M v4, USGBC has taken the opportunity to format the LEED EB:O&M rating system in a way that emphasizes ongoing performance. Strategies that set buildings up for sustainable operations will be clearly identified so that project teams clearly see the relationship between intentional processes and operational outcomes. The rating system changes will be supported by streamlined and simplified documentation requirements – providing intuitive calculators, reducing paperwork and utilizing automation data connections.

CD: I think the biggest thing you’ll see in v4 is better alignment with how EB: O&M is implemented in the real world. We’re also making it clearer how often you need to do things like a commute survey, waste audit or outdoor air testing. It’s important to keep in mind that these changes are mostly just structural. We know that EB: O&M is a fairly new rating system and that the market is still getting up to speed, so there aren’t many big technical changes.

What is LEED EB: O&M recertficiation? Why is it important?

LR: LEED EB: O&M recertification is the second, third, fourth, fifth… keep counting… certification for a project that received an initial EB: O&M certification from USGBC/GBCI. LEED EB recertification is a testament to the building operator and owner’s dedication to sustainable operations, and it certifies that resource efficiencies and green building best practices are being maintained. Recertification is important because LEED EB strategies are not meant to be implemented once – LEED EB was not created to be a point in time rating system – and require consistent and sustained attention if they’re going to benefit building operations. Recertification allows USGBC and the building operator to RE-certify their commitment to high performance operations.

CD: Certifying the design and construction of a building really only gives you a snapshot of how the building is intended to perform. Certifying a building for the first time in LEED EB: O&M is like a short film of the building’s performance. Recertification gives you the full, feature length film; a film that tells a story of how a leader has grown and inspired a community to change the world. One of the pioneers, the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC was the first building certified under the first version of LEED for Existing Buildings, and since then they’ve recertified twice, demonstrating that their high performance is being maintained and is continuing to improve over time.

Lauren and Chris will be presenting at the 2012 Every Building Conference and Expo in Seattle on Tuesday, June 26 at 9 a.m. PT. Check out their session, The 2012 Evolution of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance.

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