Sunday, March 15, 2009

Becoming LEED Certified

Houston is an ongoing mess of construction. From the ever-expanding interstate and highways to new office parks, strip malls, and houses, it would seem as if the city will never reach completion. One of these new office buildings, BP Project Rodeo, a part of the BP America Westlake complex, is hoping to become the greenest of green buildings. Upon completion, BP America hopes to achieve a platinum level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This all sounds very impressive, so let's break down exactly what an LEED certification entails and why more businesses are hoping to obtain one.

LEED levels are based on accumulating points, 26 points being the minimum to acheive certification starting at the silver level, and platinum being highest level with 52-69 points. LEED certification begins with air quality. Buildings can accumulate increased points when non-toxic cleaning materials are used, along with "low-emitting" glues, paints, and finishes. BP will incorporate these low-odor materials, along with an under-the-floor air delivery system to increase it's air quality. Another step to becoming LEED certified includes improving a building's ventilation system to prevent drowsiness in conference rooms. Better ventilation reduces the buildup of carbon dioxide, which makes people sleepy according to Greg Kats, a managing director from Good Energies.

Improvements in green buildings give workers control over their comfort. Individual thermostats in each office and lamps on everyone's desks rather than overhead fluorescent lights gives employees options for temperature and lighting. Hopefully, employees would only use the energy they need, decreasing waste and increasing the general morale in an office place.

In BP's Project Rodeo, a 400-gallon storage tank will be kept on site to collect rainwater that will be used for toilets and irrigation of the property. Electricity and hot water will be co-generated at a power plant also on site, decreasing costs and carbon emissions. A good amount of energy will also come from solar panels located on the roof. There are numerous other sustainable components to the project, all of which will hopefully bring the building's LEED certification to the platinum level, making it the only building in the city of Houston to achieve the platinum level.

These are just a few components of becoming LEED certified. Further detailed information can be found here.


gully said...

I was actually just re-reading an article from a couple months ago written from an architect's perspective on LEED certification. It focused on the excellent point that a "checklist" of certifications broken down by points is a stifling certification for a very complex problem. True, encouraging these practices regardless of certification, recognition or even final benefit is a good thing. However, one point is given each for installing a "$395 bicycle rack that is never used instead of a million dollar environmentally sensitive heating system." (Daniel Brook, "MisLEEDing?" Scientific American Earth 3.0, Dec 2008)

I believe the certification has already done what good it can in drawing attention to the need and offering some sort of reward incentive; but with respect to architectural design and true green credibility we need more.

I strongly encourage anyone who reads this to read that article from the Scientific American. It references several designers who would have had to make compromises to meet LEED certification versus the actual benefit they ended up with in the end, in addition to spending the $100,000 on getting certified.

rmk said...

I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation given by Steve Windhager on the Sustainable Sites Initiative (,which is modeled on the green building initiatives.

A few ideas that made an impression on me:
- the criteria needs ongoing periodic revision
- looking back, the bar may seem low, but the idea is that over time what was once uncommon/innovative becomes the norm so the bar keeps getting higher
- by making something that was once innovative become mainstream, the 'ball is moved forward' toward better practices across entire building industries
- we need people/organizations who will be leaders and the motivations may be prestige and reputation, but this can instill a new culture of responsibility and ultimately further better practices.

I think that these ideas provide some interesting context for evaluating the LEED program.

abhishek gaurav said...

But, i would like to make a remark!

An organization like BP invests lots and lots of money into making a building which is environmentally friendly.

If we start making money from oil business and invest all that money to make super expensive houses (environmentally friendly) by investing all the money earned out of oil into it, isnt it more for show than for actual good intent ??

Meredith said...

Sometimes it seems like the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has a monopoly on the whole certification thing - it seems to be LEED or nothing. Is there a competing entity that also certifies buildings based on energy efficiency and environmental stewardship? I doubt that any nonprofits would have the resources. I am taking the LEED AP exam soon because I think it's a great certification to be an accredited professional, but I do sometimes wish that there was more publicly available information on specific requirements and design goals.