The General Services Administration, the “landlord” of the federal government, soon might uproot its longtime standard for green building in favor of a fresh face.
The GSA since 2003 has required construction adhere to varying standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system. An initial review in 2006 identified LEED Gold, the third of that system’s four tiers, as the benchmark for new construction.
“It was kind of the only game in town,” said Joni Teter, sustainability and green building programs advisor in the GSA’s Office of Federal High Performance Building.
Now, The Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes system looks to be a viable alternative for new construction.
In the latest GSA review, released in March, the field of potential certification systems was pared to the three that most closely align with the federal government’s green building standards: LEED, Green Globes and the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge.
The GSA oversees the Public Buildings Service, which owns or leases more than 370 million square feet of workspace and handles construction of federal office space. GSA evaluates certification programs every five years.
As of March, GSA owned or leased 63 buildings certified at one of LEED’s four tiers and had 234 registered projects. According to the March review, GSA’s certified buildings accounted for 12 percent of the 519 LEED-certified federal buildings.
As of May, the GSA had seven Green Globes-certified buildings.
GSA, like others attempting to achieve LEED certification, must pay USGBC to register projects before construction. The Green Building Certification Institute, created in 2008 to be a third-party assessor of LEED projects, prices registration for either new construction or an existing building at $900.
Certification represents the second level of costs, which fall within a range based on the square footage of a building.
The GSA did not immediately provide the amount it has paid USGBC for registration and certification since 2003.
At this point, Green Globes aligns most closely with the federal government’s 27 new construction requirements, which cover areas such as water efficiency, ventilation and on-site renewable energy.
Only two of the 27 requirements are not mentioned in the Green Globes program. LEED misses seven of those requirements and Living Building Challenge misses 12.
“None of the systems completely aligned with federal requirements,” Teter said. “There is no one system that really jumps out as ‘this is the one. ’”
The review also explored existing building certification, where LEED is most applicable. Twenty-seven of the 28 federal requirements for existing buildings are or could be met through LEED, compared with 22 through Green Globes. The federal requirements for existing buildings add “integrated pest management” to the 27 requirements for new construction.
“There are an awful lot more people familiar with LEED,” Teter said, adding that familiarity could be considered a deciding factor by some. “I personally don’t know how far that goes. The other side is: It’s nice not to have one system dominate the market. ”
‘A nice problem’
On the other hand, Teter said, Green Globes’ relative obscurity would not be a sticking point in making the selection.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a detriment,” she said. “It’s certainly a factor to consider. ”
Sharene Rekow, vice president of marketing and sales for GBI, pointed to Green Globes’ history of adapting to meet clients’ needs as something that puts her program ahead. Those clients include the federal government.
The government developed its standards during the past decade based on statutes, executive orders and the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture. The Guiding Principles dictate how buildings should function in terms of energy and water conservation, among other things.
“We are the first and only organization,” Rekow said, “to have any kind of a rating system around the Guiding Principles. ”
She cited the program’s track record with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, saying the department modified the Green Globes existing-building program for a large-scale project. Green Globes, she said, certified more than 200 buildings for the department.
Rekow said she is proud Green Globes is one of the top three systems the GSA is considering.
“We feel like it’s acceptance, and we’re pleased with that,” she said, adding that Green Globes does not compete with LEED because the systems cover the same topics. “It’s our delivery mechanism where there’s differentiation. ”
Rekow said it’s a selling point that Green Globes assessors work on-site to certify a building, while LEED assessors generally do not.
If GSA switched to Green Globes, it would swell its client and project base, Rekow said. She said she is confident the program could adapt to a spike in business but would not predict a Green Globes victory.
“That would be a nice problem to have to contend with,” she said.
Roger Platt, senior vice president for global policy and law at USGBC, said the GSA accounts for 7 percent of the federal government’s LEED projects. According to the USGBC, more than 4,700 federal projects are either LEED-registered or certified.
“It’s much more than just the General Services Administration,” Platt said. “Almost all the military services make use of LEED. ”
Platt took care to specify the GSA grades programs only in terms of how well their criteria meet the federal government’s goals.
“It’s not a report of which buildings perform better,” he said.
Platt discounted the idea the recently announced delay of LEED 2012, the latest update of the program’s requirements, was more affected by the report than other feedback. He said LEED users still are getting used to LEED 2009.
LEED is updated on a three-year cycle, and voting on a finalized draft of LEED 2012, now renamed LEED v4, has been postponed until June 2013.
“I guess it’s in the same category of hundreds of other inputs we’ve received,” he said. “It would be very misleading for me to single out any particular factor. ”
If the GSA were to recommend Green Globes, Platt said, the loss of business with the federal government wouldn’t be as damaging as if the same thing happened in the private sector. The GSA makes a recommendation that applies to a vast client base, he said, and myriad discrete private sector decisions would have to be made before LEED would see the same movement.
“Really, in a perfect world, we’d want people to make decisions based on a more project-by-project, region-by-region basis,” Platt said. “It doesn’t send a signal that’s similar to a pure, market-based signal. ”
He said it is too early to speculate what the loss of a customer the size of the GSA could do to LEED.
“There’s no evidence at the moment,” Platt said, “that the GSA is making a decision whether to move away from LEED or to stay with LEED. ”
A lot of flexibility
Teter said it is plausible the GSA might not choose any of the three finalists. The need to define green building through external certification might be a thing of the past now that sustainability is more commonly understood. The GSA could develop an in-house certification system, Teter said.
“Now that we have our own requirements,” she said, “that’s a question that has been posed. ”
Still, Teter said, by following external guidelines, the GSA could prove it has satisfied a set of standards and remove doubt that an in-house certification system could be less stringent than marketed programs.
The U.S. Department of Defense is conducting a cost-effectiveness study of the use of external certification programs, including LEED and Green Globes, with the help of the National Academies of Science. The study is required under the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and will be completed in the fall.
The GSA’s certification needs also could be spread across systems. The interagency group also has flexibility in determining which system to recommend, and Teter said that could lead to one system covering new construction and another existing buildings.
The GSA, the DOD and the U.S. Department of Energy will collaborate on the decision, which Teter said was expected by November.
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Is the GSA switching to a new green standard?