Software tools to green your building

August 11, 2010

Over the last six years or so, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System has become an accepted standard for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings. But LEED is not always the easiest system to work with, particularly when you're trying to determine the costs associated with making various improvements that can help get LEED points.

Many firms have developed homegrown databases and methods to calculate the various LEED credits and costs savings on their green building projects. To the best of my knowledge, the only such commercially available software package is ecologic3.

The software allows project teams around the world to collaborate in the analysis of the LEED rating system (for LEED for New Construction 2.1 and 2.2, LEED for Commercial Interiors, LEED for Existing Buildings, and LEED for Core & Shell) and the various levels of certification. Ecologic3 (www.ecologic3.com) forges a path through the USGBC's LEED system credit by credit in a logical and comprehensive process. By creating a collaborative Web-based environment, it enables Building Team members to contribute to the green building process no matter where they are.

The software was developed by Atlanta-based Greenlight Technologies. It started out as a series of homegrown spreadsheets, examining the criteria for various components of building systems for each credit and compiling hundreds of formulas and criteria for each credit component. This matured over time to the Web-based collaboration tool of today.

Ecologic3 creates models that can be reported in the form of charts and graphs. Teams can modify values, and the system can instantly regenerate the new results. The parties can then make more fully informed decisions on the costs of various systems to use in their green building, and can back up those decisions with clear reports and graphs.

The software works in four steps to create, build, modify, and quantify the project's LEED cost savings.

Starting with the Project Setup, the Building Team enters basic project information and assigns team members and LEED categories and credits. In the Project Benefit area, the team can assign each benefit an annual percentage growth rate, add a benefit not included, or adjust the interest rate for Net Present Value calculations.

The Workspace module is the heart of the system. Here, various hard numbers are inputted by team members to determine results. Among the comprehensive tools available is Credit Info, which provides intent and requirements for each credit. A Mini Compliance Calculator assists in calculating the proper number of certain credits. The Cost Impact Calculator applies soft costs (architectural/design fees) and hard costs (construction) associated with each targeted credit. The Benefit Calculator determines the benefits associated with achieving each credit. Each credit category can be entered independently to determine interim and final results through a forms-based Web site.

The Summaries section gives the project team analytical tools to determine impacts on decisions, so that adjustments can be made to reach the project's goals. With the Credit Status Summary, the team can view and make changes to their LEED credit status. In the status bar, they can see what level or certification (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) is anticipated and targeted. The Credit Cost Summary page allows the team to add some one-time additional costs or rebates and breaks down the soft and hard costs entered in the workspace by category or by credit.

The Credit Benefit Summary provides PR/marketing benefits and breaks down benefits entered by length of analysis and by credit. The Credit Impact Summary page summarizes all cost and benefits by credit, so that data-driven decisions can be made as to which credits to seek at each certification level. These summaries guide the project team by providing real cost impacts on which to base their final objectives, which can be viewed by everyone in real time.

The key to software of this kind is its ability to provide good reporting tools to the decision makers of a project. In my opinion, ecologic3 provides such tools. The Annual Cash Flow Analysis page shows the amount of cash being received and spent by the owner during the defined period of time. The Cumulative Cash Flow page shows the value of an investment (measured in terms of the cash the owner will put into and receive from it) adjusted for the time value of money. The Net Present Value Page shows the discounted cash flow. The value of each year in the term of analysis is brought into today's value based on the interest rate set in the project administration page. Finally, the Annual Cash Flow by Credit page breaks down the annual cash flow credit by credit for the period specified in the benefit area.

All these pages show the net results in clear, clean graphs and tables that can be presented to lay building owners, investors, and boards of trustees where a full understanding of the values is critical in making the right financial decisions.

According to Paul Shahriani, founder and partner of Greenlight Strategies, the major stumbling block with green initiatives has been clearly quantifying the net results. In order for building owners and developers to invest in the first costs of these initiatives (which, according to various studies and anecdotal experience, can be a 1-2% premium for a LEED Certified project), they need to fully understand the impacts of the upfront costs with the long-term savings.

Not only does this system allow the project team to do this, it also drastically reduces the hours of upfront study of the numerous alternatives—a big step forward from the days of faxing spreadsheets to all parties.

DPR Construction (www.dprinc.com), a leading general contractor, has been working with Greenlight Strategies throughout the development of ecologic3. Ted van der Linden, DPR's director of sustainable construction, is passionate about green building, which he sees as a true paradigm shift in the construction industry.

The company recently completed its own $6.2 million headquarters building in Sacramento, Calif., using ecologic3. Applying the software, they found that it would cost $85,000 to do the LEED-related improvements they wanted, but that they would achieve $435,000 in savings over a 10-year period.

“At DPR, we pride ourselves on being able to provide a superior level of preconstruction services,” says van der Linden. “Our understanding of the LEED rating system and green strategies, coupled with the use of ecologic3, has allowed us to take those preconstruction services to the next level.” Nearly half of DPR's projects awarded in the first half of 2006 were either sustainable in focus or pursuing a LEED rating.

DPR is also using ecologic3 to evaluate its Sacramento and Redwood City offices under LEED for Existing Buildings, to further understand how efficiently its buildings are operating. The company will make needed changes to reduce energy and resource consumption of those spaces, if needed.

As more firms move toward sustainable design, ecologic3 will serve as a valuable tool that will pay off in upfront savings of cost and time. For an annual license of $349 a seat, it could be money well spent for firms doing a lot of work in green buildings and LEED.

         
 

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