USGBC weans paper-based LEED submittals

August 11, 2010

In what U.S. Green Building Council president and CEO Rick Fedrizzi called a "huge refinement" to the LEED rating program, the Washington, D.C.-based organization announced sweeping enhancements to LEED in an effort to streamline the application and submittal process.

Fedrizzi made the announcement at the opening of the fourth annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, November 9–11, in Atlanta.

At the core is a fully electronic application and submittal process that utilizes Adobe's LiveCycle server software and the PDF format to create and submit LEED applications. Dubbed LEED Online (http://leedonline.usgbc.org/login.aspx), the Web-based system replaces the current "cumbersome and not very sustainable" paper-based application process, according to Joseph Diianni, USGBC's director of technology.

LEED Online is billed as a collaboration space that will allow Building Team members to upload credit templates, track credit interpretation requests, manage key project details, contact customer service, and communicate with reviewers throughout the design and construction reviews.

"Organizations will be able to submit project documentation electronically, get early feedback that their certification goals are on track, and easily access and update their project information throughout the building process," said Fedrizzi.

Other major enhancements include the ability for Building Teams to submit documentation in two separate phases (design and construction), thus allowing feedback throughout the project's progression.

Are green buildings working?

When it comes to overall indoor environmental quality, LEED-rated buildings generally perform "much better" than general buildings. But occupants of some LEED buildings says their facilities fall short in a several key areas, namely lighting and acoustics, according to Charlie Huizenga, research specialist with the Leah Zagreus Center for the Built Environment, Berkeley, Calif.

Since October 2004, CBE has surveyed the occupants of 16 LEED-rated buildings and nine self-certified green structures, comparing the results with its existing database of 210 surveyed buildings. The Web-based survey focuses on seven key areas of the indoor environmental: thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics, lighting, cleanliness, spatial layout, and office furnishings.

"Overall, green buildings get more satisfaction, ranking in the 70th percentile of all buildings on average," said Huizenga, during a seminar on post-occupancy at Greenbuild. But lighting and acoustics "consistently rated low" among occupants, and ranked either below or even with the industry average, according to the CBE survey.

Forty percent of green building occupants say they are not satisfied with the lighting in their facility. Most common complaints, according to Huizenga: "not enough light," "the daylighting controls don't work," and "bad task lighting." Huizenga says the median score for lighting was nearly identical to that of non-green buildings.

Acoustics scored even lower. Complaints related largely to the need for more privacy in noisy open-plan office environments. "There's no easy solution, but this is clearly one area to look at if you want to improve IEQ," said Huizenga.

Thermal comfort also ranked fairly low, which was no surprise to Huizenga. "Thermal comfort is the number one complaint among all building occupants," he said. Common complaints: "not enough air motion," "thermostat control issues," and "my area is hotter/colder than other areas."

For more, visit www.cbe.berkeley.edu.

Notes from our Greenbuild diary

  • Attendance shattered last year's record-high figure of 8,200, reaching nearly 10,000 registrants by show closing.

  • USGBC's chief technology officer, Nigel Howard, told conferees that the highly anticipated report on life cycle assessment and its role in LEED version 3.0 will not be ready until the second half of 2007. "The working groups are making great progress, but this is an extremely complex topic," Howard said.

  • Just as photovoltaic solar panels are gaining in popularity, Michael Deane of Turner Construction told BD&C that many projects are seeing delays in PV orders because of a significant PV silica shortage.

  • Fedrizzi said that the USGBC is co-sponsoring a "Green Finance Seminar" in New York on December 6 to inform Wall Street of the financial benefits of green building. The U.S. EPA and MTS (Market Transformation to Sustainability, Washington, D.C.) are also sponsors. "You have REITs like Liberty Trust that will no longer have buildings in their portfolio that are not LEED certified," Fedrizzi told BD&C.

  • Janine Benyus, consultant and author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, told attendees that the green building movement is helping advance the science of biomimicry out of the lab and into society. Real-life examples of humankind imitating nature to produce better products are more abundant than ever, said Benyus. She profiled several new products, including wind turbines that mimic the pattern on a humpback whale's skin to reduce wind drag, and solar cells that emulate the light-catching properties of a moth's eyes to increase efficiency.
    "We want our buildings to be lifelike," said Benyus. "There's an enormous amount to learn about nature's solutions."

  • There was talk at the show about the durability—or lack thereof—of first-generation non-VOC paints. During one post-occupancy evaluation, it was discovered that office walls finished with non-VOC paint required frequent repainting. The paint couldn't withstand real-world wear and tear. When asked to comment about the situation, representatives for several paint companies exhibiting at Greenbuild reported having heard similar complaints, but not involving their own non-VOC paint brands.

  • While U.S. corporations have made significant strides when it comes to their green building practices (127 publicly traded companies have at least one LEED building), there's much work to be done, said Fedrizzi.

"One building is not enough," said Fedrizzi, who urged companies to make an organization-wide commitment to sustainability. To help the cause, the USGBC is working with 11 corporations and institutions, including Bank of America, Citigroup, Toyota, PNC Bank, and Syracuse University, to develop a "portfolio-wide" LEED program that will aggregate environmental performance across entire building portfolios.