Climate Change Dominates Greenbuild Conference Agenda
Acknowledging that buildings are responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, both U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) leadership and many of the 13,000 USGBC members and other attendees at USGBC’s November 2006 Greenbuild conference in Denver expressed a clear and urgent intention to mitigate that contribution. With several announcements, USGBC signaled that it would use its LEED® Rating System to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by tightening LEED requirements and by increasing the number of buildings designed to LEED standards.
LEED and Carbon Reductions
Figures released by USGBC divide U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels into three sectors, with buildings topping the list at 38% of all contributions, compared with transportation (33%) and industry (29%). USGBC also projects that carbon dioxide emissions from buildings will grow faster than other sectors—1.8% a year through 2030. Buildings can also be a source of carbon reductions. Building half of new commercial buildings to use 50% less energy would save over six million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, or the equivalent of emissions from one million cars, says the USGBC.
At the opening plenary session of Greenbuild, USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi reported that LEED-certified buildings reduce carbon emissions by about 40% compared with conventional buildings. “But even that’s not enough,” he said. “We need to build more of them, we need to operate them properly, and we need to renovate the ones we have already built, because most of them are energy hogs of the first order.” Fedrizzi added, “Time, unfortunately, is not on our side.”
Following his call for action, Fedrizzi announced two new minimum requirements for future LEED projects. These requirements, proposed by the USGBC board and the LEED Steering Committee, are subject to a December 2006 member ballot. Approval would make them effective immediately for all subsequently registered LEED projects.
USGBC’s first proposal is a 50% carbon dioxide emissions reduction. All new commercial LEED projects would be required to reduce emissions by 50% compared to current emissions levels. That requirement will use a holistic accounting of a building’s “carbon footprint,” including contributions from energy and water use, transportation, and materials.
The second new requirement effectively raises the minimum energy performance prerequisite for LEED by requiring that all projects achieve at least two out of a possible ten points under Energy and Atmosphere (EA) Credit 1: Energy Optimization. This requirement is not insignificant—a recent analysis by the New Buildings Institute of the 420 LEED buildings certified under LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC) version 2 by the end of July 2005 reveals that 17% of those projects achieved less than two Energy Optimization points (see graph).
“Getting LEED buildings to go 50% beyond current practice—that’s really exciting,” said Scot Horst, chair of the LEED Steering Committee and President of Horst, Inc. He told EBN, “We still have to work out exactly how we’re going to calculate that. The two additional prerequisite points in energy probably get buildings closer to 40% beyond typical practice,” but given the desire to look at the whole carbon footprint of a building, he said, “We need to start to quantify the carbon points relative to other credits. We think we can lead teams to achieving the requirement with a ‘carbon overlay’ of other credits, leading teams to align carbon with their other goals for the project.”
Architect Ed Mazria, whose tireless campaigning and “2030 Challenge” (see EBN ) have pushed the design community to adopt aggressive energy reduction goals, spoke at the Greenbuild conference in an informal session and participated in a post-conference meeting with leaders from USGBC, The American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). The meeting was called to bring about alignment between the organizations in terms of their energy efficiency goals and the means of measuring achievement against those goals. There was lively debate, according to sources present, as to whether it is appropriate to base these goals on energy use at the building site (“site energy”), as opposed to the energy used to provide that site energy (known as “source energy”), and whether LEED should be endorsed as the common tool for pursuing these aims.
In the end, the group signed onto goals laid out by Mazria and Architecture 2030—previously endorsed by AIA and others—of 50% reductions in operating energy for all new buildings, with further reductions leading to carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. They also agreed to use average site energy use by existing buildings, reported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2003 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), as the baseline.
ASHRAE and LEED (except LEED for Existing Buildings—LEED-EB) have both based their energy performance targets on ASHRAE Standard 90.1 rather than CBECS, so figuring out how they will measure up against the 50% energy use reduction goal is tricky. ASHRAE President Terry Townsend notes that the 2010 version of Standard 90.1 will be 30% more stringent than the current (2004) version, which he estimates will lead to an average savings against CBECS of 58%. LEED-NC v.2 projects have, on average, achieved a reduction in predicted energy cost compared with ASHRAE 90.1-1999 ranging from 24% for certified projects, LEED’s lowest level, to 56% for LEED Platinum projects, the highest level, according to the NBI analysis (see table).
While the actual numbers vary by building type, fuel choice, climate, and other factors, USGBC estimates that with the new requirement for a minimum of two energy optimization points LEED will be well on its way to meeting the 2030 Challenge. NBI performed more detailed analysis of a 94-building subset of the 420 buildings. The 26 office buildings in that subset predicted an average energy use intensity of 62 kBtu/ft2 (700 MJ/m2), which compares favorably with the average CBECS value of 93 kBtu/ft2 (1,100 MJ/m2) but doesn’t yet match the 50% reduction target. USGBC and NBI are now soliciting actual energy use data from those buildings to learn how they are performing in practice.
USGBC carbon offset program
Fedrizzi told Greenbuild attendees that USGBC wants to ensure that the offsets are of the highest quality, helping to define what it means to be carbon neutral. Fedrizzi also announced USGBC’s development of a carbon offset program, which would bring carbon reductions from LEED-certified buildings to the carbon offset market. Said Fedrizzi, the program would rely “on the verified performance data from LEED projects that deliver solid proof of LEED’s significant contributions to the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This program will capture actual energy performance data along with associated carbon dioxide emissions for those LEED-certified buildings that have achieved energy efficiency beyond the LEED prerequisites.” Anticipating a future rise in the cost of carbon offsets, Fedrizzi suggested that the program would spur owners and design teams to “make more aggressive and creative decisions,” increasing their incentives to use LEED and increasing the value of participating buildings.
The USGBC’s carbon dioxide offset program will support USGBC’s intent to become a climate-neutral organization by 2008, another initiative announced by Fedrizzi. In addition to buying, for the fifth year, carbon offsets to make Greenbuild carbon neutral, USGBC’s first act toward this goal is to move its offices for its 80 staff to LEED-certified offices in mass-transit-friendly downtown Washington, D.C., in November 2006. “The first step in carbon reduction is actually using less energy, not just purchasing offsets,” said Fedrizzi. Horst added that USGBC would pursue that goal by “traveling less and using the Web more for meetings,” in addition to buying high-quality offsets.
Several new initiatives announced at Greenbuild also signal USGBC’s intent to encourage a higher level of certification for LEED buildings. Starting immediately, USGBC pledged to rebate certification fees for LEED Platinum buildings. With certification fees averaging $2,000–$3,000, that rebate may represent a small part of the budget of most LEED projects, but the gesture proved popular with Greenbuild attendees, who were told by Fedrizzi, “We dare you to put us out of business!”
In addition, Fedrizzi announced that all LEED-NC and LEED for Core and Shell (LEED-CS) buildings that achieve certification or have achieved certification “will automatically (at no cost whatsoever) be registered for LEED for Existing Buildings.” Said Fedrizzi, “This change will drive a continued focus on building operations and maintenance, and the sustained performance that it requires.” Linking the LEED-EB initiative to USGBC’s focus on climate change, Michelle Moore, USGBC’s communications director, said, “Existing building stock is 90% of the problem and 90% of the solution.” The emphasis on LEED-EB, which looks at actual energy use, in contrast to LEED-NC, which relies on energy modeling prior to construction, also supports USGBC’s verified-performance carbon offset program.
Reaching More Buildings
USGBC has also recognized that in order to create the broad change necessary to significantly reduce manmade greenhouse gas emissions, it needs to reach more buildings—both through LEED and through other initiatives based on LEED.
Speaking at Greenbuild’s opening plenary, Ira Magaziner, chair of the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Clinton Foundation (see EBN ) described the available window for mitigating catastrophic effects from climate change at ten years, or 3,650 days. For all the success LEED has achieved, it has certified a total of 600 buildings after six years—not a pace that can have a significant impact within the required time frame. To change that equation, USGBC leadership announced goals for dramatically increasing the rate at which buildings are certified. The goals had to be ambitious, according to incoming USGBC Board chair Sandy Wiggins, to drive home the urgency to staff and volunteers alike: “There is going to be a sea change in everything USGBC does as we stretch to make it happen,” he said.
USGBC announced goals to have 100,000 certified commercial buildings and one million certified homes by 2010 and ten times as many of each by 2020. These goals were derived, according to Wiggins, based on some rough calculations related to Kyoto Protocol targets. “We need 80 million metric tons of reductions from the commercial buildings sector to make its target,” says Wiggins.
To achieve that reduction, 40% of all commercial buildings (both existing and new) would have to achieve a 50% reduction in carbon emissions (the new minimum requirement in LEED), resulting in the goal of one million buildings. Based on commonly used models for technology adoption, to reach one million by 2020, LEED would have to certify 100,000 commercial buildings by 2010, according to Wiggins. (One way USGBC intends to meet its goal is through its portfolio program—see .) The calculations for the residential sector are similar but ten times larger. “Kyoto isn’t nearly good enough,” notes Wiggins, but he points out that if these goals are met, the actual reductions will be much larger because many LEED buildings will exceed the 50% minimum reduction, and other buildings, that don’t pursue LEED, will also improve.
Horst lauded the goals as a way of “changing the way we are acting and functioning as an organization and as a membership as well. The challenge,” said Horst, “remains to ensure that, as we’re increasing the number of buildings being certified, we aren’t decreasing the value of certification. We want to get more people involved without lessening the rigor of what it means to be involved.”
Changing building codes
Work continues on ASHRAE Standard 189P, a joint project between USGBC, ASHRAE, and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), and the committee working on the standard has been charged with finalizing it in 2007. Officially called the “Standard for the Design of High-Performance, Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings,” the standard is intended as a way of putting minimum LEED performance into the form of a building code.
Regarding LEED’s use as a de facto green building code, since it has been adopted by numerous states and municipalities as a requirement for public buildings, Brendan Owens, director of LEED technical development for USGBC, told an information session at Greenbuild that “LEED is a rating system and was never intended to be used as a building code.” Although acknowledging that development of Standard 189 is at an early stage, Owens suggested that its place would likely be as an addendum to official building codes for municipalities that choose to require a basic green building standard for all new construction. Horst agreed: “The concept is that 189 pushes up from the bottom end of typical practice, and LEED pulls and leads the leaders to go way beyond that.” Certifying buildings, even at a lower level, “is an excellent open door for people to get involved in what we are doing,” he told EBN.
The trend coming out of Greenbuild, the biggest U.S. green building event of the year, is clear: focusing on climate change, USGBC will certify more green buildings at a higher level, while working to spread green building into vast new areas, including building codes and facilities built and owned by the largest companies and institutions.
New tools will become available to support this trend: Fedrizzi announced an alliance between USGBC and Autodesk®, maker of the popular design software AutoCAD, to expand green design capabilities in the increasingly popular building information modeling design tools. “If sustainable design is to hit the mainstream, we must embed its principles into the operating system of the industry,” said Fedrizzi, “and then deliver tools and knowledge to every desktop of every person involved in a project.” Without promising details, Fedrizzi called for modeling tools to help designers “visualize and evaluate a building’s carbon footprint while it’s still on the drawing board.”
At Greenbuild, USGBC also highlighted other partnerships established to address the problem of climate change, including its partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative and a new partnership with the Enterprise Community Partners to develop green affordable housing. With the climate change imperative as a driver, USGBC has promised a tremendous effort to build on its remarkable success. This effort includes both initiatives to dramatically increase the reach and effectiveness of LEED and ambitious goals for figuring out how to measure and manage carbon emissions while there is still time to do so.
– Nadav Malin and Tristan Roberts
For more information:
U.S. Green Building Council