One of the most common questions I hear asked about green buildings is: If we're already doing the "right thing," why should we bother to certify a project and incur extra costs? The basic answer is: If you don't go through the documentation and certification process, how do you know what you actually did? Certification provides a recognized third-party verification of achievement. It may surprise people outside the design and construction industry, but when a building is finished and occupied, almost no one has a definitive idea of what went into the building and if all the systems are actually going to work! Imagine a $30 million movie production going forward without someone finally responsible for what goes on the screen.
The process of certification starts with the initial design meetings, where the goals of a project are reviewed and mapped against the LEED evaluation system. When design is finished and a project goes out for contractor bid, then the design aspects of the project can be reviewed by the USGBC, and the certification process begins in earnest, as the architects and engineers begin filling out the LEED information templates.
Certification has multiple values but is essentially a quality assurance and performance verification process. Recently someone called me about a public project in Alaska. Their building committee chair said he was sure that they had done a good job of sustainable design and didn't see why spending the money for a formal certification was necessary. When I heard this, my response was: Sustainable design, you say, but against which metrics? How do you know it's a green building if it doesn't measure up to an accepted standard such as LEED? How will you prove to a skeptical public it's a green building if no one has a clear definition of what this term means, or a responsible third-party attests to the achievement?
If you're a public agency, corporation, developer or non-profit, you likely have stakeholders who care deeply about your commitment to sus-tainability and reducing the carbon footprint of your buildings. They want to know that you're doing the right thing, and obtaining LEED certification of your new building is one way to convince them of it. Otherwise, your claims are suspect. The likelihood of being accused of greenwashing is much smaller, and the credibility of the claims for greenness is much more believable if a project is certified. From a marketing and public relations point of view, third-party certification by a recognized organization such as the USGBC has enormous credibility with the public and the press.
Certifications can also trigger tax benefits in a number of states, and the LEED-required energy-use modeling and building commissioning have immediate payoffs in evaluating design decisions and in ensuring that all energy-using systems actually talk to each other when the building is operating. Certification has a cost, typically $50,000 to $100,000 or more, if you count energy modeling and building commissioning, which should be done for any quality building. For a really small building, that cost can be burdensome, but for larger projects it's well within the contingency budget.
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