The U.S. Green Building Council is positioned to help bring more sustainable building design and construction into existence.
By Kyle Kerstiens, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
Every industry is saturated with the idea of becoming more environmentally friendly in one form or another, and the precast concrete industry is no exception. Architects are designing more sustainable projects using USGBC & LEED standards. So what’s the selling point for sustainable buildings? According to the USGBC, in comparison to the average commercial building, green buildings:
- Consume 26% less energy
- Have 13% lower maintenance costs
- Have 27% higher occupant satisfaction
- Have 33% less greenhouse gas emissions
What is the USGBC and LEED?
The U.S. Green Building Council is a nonprofit organization whose primary goal is to make more environmentally friendly buildings available to everyone. Based in Washington, D.C., the USGBC has a mission of market transformation toward sustainable design and construction. Its main focus for achieving this goal is the LEED green building certification program. Beyond the certification, USGBC has educational programs, a strong advocacy program, a network of state and local chapters, and an annual conference and expo called Greenbuild.
LEED is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings and neighborhoods. Developed by the USGBC in 2000 through a consensus-based process, it serves as a tool for buildings of all types and sizes. Certification offers third-party validation of a project’s green features and verifies that the building is operating exactly the way it was designed to.
LEED certification is available for all building types including new construction and major renovation, core and shell developments, schools, retail, commercial interiors, existing buildings, neighborhood developments and homes. Standards for health care were just launched this spring. To date, there are nearly 8 billion sq ft of construction space involved in the commercial and institutional LEED rating systems.
What is Greenbuild?
USGBC’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo is the industry’s largest gathering of representatives from all sectors of the green building movement. Three days of extensive educational programming, workshops, a vast exhibition floor and ample networking events provide unrivaled opportunities to learn about the latest technological innovations, explore new products and exchange ideas with other professionals.
Greenbuild will be held Oct. 4-7, 2011, in Toronto. Last year’s conference, held in Chicago, drew more than 28,000 attendees and featured more than 1,800 exhibit booths. Visit www.greenbuildexpo.org for more information.
NPCA exhibited at Greenbuild 2010 in the Concrete Pavillion, an area dedicated to the concrete industry. With a new display dedicated to demonstrating the potential contributions of precast products for LEED projects, architects were surprised by precast’s diversity. NPCA will also be attending Greenbuild 2011 in Toronto to bring the same message to architects and builders.
How does LEED work?
Building projects can earn LEED points for satisfying specific criteria. Within each of the six LEED credit categories, projects must satisfy all prerequisites and earn a number of points from a variety of other credits. The six categories of the commercial and institutional rating systems are Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation in Design. LEED for Homes and LEED for Neighborhood Development have several unique categories tailored to those project types.
The number of points the project earns determines the level of LEED certification the project receives. Certification is available in four progressive levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
It’s important to note that a precast product cannot achieve LEED points. Precast can only contribute toward earning points, because in most cases the percentages required are for all building materials considered part of the project. Precast is locally produced, which contributes important LEED points under the Materials and Resources Regional Materials credit. Because precast often contains recycled content such as fly ash, slag and steel, it is also a great contributor to the Recycled Content credit.
The rating systems consider the entire project site as part of the project, not just the building envelope and its components. This site consideration allows precast underground utility and drainage structures to contribute to LEED credits. In many cases LEED APs (Accredited Professionals) think only of the building envelope and its content, so it’s often up to the informed precaster to get the LEED AP to think about underground utility structures and other precast site components as part of the LEED rating systems.
A full list of credits for specific precast products is available on NPCA’s website at www.precst.org/sustainability.
NPCA’s future role
Because NPCA is dedicated to serving its members and the concrete industry as a whole, the association is currently seeking a LEED committee seat. NPCA believes committee representation will allow the association to be proactive in making positive contributions to the LEED Rating System. NPCA will continue to keep the precast industry abreast of upcoming changes to the rating systems.
Green Building Facts from the USGBC
- Buildings represent almost 40% of U.S. primary energy use (includes fuel input for production).
- Because buildings consume relatively large amounts of natural resources, they account for a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change. In the United States, buildings account for 38% of all CO2 emissions.
- Buildings use 72% of U.S electrical power.
- Buildings use 14% of all potable water.
- 70% of industry players believe the need to reduce energy use will increase investment in water-efficient technologies.
- The industry expects that water-efficiency efforts will decrease energy use by 10 to 11%, operating cost savings of 11 to 12%; and water reductions of 15% on average.
- Buildings use 40% of the earth’s raw materials.
- The EPA estimates that 170 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris were generated in the United States in 2003, with 61% coming from nonresidential and 39% from residential sources.