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Green Buildings and Their Impact on Office Environment

(Original article published in June-July 2014 Issue of "Journal of Administrative Director" in Russian, pages 12-13)... In 2010, the circles in the green building community witnessed an unusual debate between Environmental & Human Health, Inc., a non-profit organization, and U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the organization that created LEED green building standard. The former criticized LEED for putting too much emphasis on energy saving at the expense of necessary indoor environmental quality. The report claimed that i) LEED credit system is heavily weighted to encourage energy-efficient building performance, and ii) as LEED standards are increasingly being adopted into many laws, at both the state and federal levels, the lack of emphasis on indoor environmental quality and, consequently, the public health in green building standards is also finding its way into the laws and regulations.


GREEN BUILDINGS AND THEIR IMPACT ON OFFICE ENVIRONMENT 

by B. Kagan Ceylan, LEED AP+, BREEAM Int., MRICS, PMP
Founder of SPC Solutions

This article was first published in Journal of “Administrative Director”,
#3, June – July 2014 Summer Issue
 


In 2010, the circles in the green building community witnessed an unusual debate between Environmental & Human Health, Inc., a non-profit organization, and U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the organization that created LEED green building standard. The former criticized LEED for putting too much emphasis on energy saving at the expense of necessary indoor environmental quality. The report claimed that;

  • LEED credit system is heavily weighted to encourage energy-efficient building performance.
  • As LEED standards are increasingly being adopted into many laws, at both the state and federal levels, the lack of emphasis on indoor environmental quality and, consequently, the public health in green building standards is also finding its way into the laws and regulations.

Environmental & Human Health, Inc. made no exception for BREEAM and also accused BREEAM for a similar emphasis on energy efficiency at the expense of indoor environment quality. In response, the USGBC acknowledged this trade-off but defended its well established standard that LEED is a consensus based standard that continues to evolve to become better and better. USGBC also called for input from all professional groups and non-profit organizations to make LEED better, as its consensus based evolution allows any input from any interested parties.

I tend to agree with USGBC. I long have accepted that green building standards are not perfect and anyone can find one or more weaknesses to criticize them. However, we also often forget that they are the best available tools currently to rate buildings for sustainability. They have been created to support the evolution of buildings to become continuously more sustainable incrementally, not to revolutionize them. To me green building standards set targets under each sustainability category. Then it leaves it to the designers (and contractors to a certain extent), how and under what categories the minimum number of points necessary for different levels of ratings can be achieved. If a building is faring high in energy efficiency but is relatively weaker in water efficiency and still earning sufficient points to qualify for certification, it is a green building to me. Similarly, if a building is just meeting the minimum energy efficiency requirement but compensating it by an exemplary indoor environment quality for its employees and minimizing use of virgin materials (e.g., through use of recycled materials, certified wood, etc.), that building is also green to me.

An important segment in green buildings is green offices that are relatively unknown in the Russian real estate market. Few people realize that green offices provide more tangible benefits for its users in terms of sustainability than a typical green building. The sustainability criteria for certification of green offices aim to further improve the work environment of employees, while conserving energy, water and other natural resources (e.g., materials). For example, under LEED 2009 standard, as the below comparison illustrates, water and energy efficiency in office fit out projects plays a more important role to achieve certification in comparison to an entire building (e.g., 11% vs. 10% in water efficiency and 37% vs. 35% in energy efficiency). This means, as a LEED Consultant, if I am certifying an office premise alone, I better focus on energy and water efficiency rather than the base building’s proximity to public transportation nodes or bicycle racks (a credit for which both LEED and BREEAM are often criticized, until it was removed from 2014 version of LEED).

Section in LEED (Sustainability Criteria)

% weight in LEED New Buildings standard

% weight in LEED ID+C standard

Sustainable Sites

26%

21%

Water Efficiency

10%

11%

Energy and Atmosphere

35%

37%

Materials and Resources

14%

14%

Indoor Environmental Quality

15%

17%

Similarly, when it comes to Indoor Environment Quality, LEED standard for fit out works put more emphasis on the wellbeing of employees than the LEED standard for whole buildings (17% vs. 15%). Indoor Environment Quality credits cover sustainability criteria that directly improve the wellbeing and work place quality of the employees, and these improvements include:

-        better ventilation and more fresh air supply,

-        availability of daylight and outside views,

-        heating and ventilation controls that can be personalized by the occupants,

-        better thermal comfort of the employees by taking employees’ thermal comfort needs into account in the design of HVAC systems, and

-        restrictions on chemical emissions from construction materials and furniture. 

To me, this means a green office certified under LEED standard for fit out projects offers more tangible improvements for the employees in addition to energy and water efficiency. Besides the PR benefits for marketing purposes, this comparison shows that green certification of office premises results in better offices for the employees by providing a better work environment. This, in turn, improves the employee productivity and provides an incentive for job applicants, while reducing the employee turn over and absenteeism, as research results also confirm.

About the author: Kagan is the owner of private consultancy practice SPC Solutions (http://s-p-c.solutions) and obtained his M.Sc. and Doctoral degrees from Texas A&M University. He is a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) on New Buildings (Building Design and Construction), Commercial Interiors (ID+C) and Existing Buildings (Operations and Maintenance). He is also a licensed BREEAM International Assessor. Kagan holds Project Management Professional (PMP) accreditation granted by Project Management Institute (PMI) of the U.S.A. and Member of Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (MRICS). Kagan is also a member of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He can be reached at kagan.ceylan@s-p-c.solutions by email or at +7 495 969 9580 by phone.

 

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