Environmentalism has been around for decades, but only within the past few years have its tenets emerged in the building industry as “green,” or sustainable, design. A group called the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has established a green-building rating system, complete with platinum, gold, and silver awards, that can give owners and designers bragging rights to being environmentally sensitive, as well as being creators of important new edifices. The criteria are challenging, though, and meeting them seemingly costly in going above and beyond the normal course of duty. Is LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) 2.1 certification for new construction and for buildings being fully renovated worth it and, if so, how does the builder/designer/owner gain the necessary points?

Coming off a recent presentation on that subject at last year's Symposium for Healthcare Design, Mark Ryan, manager of Environmental Initiatives for DuPont Textiles and Interiors, addressed these and other questions for the would-be green designer. Questions were posed by HEALTHCARE DESIGN Editor Richard L. Peck.

Peck: What is the official definition of “green design”?

Ryan: USGBC defines it as design and construction practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and its occupants with regard to site planning; safeguarding water and water use efficiency; promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy; conserving materials and resources; and promoting indoor environmental quality. Builders of new construction can register their projects with USGBC for designation as “green buildings” based on a certification process called LEED 2.1.

Peck: Are many taking advantage of this?

Ryan: Registrations over the past couple of years have been growing at a double-digit rate. From the end of 2000 to the end of last year, registrations increased from 45 to 608 new projects. As of November 2002, this accounted for 4% of the square footage of all new construction.

Peck: What are the benefits to facilities and design firms of green design in general and LEED certification in particular?

Ryan: USGBC defines the benefits of “green buildings” as environmentalreducing the impact on natural-resource consumption; economicimproving the bottom line; enhancing health and safetycontributing to employee comfort and health; community enhancementminimizing the strain on the local infrastructure and improving quality of life.

Peck: What are the costs involved? Does cost/benefit analysis weigh in favor of green design and, if so, why?

Ryan: Although some additional up-front costs are expected in green buildings, they do not always materialize. However, the operating cost, value of the building, and improved productivity of the people who work there make green buildings economic bonanzas. USGBC has a new publication, Making the Business Case for High Performance Green Buildings, with extensive data.

Peck: How, specifically, does the certification process work?

Ryan: LEED 2.1 certification is based on a point system. A total of 69 points is theoretically possible, but in reality it would be impossible for any one project to meet all the criteria required to achieve such a score. There are levels of achievement, ranging from certified (26 points), to silver (33 points), gold (39 points), and platinum (52 points). It's very important for would-be participants to plan ahead and bring in all relevant parties at the planning stage. Compliance with the criteria is self-documented, and the points are distributed as follows:

Peck: What does certification as an “Environmentally Preferred Product” signify, as exemplified by Antron® carpet fibers?

Ryan: A product has to exceed industry standards in terms of manufacturing practices with low impact on the environment and employee health and safety; economical use of resources or use of green energy in manufacturing; and responsible product disposal at the end of its life. Antron is the first and only carpet fiber to be certified by an independent third partyScientific Certification Systems (SCS)as an Environmentally Preferred Product. This means that all of the Antron environmental claims are certified by SCS. These certifications are re-evaluated annually. Thus, when attempting to design a LEED-rated building, the designer is assured that the claims made by that product are verified. HD