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When it comes to maintaining various green certifications for sustainable structures, regular performance reports on utility usage are essential for companies and building owners.
The most widely known sustainable certification program is the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, which requires building owners to regularly report utility usage data for recertification.
But before engaging a plan for sustainable design, building owners must consider their reasons for pursuing LEED design criteria, industry experts say, as a clear sustainable goal helps maintain and track utility data.
“An owner who has a desire for sustainable building needs, with guidance of their architect and the rest of the design team, to take a step back and decide what elements of sustainability…really interest them,” said Karen Erger, vp and director of practice risk management for Lockton Cos. L.L.C. in Kansas City, Mo.
While there are many reasons for sustainable design, such as energy cost savings or attracting tenants, building owners do not need to pursue LEED certification to maintain an efficient building, Ms. Erger said.
“There's a big difference between designing a building that is very energy efficient—say an owner of a warehouse might want that—vs. somebody who wants to be able to market the LEED certification status to tenants,” she said. “An owner might decide to forgo those costs if certification is not important to them.”
Most building owners who pursue LEED certification do so with the environmental impacts in mind, said Rod Taylor, managing director of Aon P.L.C.'s environmental services group in New York. “Building owners have to have a pretty clear idea of what they want to accomplish (when) building a green building,” he said. “They should, in that, incorporate things that are measurable.”
The most significant and the largest categories for ratings in the LEED program are energy and conservation efforts, Mr. Taylor said.
“Those two things are measurable and are meaningful to an owner from a standpoint of operating costs,” he said.
For maintaining LEED certification for new buildings and construction, companies and building owners must provide the U.S. Green Building Council with utility data, said Helen Kessler, Chicago-based president of HJKessler Associates Inc. and a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council's Illinois chapter.
“The owner signs a document saying that they'll provide utility data for five years from the completion of the building,” she said. “At this point…those don't have any other requirements for long-term maintenance besides providing the utility data.”
The U.S. Green Building Council can waive the reporting requirement if, for example, a new addition to a building doesn't have its own energy metering, Ms. Kessler said.
For the LEED recertification for existing buildings operations and maintenance certification, an owner must recertify within one to five years, she said.
“In that case, the owner is keeping track of all this data, including that utility data, throughout that period,” Ms. Kessler said.
John Albrecht, director of LEED services for Sieben Energy Associates in Chicago, said LEED certification for existing buildings is a straightforward process.
“From the day you receive your initial certification, you should have been collecting the same data that you were collecting for the certification,” he said. “You continue to collect it so that when you're ready for your certification…with an upgrade, you'd be in a position to register for the recertification.”
“Ultimately, it's all about the score,” Mr. Albrecht said, noting that if, for example, a geothermal field was dismantled because the property was sold, the company's energy score would drop accordingly.
“As a function of the LEED recertification, you would explain what you've been doing, but there's no risk involved in having to maintain the building in the normal fashion,” he said.
Rod Mazandarani, an associate LEED consultant with architectural design firm HKS Inc. in San Diego, said that after completion of a building, a commissioning process assures that all systems function as designed at optimum efficiency.
“However, there really is no ongoing requirement to keep the green certifications,” he said. “That said, it's definitely an advantage to the building owners and managers to maintain the facility and ensure it continues to function as designed.”
The U.S. Green Building Council uses the utility data to aggregate the information between other buildings to get a sense of how LEED buildings are doing in general, Ms. Kessler said.
Even if data suggests there is no real energy savings, certification will not be affected, Mr. Albrecht said.
“As long as you're reporting, you're OK; there would be no risk of repercussions from the” U.S. Green Building Council.
While LEED certification may be revoked upon gaining knowledge of noncompliance of any applicable performance criteria or falsifying utility data, the U.S. Green Building Council does not specify who or how it will be enforced, experts say.
The U.S. Green Building Council would like to “see more teeth” built into LEED requirements in the future, Mr. Albrecht said.
“Right now, they lay of the land is due diligence is normal, honest delivery of services, and that's what they're expecting and it's still somewhat of an honor system.”