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Mass-Produced Green Buildings: Not an Oxymoron
Patrick Rollens, 8 Oct 07
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Can a cookie-cutter approach speed up the pace of green building in the US?

Over the past year, the U.S. Green Building Council has been quietly moving forward with a pilot program for its new portfolio certification system. The program allows large companies to design, build and certify a green prototype facility--and then replicate that design all over the country. In practice, the program has allowed for the creation of a ready-made green template to skirt the costly, backlogged LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process.

It's ideal for large retail operators with buildings that are more or less the same from city to city--companies like Starbucks and Best Buy, both of whom happen to be participating in the pilot program.

And since they're using the same LEED-certified template, each building would then be built green with a minimum of paperwork and on a much faster schedule. The individual projects would still be evaluated by the USGBC, but the process would be expedited by the protoype process. The initiative tumbled out of a flurry of requests from retailers and building operators for a way to speed up the cumbersome LEED process.

PNC Bank was at the forefront of this effort, and other forward-thinking corporations signed on as pilot participants. The latest company to make headlines was Best Buy, which had been a pilot participant and pledged last August to build only sustainable buildings by 2008.

"Being green often makes business sense, but it's the idea of being more sustainable that is really motivating us, because it's a part of our core values," said Brenda Mathison, Best Buy's director of environmental affairs. "The reality is that 60 percent of all energy use in the United States comes from commercial buildings, and we decided to take action on that."

Best Buy's announcement is made possible by its inclusion in a group of 20 retailers that have been working with the USGBC since mid-2006 to test-pilot a new bulk certification program. The program would allow chain stores to get their prototype buildings certified by the USGBC, rather than each individual location.

Since the outset, the program has been dogged by questions about the validity of certifying a prototype building. Can a template generate a building that's effectively green in both Palo Alto and Boston? What efficiencies might be lost in different climates? Do regional building codes come into play? Does it matter that two buildings might have dramatically different energy footprints--yet still qualify as green for marketing and press purposes?

They're valid questions, but critics shouldn't lose sight of the program's target audience. Corporate-level retailers and restaurateurs are poised to make the most tangible commitment by greening their vast real estate portfolios. Unsurprisingly, they're the target for the pilot, which recruited companies with more than 25 locations or 2 million square feet available for evaluation.

But as fast as the pilot program is progressing (it's due to wrap up at the end of 2007), corporate sustainability seems to be moving faster. Citigroup's recent announcement that it plans to green its office portfolio (some 92 million square feet worldwide), for example, shouldn't be taken lightly. And with LEED application backlogs increasing day by day, any mechanism that saves time can also be construed as saving money.

Since the program's inception, it's generated discussion and headlines in the building community, both for its impact on the lengthy LEED certification process and for its implications on the retail landscape. As the pilot effort wraps up at the end of 2007, we can expect reports and revisions--and above all, an action plan for the future.

Image: Green roof on the Solaire building, NYC. Credit: flickr/birdw0rk

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This is a great approach; it's reassuring to see some responsible and broad initiative into the greening of the nation. Bottom up requires a lot of individual education and down is too unlikely at the moment. This seems like it will be a great middle ground, coming from between the citizen consumer effort and government legislation.

Posted by: Adam Davidson on 10 Oct 07

Thank you for the article on USGBC's pilot portfolio program. I did want to clear up a few errors within the story in case there is any confusion.

- Rather than certifying company portfolios, USGBC is certifying buildings that are a part of the company’s portfolio.
- USGBC will perform a thorough review of the prototype and then certify the buildings built to that prototype.
- Lowe's Cos. Inc is not a participant in the program at this time.
- USGBC is not testing each certified store for quality control through surprise visits - this is not a practice that USGBC employs, rather we rely on official documentation and verification.

For more information, please go to: Thank you.

Posted by: Taryn Holowka on 11 Oct 07



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