Notes From the Log of a LEED Navigator

One of the most important lessons learned from our experience on the David L. Lawrence Convention Center was the need for what we've dubbed the "LEED navigator"—at least in cases where the implementation of LEED is new to a majority of participants, as it was on this project. Our team consisted of the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA), the owner; Rafael Viñoly Architects (RVA),...

By Gary Goodson, Deputy Director, Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh February 1, 2004

One of the most important lessons learned from our experience on the David L. Lawrence Convention Center was the need for what we’ve dubbed the “LEED navigator”—at least in cases where the implementation of LEED is new to a majority of participants, as it was on this project. Our team consisted of the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA), the owner; Rafael Viñoly Architects (RVA), the architect; Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Assocs. (BHKR), the M/E/P engineer; AMEC, the owner’s representative; Turner Construction, P.J. Dick, Inc. and ATS, the construction managers; and finally, ourselves, the Green Building Alliance (GBA)—the LEED navigator. Besides having to interact with another 20 consultants on the job, we were also faced with the LEED certification process itself switching gears. It evolved from LEED 1.0 pilot status to version 2.0/2.1, under which it was ultimately awarded a gold rating by the U.S Green Building Council.

Getting started

The first thing to know about becoming a LEED navigator is that it will require a significant time commitment. In GBA’s case, we averaged about 1.5 days a week over 3.5 years. That effort was largely aided by an $800,000 grant issued by the Heinz Endowments for facilitating the “greening” of the building, as well as publicizing the end result, building capacity within the market and developing an on-site educational program and video.

But the major role of the navigator is to act as an agent to continually protect green elements, while remaining sensitive to other team needs. When project design and construction began in 1999, LEED was new to most industry professionals. Few had actually put the rating system into practice. The project’s sustainability features, developed in large part by BHKR, were brilliant. But defending them during several rounds of value engineering and then ensuring that LEED details were properly documented was difficult.

Fortunately, the market has changed since then, and many companies now have LEED-accredited professionals on staff. Even so, there remain geographic regions where LEED is fairly new and there are insufficient green architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, construction managers, contractors and product suppliers to put together a broad-based green team. Additionally, in the case of public projects where the lowest bid must usually be accepted, it is unlikely that all, or even most, team members will have significant LEED experience, unless green expertise is explicitly required. Therefore, following are “trail markers,” that may help with the implementation of LEED on a given project:

Weekly project meetings

While some members of the team did attend LEED training classes and were provided with LEED reference manuals, the incentive to learn and use the information on a regular basis was not strong, and the owner was primarily concerned with meeting the budget and schedule. Unless a team is experienced with LEED requirements or has someone to guide them, they are likely to miss opportunities.

Trail markers:

  • The green agent must attend all possible design and weekly construction meetings so as to be able to pass along information to the team as needed.

  • This individual should also be present at bidders’ meetings.

Green team meetings

Because the weekly job meetings for this project were attended by as many as 14 people, and the agenda was overflowing with items, it was impractical to spend extensive amounts of time on green building issues. To ensure a more conducive forum, GBA established monthly “green team” meetings that focused exclusively on attaining the green goals. Attendees included the owner or an owner’s representative, the designer’s representative and the construction manager. These meetings were held on a monthly basis for more than two and a half years.

Trail markers:

  • Assign LEED tasks at every meeting and have the LEED navigator follow up on them with each team member to ensure that they’re completed in a timely fashion.

  • Exercise persistence, tact and considerable patience to build solid working relationships which are vital, as LEED is not the team’s top priority. Individually, however, most team members want the green strategies to succeed.

Specification writing

To ensure conformance with LEED, green requirements need to be written into the specifications for all of the Construction Specifications Institute divisions, a task, in our case, executed by GBA, BHKR and current CSI president Ross Spiegel. RVA challenged the green team several times as green elements were removed. In a related vein, an example of what can happen when suppliers are unclear about project needs is illustrated by our attempt to procure Forest Stewardship Council certified wood products. Although the specifications documents were clear about FSC requirements, the major wood product supplied was a recycled wood MDF board that met Smartwood’s requirements, but not FSC’s. In this instance, the product counted toward the Materials & Resources Credit 4.1 and 4.2 and Indoor Environmental Quality Credit 4.4, but not the M&R Credit 6.0.

Trail markers:

  • Hold one firm responsible for greening the specs.

  • Use model LEED specifications whenever possible.

Keep in mind that a majority of product suppliers will not likely submit the information you request, or they’ll submit inaccurate information. Green agents, therefore, need to be diligent in making sure that suppliers understand the project needs and obtain whatever products or details are necessary to meet LEED requirements.

LEED documentation

Over the course of any project, but particularly one that spans several years, it is critical to set up a proper documentation system.

Trail markers:

  • Decide early on which credits the project should apply for under the LEED version 2.0 or 2.1 systems.

  • It is helpful for the green agent to maintain six large three-ring binders, one representing each LEED category, to keep all correspondence relevant to the project, including copies of important e-mails, cut sheets and consultant reports. One person should be responsible for these master copies.

  • Thorough documentation for all credits is critical, since six will be randomly selected from each application for audit. Additional information is also routinely requested for many other credits in USGBC’s preliminary review.

  • Plan to routinely review all credits, not only those in the Reference Guide, but also the online credit interpretations. The latter often clarifies some of the reference specifications.

  • Contracts with all project design and construction specialists must include the time necessary to deal with the rigors of LEED. Not only do these contractors need to know what to provide, but they also have to be prepared for the amount of time that it takes to complete the documentation in its entirety. In the case of the Lawrence Center, even with consistent oversight, it took more than 10 weeks to write, draw, calculate, compile and format the original LEED application. Additional time was then required to comply with follow-up requests and for the appeal process. Special contractors, such as the commissioning agent and computer modeler, should include this time in their bids, or specify a not-to-exceed fee.

  • Key team members should anticipate holding two or three LEED compliance meetings. Careful coordination is necessary because USGBC requires all work to be completed before documentation is sent. This way, no one person can slow down the entire process.