This is the first segment of a three part interview with Scot Horst, senior vice-president, LEED, United States Green Building Council (USGBC). In this part, Horst talks about the mission of the USGBC, why green buildings are so important, and LEED.
ROBERT GLUCK: What is your background and how did you arrive at your position of Senior Vice President, LEED, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)?
SCOT HORST: I have had a crooked, but interesting career. I went to music school and have a degree in philosophy. I sang professionally and then started my own design and woodworking business. I focused on environmental materials and this led to working on one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) 1.0 pilot projects back in 1999.
I then formed my own consulting company and co-founded 7group, where I became president. I was also president of Athena Institute International, a non-profit committed to the evaluation of environmental impacts of buildings through lifecycle assessment.
Between 2005 and 2009 I served as chair of U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Steering Committee, the body that has principle responsibility for developing and implementing the LEED rating system. I am also a contributing author to the LEED reference guides and co-author of “The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building”.
RG: What is the mission of the USGBC?
SH: We want to get everyone in green buildings in this generation. We are committed to major market transformation.
RG: USGBC is a non-profit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everyone within a generation. Why? What is so important about green buildings?
SH: Green buildings are healthy, they save money, energy, water natural resources. Green building just make sense. This is why even though the building market has taken a severe downturn, green building is the bright spot in the economy, representing US$60 billion of the construction industry in 2010 and projected to increase to US$96-140 billion by 2013.
RG: LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies to improve performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.
Developed by the USGBC, LEED provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. However, some criticism suggests that the LEED rating system is not sensitive and does not vary enough with regard to local environmental conditions. How is the USGBC addressing this and other concerns about LEED?
SH: This is an interesting criticism. LEED most definitely has weaknesses, as would any system that applies so broadly to so many different building types in so many different places. The rating system is being used in 118 countries. One of the real strengths of LEED, however, is that it is a living document. So we are always improving it as a way to guide market transformation.
To this end, currently, we are working on improving the regional priority points in the rating system and we’re building out a new approach for international use of the system that can maintain global consistency but develop regional equivalencies to reference standards and improve local outreach and support.
RG: Often when a LEED rating is pursued, this will increase the cost of initial design and construction. One reason for the higher cost is that sustainable construction principles may not be well understood by the design professionals undertaking the project. Also, there may be a lack of abundant availability of manufactured building components that meet LEED standards.
However, these higher initial costs can be effectively mitigated by the savings incurred over time due to the lower-than-industry-standard operational costs typical of a LEED certified building. Additional economic payback may come in the form of employee productivity gains incurred as a result of working in a healthier environment.
Studies have suggested that an initial up-front investment of 2% extra will yield over ten times the initial investment over the life cycle of the building. What is USGBC doing, if anything, to not only educate naysayers about LEED and it's financial advantages, but to increase the yield over the life cycle of the building?
SH: Studies have shown the cost per square foot for buildings seeking LEED certification falls within the existing range of costs for conventionally built buildings. Regarding your statement on higher cost, that may have been true in LEED’s infancy, but with over 150,000 LEED Credentialed Professionals and a wealth of LEED educational offerings and courses through USGBC’s approved education providers, college curriculum that teaches the fundamentals of LEED and 54,000+ commercial and residential projects in the pipeline, the industry is very aware of LEED and has embraced it.
Our coalition of member companies employ a large percentage of LEED experts who have LEED project portfolio’s indicating that the marketplace understands and implements LEED to fullest extent. Regarding your statement on a lack of abundant availability, there are thousands of products and technologies in the marketplace – many created with LEED in mind, others that have been used for years before LEED’s inception – the availability of green products, technologies and tools that aid in LEED projects is growing at a rate that can be paralleled to that of LEED’s, driving down costs and increasing demand.
This is exemplified in the over 1,000 companies that exhibit at Greenbuild each year – demonstrating how their products meet LEED requirements. Regarding mitigation, this is true. USGBC has been very vocal about the cost savings associated with LEED certification. We also have the testimonials from our projects on the cost savings they have experienced – some have reported ROI as high as 400% on their LEED certification.
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