December 12, 2013

LEED Platinum should be for top-tier projects: panel

When a trio of LEED-accredited professionals conducted a seminar at the recent Construct Canada conference, one of the questions on the agenda was whether LEED Platinum is currently viable as a minimum standard for new construction projects.

The consensus was no.

Panelists Alan Murphy, a principal in Green Reason Inc., Jason Pelaccia, managing director of SKYGRID Construction Inc., and Antonio Santini, a principal in Red Studio Inc. Architects, agreed that LEED has significantly raised awareness and interest in the objectives of sustainability since its inception and is in fact a valuable tool.

Yet LEED Platinum, which requires achieving 80-plus points under the certification regime, by and large is still more suitable for a select group of top-tier buildings.

“First and foremost, LEED was always conceived as a system where not all credits apply to all projects,” said Murphy, whose firm is a sustainable building consulting and project management company.

“If you are going to build on a greenfield site in the Northwest Territories, for example, you are not going to achieve certain credits.”

On the other hand, Murphy said, there are “no-brainer” credits available for firms working on projects in regions such as southern Ontario, including, for example, recycled and regionally sourced materials.

Murphy said that while Gold certification probably is becoming easier to achieve — 60 points are required in the case of new construction — there isn’t much “wriggle-room” when it comes to achieving Platinum status.

“LEED was created to transform an industry,” Murphy said.

“It was never intended that Platinum would be the standard. Frankly, if Platinum does become the new standard, then LEED isn’t updating itself fast enough.”

But by the same token, that doesn’t mean that incorporating fundamental values inherent within LEED that are required to achieve Platinum certification shouldn’t become the norm when it comes to design and construction of new buildings, panelists agreed.

“We all firmly believe that the answer to that is yes,” said Santini, who set up Red Studio in 2002 and is an advocate for sustainable design.

But he said there needs to be ‘a paradigm shift’ in the design and construction industries if that is to happen.

At the seminar, panelists also agreed that green building costs are in fact lower than one might think. Tools are available during the design and construction phases to help ensure that the project stays on budget and meets its sustainability objectives, delegates were told.

“The first tool, which is an absolute must, is having the right team,” Santini said. “In all honesty, if you don’t have the right team, forget it.”

For his part, Pelaccia, formerly manager of special projects at PCL Constructors Canada Inc., focused on the matter of creating an appropriate pro forma for constructing greener buildings.

“This is what it all comes down to — is the project (financially) feasible, does it generate a favourable outcome,” he said.

“I think it is safe to say that nothing gets built in our city without a positive pro-forma.”

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