The Sloan Valve Co. G2 urinal is a green option for water conservation.
The LEED(r) (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is rapidly becoming the preeminent U.S. standard for measuring a building's sustainability.

Project teams (owners, developers, architects, engineers and contractors) use the LEED rating system as a tool to help determine green project goals, identify green design strategies, measure and monitor progress, and document success.

Construction companies with a working knowledge of LEED and experience with sustainable construction practices are in demand. Contractors have a significant role in implementing LEED on a project. Architects and owners want a contractor who can:

  • Assemble and maintain records necessary to document a building's compliance with LEED requirements.

  • Execute new construction methods per specifications at a reasonable cost.

  • Achieve high recycling rates (LEED credits are available for achieving 50 percent and 75 percent recycling rates on a project).

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the numerous materials that are rapidly renewable, contain recycled content and emit low volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

  • Assist project teams in identifying ways to reach a project's LEED goals.

Green Team

In the traditional design approach, budgets and schedules are imposed upon the design and construction teams. Owners, designers and contractors don't typically meet early in the process. In many cases, a green goal, such as LEED, is introduced to the team after it has been hired. The result is not only lost project time and frustration, but also higher professional fees.

For green buildings, an integrated approach ought to begin at the conception of a new building.

A contractor reaps many benefits by being involved with the design team from the start. For instance, early involvement offers the contractors insight into design issues and sustainability goals and encourages them to proactively ask questions.

Additionally, a contractor can better evaluate bid documents and provide early estimates that allow the entire team to plan and anticipate costs more accurately. Having a glimpse of what to expect also allows time for development of new procedures and, if needed, allows time for training and education of subcontractors, thus reducing uncertainty and unnecessary contingencies.

Adequately defining the full development process upfront is vital to the overall success of any project, and that's especially true for green buildings.

A common assumption, for example, is that designing and building a LEED-certified project costs more - a risk owners may be reluctant to take. The LEED process, however, helps document sustainable measures and benefits.

In addition to the environmental benefits, owners of LEED-certified buildings stand to also receive financial incentives in terms of return on investment.

In October 2003, California's Sustainable Building Task Force released a 134-page report titled, "The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings", which confirms the economic viability of "green buildings" as an investment. The report states that, on average, a normal increase in upfront costs of 2 percent to achieve "green design" will result in life cycle savings of 20 percent of the total investment - 10 times the initial additional cost.

Teamwork is just as essential as mechanical skills when it comes to working toward LEED certification on a building project. In this approach, the owners, developers, architects/engineers and contractors collaborate during the preliminary engineering and design stages, and work together to successfully complete LEED certification and green building design.

Most LEED certification requirements are met in the planning phase through product specification and design. The rest is controlled during construction, primarily by documenting all products as they come in and are used, recycling demolition materials, and optimizing the sequence of installation.

Taking The LEED

As people begin to change their habits, many areas of LEED will take stronger hold, offering additional opportunities to contractors.

Energy-efficiency issues usually impose a change in life-long habits. Although people can tolerate unpopular changes, the more a product can maintain similar habits of a population while conserving energy, the more a product will be accepted. In general, products that conserve energy without sacrificing performance will have a higher acceptance level than those that give up performance in favor of energy efficiency. Contractors, who are product experts, often can guide the specification process better.

In terms of water, for example, all products should be examined according to the viewpoint of user familiarity. Waterfree urinals and 0.5-gallon urinals reduce water consumption without requiring a habit change on the part of users. In both cases, plumbing contractors contribute to a LEED certification goal while keeping in mind the habits of the people who will use these fixtures.

Often, only a contractor can guide the LEED team to maximizing point-earning potential by knowing the products and knowing the LEED criteria. For example, ultra-low-flow toilets contribute in achieving water efficiency goals. Additionally, the same product may be manufactured from recycled content, as well as being regionally manufactured (within a 500 mile radius of the project site) - both of which can contribute in achieving multiple Materials Resources points.

Because buildings in the future are going to be increasingly designed with the LEED point of view in mind, all types of products will be examined very carefully. It is to the contractor's benefit not only to learn about the program, but also to begin incorporating its strategies into the day-to-day routines of a building's systems.

It is important to remember that this is an all-inclusive team. Owners, developers, architects, engineers and contractors must be included from the very beginning. Together, they have practical experience that can guide the project to even higher levels of performance and return on investment. Contractors can take a lead role.