Alternative Certification for High Performance Projects

At Mackenzie, our focus has always centered on our client’s needs (a big part of our tagline is “Client Focused”). In regards to sustainability and “green design”, we concentrate our efforts on delivering high performing projects first and foremost. It all began in the 1960s, with most of our first clients wanting their buildings “right-sized” and without excess features and waste. What was driving them was ROI and creating a competitive advantage in the market. As a result, some of the earliest projects at Mackenzie featured highly efficient structures long before carbon footprint reduction or minimizing embodied energy became topics of discussion among sustainability advocates. Later, as operating costs crept-up with the advent of rising energy prices, more of our clients desired buildings that conserved energy, and utilized high efficiency energy use systems and controls. In the 1990s, this led to Mackenzie winning a number of Energy Edge Awards from the Bonneville Power Administration for the design of energy efficient buildings with energy savings levels currently associated with LEED Gold Rated buildings long before the USGBC launched its LEED Rating Program. Again, this evolution in design was driven by our clients and the marketplace.

At the beginning of the new century, the USGBC’s LEED Rating System came on the scene, and created a solid standard for sustainable building projects. The LEED Rating System established a benchmark for sustainable projects, and helped prevent a fair amount of “green washing” that was prevalent in the design and construction industry. Soon, Mackenzie joined the USGBC and became highly active producing many LEED Certified projects and LEED Accredited Professionals (we currently have nearly 40 LEED Accredited Professionals). This proved to be a great fit with our clients striving for recognition for high performance projects, and it helped considerably to advance the sustainability movement in the design and construction industry.

However, over the past few years, the number of LEED projects at Mackenzie has plateaued with many of our clients requesting that we design to high performance standards, but not pursue a LEED Certification. When we have questioned our clients about this, we have found that most of them struggle with the same three issues:

  1. the cost of taking a project through LEED;
  2. concern about lengthy process that does not align well with project completion and occupancy;
  3. and the uncertainty associated with the award of credits and overall award level.

In addition, we recognized that certain project types (i.e. distribution centers, retail, and tenant improvements to mention a few) were not well suited to meet the LEED standards, and even though highly sustainable, could never achieve LEED certification. The bottom line is that while LEED has been a great tool to vet, measure, and recognize high performance design and construction, it is just not a good fit for many of our clients. The ROI just isn’t there. This situation led Mackenzie to explore alternative sustainable certification programs in situations where the LEED process doesn’t appear to satisfy our client’s needs.

That’s where the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes certification program comes into play. The Green Globes project certification for high performance/sustainable projects is similar to LEED, but different in a few key areas. Generally, the criteria and award levels are similar between LEED and Green Globes. In fact, the Federal GSA (the nation’s largest landlord) has declared that Green Globes and LEED are equally effective as sustainable building certification programs. In my opinion, the main difference between the two are that Green Globes utilizes a Green Globes Assessor with each project to work directly with the project team, to confirm conditions on-site, and exercise judgment in determining compliance with Green Globes criteria. Their goal is to meet the intent of the sustainability program (which is, after all, sustainability!) and not get bogged down in relying solely on written communication and documentation to substantiate compliance to standards. This approach can lead to reduced costs, reduced uncertainty, and a reduced time to award, while still meeting or exceeding the intent of sustainability. With it becoming more apparent that the Green Globes certification is a better alternative for many building types and for many of our clients, we have elected to become even more involved by joining the Green Building Initiative as a corporate member. To ensure that our client’s interests are well represented, I have also accepted an invitation to join the GBI Board of Directors.

Some have asked me if this means that we are turning away from the USGBC and LEED, and the answer is, absolutely not! Again, at Mackenzie, it’s all about serving our clients. Many of our clients will continue to want to pursue LEED Certification. I don’t expect that to change. But it is our hope that the Green Globes certification process will satisfy many of our clients that have been reluctantly on the sustainability fence for years, but are genuinely looking for a better alternative.