LEED Case Study: Moving Up To LEED Gold

Chicago’s Richard J. Daley Center’s achieved recertification via the new LEED v4.1 performance path.

By Samantha Davidson, LEED AP and Tim Zelazny
From the October 2018 Issue

LEED is taking a performance-based approach to recertification. The new path, called LEED v4.1, gives existing buildings the opportunity to simplify LEED EB: O+M recertification by using annual performance data from utility bills and audits. Chicago’s Richard J. Daley Center (RJDC) is a case in point as it’s the first government-owned building in Chicago to use LEED v4.1 for recertification. In 2017, the building jumped to LEED Gold using LEED v4.1 (previously, the building was rated LEED Silver under LEED v2009). By submitting annual performance data in energy, water, waste, and indoor air quality building management increased the LEED rating simply by taking advantage of its already high-performing building. LEED v4.1 also reduced the level of effort expected by ownership since a majority of the required documentation (i.e. utility bills) was readily available.

LEED v4.1
The Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago earned LEED Gold for its recertification efforts in 2017. (Photo: City of Chicago)

“The Daley Center chose to pursue recertification under LEED v4.1 after we were introduced to the program by ESD Global, who determined this approach to be more financially feasible than our initial certification path of v2009,” says Andre Wiggins, VP, general manager, MB Real Estate, at the building. “We were able to take advantage of our Energy Star rating which has grown significantly over the past several years.”

How Is LEED EB: O+M v4.1 Proactive?

Many buildings today are required to earn LEED certification. With the traditional path, recertification is required every five years. With the LEED v4.1 performance-based path, recertification is required annually. Reviewing utility data annually allows building operators to be proactive and have a constant eye on building performance. This practice can lower operating costs and make buildings more attractive to potential tenants who ultimately pay a portion of the building’s utilities.

LEED v4.1
The above graph shows how the building scored against the LEED v4.1 rating system, with a total of 69 points. (Graph: courtesy of ESD Global)

Is your building ripe for LEED EB: O+M v4.1 recertification? Consider ESD Top 3 Lessons Learned from using LEED EB: O+M v4.1 on RJDC to choose a recertification path:

1. An Energy Star Score of 75 or above. Buildings with an Energy Star score of 75 or greater are a good candidate for LEED v4.1 since a higher Energy Star score typically correlates to a higher energy score within LEED v4.1. Since LEED v4.1 automatically imports utility data from Energy Star Portfolio Manager, buildings that already track their performance in Energy Star Portfolio Manager annually, either due to local benchmarking ordinances or ownership standard to track carbon emissions, can take advantage of the simplified LEED v4.1 documentation process.

At RJDC: When deciding which LEED path to take at RJDC, ESD used the building’s Energy Star score of 90 as a variable to verify their ability to earn Gold. Because their Energy Star score is so high, the building received 28 out of 33 points in energy via LEED v4.1. Had RJDC gone with LEED v2009 for recertification, they may have only earned 15 points in LEED’s “Energy” category. By taking advantage of their Energy Star score, the building was able to earn LEED Gold easily without any additional base building improvements.

Tip: Increase your Energy Star score with retro-commissioning or monitoring-based commissioning (continuous monitoring of building performance and issues). An objective, third-party view of a building’s energy use often results in new energy and operational savings.

2. The human experience is key. Central to LEED v4.1 is understanding the satisfaction of those living and working in the building. To earn these points, a certain percentage of the tenants, based on the building occupancy, must be surveyed, rating their experience in the interior environment.

There are two questions: “On a typical day, how do you get to this building?,” and “How satisfied are you with the environment in this building?” If an occupant is dissatisfied with their environment they can leave an anonymous comment based on their location and dissatisfaction (i.e., too hot, stuffy, not clean, etc.). This gives building management an insight into issues that may have not been brought up otherwise.

Outside of the survey, the building can pursue an optional annual indoor air quality audit for additional points. By assessing CO2 and VOC levels in various areas (i.e. tenant lobbies and conference rooms), the project can accrue additional points based on how indoor air quality levels stack up against LEED thresholds. This information provides insight into potential high-density areas that could benefit from more outdoor air, or a comparison into how a LEED tenant may have improved indoor air quality over a non-LEED tenant due to low-emitting furnishings and materials.

At RJDC: The ESD/RJDC team had tenants complete the one-minute survey on transportation methods and indoor air quality during a lobby event. In the transportation category, RJDC scored 81/100 (the global average is 78/100). The transportation survey results indicated that a majority of the tenants use public transportation to get to work, which equated to annual carbon emissions reduction of 7.7 metric tons of CO2 (equivalent to 866 gallons of gasoline). Providing transparency into a project’s carbon emissions via LEED v4.1 can assist a project’s ownership with meeting their corporate carbon reduction goals as well.

Tip: When survey results reveal a negative comfort trend in one area of the building, it’s an invitation for building management to take a second look. Asking employees to complete the survey annually keeps tenants interacting with building management.

3. The waste take-away. Within LEED v4.1, a building’s monthly waste summaries are required to populate points under the “Waste” category. If your building shares a waste contract with other properties (i.e., as does RJDC), an annual waste audit can be performed instead to obtain points.

At RJDC: RJDC’s annual waste audit (performed for a small fee by its waste hauler) provided a window into how well the tenants recycle and where improvement/education can be focused. The waste contractor provided tenant education following their audit on what materials could be recycled to help improve RJDC’s future “Waste” score.

Tip: For a low cost, the waste audit can be used as an educational tool to re-evaluate a building’s recycling program and engage tenants moving forward in order to minimize waste.

How Do You Stack Up?

Unlike traditional LEED certification, LEED v4.1 is not a static certification, but a dynamic one based on how the building operates over time as compared to other LEED certified buildings. Over time, like with other versions of LEED, the performance bar will increase based on the latest energy codes.

The annual recertification requirement under LEED v4.1 encourages owners/operators to constantly maintain their building and adopt low-hanging strategies to improve performance. If a building starts to lose traction with their LEED target (i.e. Gold, etc.), services such as a retro-commissioning and/or monitoring-based commissioning (see your local utility provider for cost incentives) can assist with realizing other energy cost measures and improve your building’s overall performance.

Business Case For LEED v4.1 Certification

Why not just earn LEED Silver for building design and call it a day? Completing upgrades in all areas of the building not only provided additional long-term operating efficiencies, but also made Chicago’s RJDC a success story in the local commercial real estate market. This can lead to more tenant interest among existing tenants.

“Our LEED certification shows our tenant base that the Daley Center is serious about its approach to energy savings measures and environmental sustainability. Tenants also feel the need to support the building’s recycling efforts as they understand how it all ties into our LEED designation,” says Andre Wiggins, VP, general manager, MB Real Estate.

LEED v4.1 enables building owners, facilities managers, consultants, and other team members to observe trends and make meaningful improvements to building operations that save money, resources, and time and assists with keeping building occupants comfortable.

“We maintain LEED status to help convey our commitment to sustainability and energy conservation. We promote our LEED designation by posting plaques in the lobby and office of the building,” says Wiggins. “Tenants are also able to learn about LEED, its benefits and goals and the building’s recycling and sustainability efforts during the lobby events. We reward our tenants with lobby giveaways during the recertification process.”

Project Information

Facility: Richard J. Daley Center. Square Footage: 1,541,766. Budget: $17,000 (LEED recertification). Facility Owner: Public Building Commission of Chicago. In-House Project Manager: Andre Wiggins VP, general manager, MB Real Estate. LEED Consultant: ESD Global. IAQ Auditor: ECG, Inc. Waste Auditor: Waste Management.

LEED v4.1Davidson is an energy and sustainability engineer at ESD Global, a consulting-engineering firm focused on the delivery of high-performance buildings. Her experience with both new and existing building includes energy benchmarking, ENERGY STAR certification, Fitwel certification, LEED certification, commissioning, and renewable energy feasibility studies.

LEED v4.1Zelazny is the sustainability leader at ESD Global and is an expert in energy and sustainability consulting for new and existing buildings. Following 10 years of sustainable project experience and multiple accreditations, he is well-versed in LEED Certification, WELL Certification, building envelope commissioning, thermal imaging, Passive House Certification, and general sustainability consulting.

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