When it opened its doors to the public in June 2009, the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints garnered both community and industry acclaim. Among the honors for the new building was the prestigious Silver designation, recognizing its compliance with the high standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
While the facility’s environmentally responsible design and construction is certainly remarkable, what may be less apparent to Church History Library patrons and observers is the lengthy and rigorous process to obtain LEED certification.
“The system seeks to identify methods for increasing sustainability, reducing energy consumption, and providing community value through universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria that are implemented by both the design and construction practices,” says Jim Bradburn, director of Sustainable Services at The RMH Group, a sustainable engineering services firm in Denver that consulted with the Church on the library project.
Several features contribute to the Church History Library’s LEED certification, including filters in the mechanical systems that eliminate allergens, more efficient heating and cooling systems, and wood from forests that are harvested wisely and replanted. A center is included in the building to collect paper, plastics, and metal products to be recycled. In addition, the landscaping designs and plumbing items use less water, and the windows, blinds and insulation preserve temperatures.
LEED certification, first implemented in 1998 and sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the nationally accepted standard for design, construction and operation of environmentally friendly buildings.
The process begins by registering the project with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). A two-part application follows, with the first stage focused on design and the second focused on construction. For both the design and construction submittals, the project team receives guidance from GBCI and has an opportunity to clarify or modify the documentation and resubmit. Once the construction submittal has been reviewed twice by independent evaluation teams at GBCI, a final certification ruling is issued.
As the process unfolds, Bradburn says, it’s important for the building’s design and construction teams to keep their eye on the correct target.
“Many project teams set a goal of achieving LEED certification, but lose sight of the ultimate objective: sustainability. To achieve LEED certification, design teams often ‘chase’ points by implementing approaches that do not provide any real sustainable design benefit,” Bradburn says. “This challenge can be overcome by focusing on the benefit achieved by each approach and establishing the project goals early in the design process.”
Other challenges can surface as organizations plan and construct environmentally responsible facilities, including the perception that LEED-certified buildings cost more. This is a myth, Bradburn says, citing several studies that have shown that LEED buildings, when designed from the outset with tangible energy conservation and sustainability goals, cost no more to build than non-LEED buildings.
“This is not to say that there are no additional costs associated with pursuing LEED certification or designing a ‘green’ building,” Bradburn adds. “There definitely are: material costs, upgraded system costs, design costs, certification fees. However, LEED-certified or green buildings cannot be compared ‘apples-to-apples’ with conventional buildings.”
The advantages of a LEED-certified building quickly become apparent. The community benefits from reduced energy consumption, water use, and pollution. Building owners benefit from reduced operational costs and increased lease rates. Occupants benefit from working in a healthy environment characterized by better air quality and increased exposure to daylight, which can in turn result in increased productivity, fewer sick days, and better employee retention for the employer.
The most important benefits of building LEED-certified structures like the Church History Library, Bradburn says, are long-lasting and far-reaching.
“LEED is important now because it has become widely accepted and practiced at a time when the concept of sustainability is starting to be understood by a large portion of the populace,” he says. “The timing and acceptance of LEED will help form basic practices that can be standardized and applied to all future development. It provides a new framework for thinking about choices that in the broadest sense, impact everyone on the planet.”