Power Down - LEED

model of Philadelphia
February 9, 2016

LEED [Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design] is a well-known standard for certifying green buildings, but what does it really mean when buildings are LEED Certified? Why has Penn adopted it? We talked to Dan Garofalo, Sustainability Director, and David Hollenberg, the University Architect to find some answers. Below is an edited excerpt of our discussion.


Green Campus Partnership: Why is LEED Certification such a popular building rating system?

Dan Garofalo: LEED is popular because its standards are created by a community of volunteer designers, contractors, and other knowledgeable professionals, so they are very comprehensive and consensus-based. I’m not aware of any other building rating system that is as comprehensive. Having these professionals involved also allows them to act as a neutral third party. Because of this thoroughness and neutrality, LEED has now become the standard for the US government, the military, and universities. In turn because of this support from major players, there is a little more authority. Other parties are therefore more inclined to participate.


GCP: Has LEED made much of an impact in improving building energy performance?

Dan: Yes it has, especially in LEED version 4, which places greater emphasis on energy performance. But in my opinion, LEED is making its biggest impact in market transformation. It has created an incentive for building and construction suppliers – manufacturers of flooring, ceiling, finishes and lighting products, etc. – to have a green profile. The USGBC and the LEED system had a large role in making sure that there is information available on the material composition of these products, while 15 years ago this was treated as proprietary information.

David Hollenberg: LEED is changing the market; the many players are participating with enthusiasm. I can’t come up with an argument for not going through with the LEED Certification process.


GCP: Specifically, why did Penn choose to adopt LEED Certification versus another building rating system?

David: To us the value of LEED is the third party. If we did LEED and didn’t bother to apply for it, I think that’s not as powerful as saying that we actually did go through with the process, there’s a plaque from some neutral party to prove it. Other certification processes, like Green Globes, is self-certified. We value the third party that compares us to the whole market.


GCP: Could you give some examples of LEED Certified buildings on campus?

Dan: Of the buildings that are done and have completed the certification process, the most recent are the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, Weiss Tech House in Levine Hall, Golkin Hall, and the Steinberg-Dietrich Hall’s west end addition.


GCP: How does the LEED Certification process work at Penn? And is there a concern that some of the LEED standards may be too difficult to take on?

Dan: As part of our Climate Action Plan, brand new buildings and major renovations must meet at least a Silver LEED Certification – and we hope higher. We put a lot of trust in our design consultants and contractors that we hire. Our role is to make sure that they’re taking this seriously and to be a resource if they have questions. About 20% of LEED documentation comes from us, the client – information on the building site, on campus standards, and on maintenance, cleaning, and operations.

David: Among the consultants we use, there is no one that doesn’t market their design with a sustainability component. All major architects will have a sustainability section that lists the LEED building projects they have been a part of. So even if we weren’t doing LEED, because of who we hire at Penn, our architects and builders would strive for LEED certification anyway.

Dan: We’re comfortable taking part in a bigger effort to lead the regional design and construction industry.  Penn spends over $200M in renovations and new construction in a given year, and we are committed to making sure that every dollar spent goes toward greening our campus, and maintaining high standards of environmental performance. We’re going to ask our consultants to specify the high performance equipment equipment, finishes that contribute to a healthy indoor environment, and other building components. We are going to require contractors to properly dispose of building materials, and maintain a healthy and clean jobsite.

David: We’re extremely comfortable doing it because we know we’re building a building that is intended to last for a hundred years. For instance, the new College House on Hill Field. Students will continue to live in it until the 22nd century.


GCP: Are there any other LEED Certification categories?

Dan: So what we have been talking about before is LEED New Construction. There is also LEED Commercial Interiors (CI) for renovations.  Both certification categories have been used on campus.

David: What’s more challenging is LEED Existing Buildings (EB). This category continues to monitor a building’s sustainability and energy efficiency when it is operating. The first Climate Action Plan included a pilot EB project, and we explored certifying Huntsman Hall with great expense and time, but we came to the conclusion that it was too complicated for our typical buildings.

Dan: But we still learned a lot and implemented what we learned. The process of exploring what are best practices in cleaning and maintenance, for example, changed our housekeeping standards across campus. Not just for Huntsman [the building we had piloted] – but for many buildings across campus, the new standards were adopted  across campus. We’re using reusable microfiber cloths instead of single-use disposable paper towels for general cleaning, using lower toxicity spray cleaners, and cleaning the floors with ionized water instead of detergent.  These are all important features of improving indoor air quality and reducing waste.

David: Although we focus our design on construction, the real thing is the daily grunt of operations. Where you set your thermostat will have a greater impact over decades than the design of the building.


GCP: What does all this mean for the future of sustainable buildings on our campus?

Dan: Since the operations of buildings are so important, it means that we need to be really smart about what we’re building and whom we’re building for.

David: And we believe beauty is important, too. Places are sustainable in the long run if people care about them, if they love them. There is a reason everyone who went to Penn still wants us to take care of their buildings. They fall in love with the nature of these buildings. Doing beautiful things and making people care about them is fundamental. It’s not a debate; it’s essential.


GCP: What’s one challenge that you think Penn faces when it comes to reducing energy consumption on a building-by-building level?

David:  Public policy aside, there’s always the question of how much control should be given to the building occupants. One extreme is the Annenberg Public Policy Center. In each office, three lights on the wall change color based on weather conditions give occupants information on what they can do to change their office temperature. They can open a window; they can pull the shades. All these things can increase or decrease the temperature of a building by a few degrees to make them more comfortable. They can’t do something inefficient like open the windows when AC is on in their room, but it does give occupants options to manipulate their own space. I’m not saying that buildings all must behave this way. They eventually may. But there is a real robust debate to be had about how much people have to know or should know about their behaviour inside and outside buildings.

We believe that in the long-run it is important for people to have a basic sense for how their behaviors impact the environment -- but to what extent? You don’t want to leave it entirely up to the occupants because they could do things they shouldn’t, leading to a building performing terribly. Should buildings be like driverless cars? Or are they something that you want to adjust to your own behaviour accordingly?


GCP: What about a challenge Penn faces on reducing energy consumption on an individual level?

David: We believe we have an educational obligation to whomever is using our buildings, especially students. As professionals in the environmental field, my colleagues in the Penn Sustainability Office care about our campus carbon footprint, and Penn’s overall energy use, but what’s often in the mind of most students is recycling because it’s very visible and something that they do every day. Figuring out how to educate people on energy, plug load, what to do, what not to do, how to get people thinking about their lifestyles… everyone is struggling with the best way to do this. In term of building design, it would be ideal to design every building so that how it’s behaving can be easily described to the people in it. We want people to see how their actions can make an impact.


GCP: What can the Penn community do overall to further reduce energy usage?

Dan: We want all members of our community to be aware of our reliance on energy, and where it comes from.  About 60% of the electricity in our regional power grid comes from fossil fuel combustion – coal, natural gas, and oil – and we should all be intentional in our desire to reduce energy use where we can.  Often, it’s the simple things that make a difference, and one of the best pieces of advice we give people is:  at the end of the day, make sure that you turn off what you turn on!