Smarter Buildings, Part 2: How to Close Gaps Between Design and Performance

[Editor's Note: This is part two of a two-part series on Smarter Buildings; you can read part one here, and see all our coverage of smarter buildings at GreenBiz.com/SmarterBuildings.]

Why do some green buildings perform as designed or better, while others might barely make the grade, even if certified? It turns out that even the most sustainably designed, intelligent building is only as smart and green as the people who occupy and operate it.

Closing any gap that might exist between design and performance was the focus of the second of two Smarter Buildings discussion sessions for senior executives during the 2011 State of Green Business Forum, a series of programs conducted in San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, DC.

While the Smarter Buildings session in Chicago introduced the topic at the forum and provided a broad overview, the discussion in Washington, DC, honed in on one of the more challenging aspects of building performance –- what happens after the keys to a building are handed over to its occupants.State of Green Business

Begun as a panel discussion by IBM's Vice President of Industry Solutions and and Smarter Buildings David B. Bartlett, Johnson Control's Vice President of Global Energy & Sustainability Clay Nesler, Vice President of Sales Chris Collins for Schneider Electric's Buildings Critical Systems business and Carl Lundstrom, federal solutions manager for Eaton Corp., the talk moderated by GreenBiz.com Senior Writer Marc Gunther became a lively dialogue among the speakers and members of the audience, which included Rob Watson, widely considered "the father of LEED."

Watson chaired the DC-based U.S. Green Building Council's steering committee on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for its first 12 years and is now executive editor of GreenerBuildings.com and the chairman, CEO and chief scientist of the EcoTech International Group.

Gunther launched the conversation by asking whether LEED certification, the market leader in the U.S. for third-party assessment and ratings of green buildings, is a guarantee for performance.

"Once you get the LEED plaque up in the lobby, whether it's a new building or an existing building, what do we know about the performance of LEED-certified buildings?" Gunther asked. "Is there data out there that shows they'll do what we expect them to do? Are there guarantees about energy consumption and efficiency?"

"There's no guarantees, in fact, there are lot of issues about that," said Eaton's Lundstrom, alluding to criticism in recent years of performance by some LEED buildings. However, while he and other members of the panel acknowledged the talk, they also pointed out that design is only one part of the equation for smart green buildings.

"It's one thing to build a building, it's another thing to operate and maintain it to high standards -- that's typically where things tend to fall down," said Nesler of Johnson Controls.

Nesler offered further perspective. "It seems like we're trying to find controversy in this area and it's often presented as controversy, but I'm actually not sure it is," he said. "We've never really had a particularly good reason to go back and look at the difference between how we design buildings and how they operate. In fact, LEED actually gave us one of the first good reasons why we want to go back and check."

According to Nesler, the emergence and adoption of LEED spurred the market to consider that work to green buildings isn't over when construction or renovations are complete – a realization that's just beginning to sink in.

"When we did check, we found that not all buildings performed as they were designed," Neslser said. "Surprise, surprise? Maybe. Those of us in the industry were perhaps a little less surprised than others. A lot of LEED buildings performed better than designed … some are below their design and some barely meet code and that's something more endemic to the industry than related to the standard."

Nesler noted the USGBC is taking steps to "make LEED more quantitative" and that the system of standards was designed to be continuously in development so it can adapt to the needs of the green building market as the industry matures.

One of those anticipated changes is the need for LEED building owners to report the performance of their properties to the USGBC to maintain certification. "In the old days, you could pretty much weld the plaque to the wall," Nesler said, "but where the U.S. Green Building Council is moving, someday you might have to have a crowbar handy because you may have to remove it."