LEED-certified buildings must be re-certified at least once every five years and under the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) current rules, can be recertified as often as once a year. Some credits should be easier to obtain the second time around, since features such as density and proximity to mass transit are unlikely to change. But owners and property managers who don't prepare for recertification with green practices and consistent reporting may find it difficult to retain a building's certification.
According to the USGBC San Diego Chapter, there are 31 LEED certified and 197 registered buildings within San Diego County, some of which will likely be coming up for recertification in 2010.
Given the uncertainty of the LEED certification rules and who will control the building in five years, it is understandable that some property managers might not have a robust program or a continuity plan for ensuring recertification. However, LEED-EB (existing buildings) recertification requires managers to provide performance data for the entire period since the previous LEED certification. Failure to follow appropriate procedures or keep accurate records may endanger the buildings' future LEED status.
In addition, LEED is an evolving standard, so the rules have and will continue to change. Ultimately, though, the "knowns" outweigh the "unknowns," making a case for strategic continual documentation as the recommended strategy.
Tenants seek occupancy in LEED certified buildings for their reputations as environmentally responsible properties, as well as for the promise of reduced operating costs, and a healthier and more productive workplace. Certification may help to attract these tenants, but property management programs that fail to deliver on those promises do a disservice to tenants and undercut the value of certification.
The following are basic practices that can be used to ensure that the management of a LEED certified property conforms to ongoing sustainability best practices:
Performance monitoring -- Tracking monthly energy and water usage over multiple years is the only way to prove that the sustainability initiative was worthwhile from an operational cost standpoint. In addition, if usage is higher than anticipated in any given period, current monitoring reports will allow the property manager to identify trends and unusual activity in a timely manner. Individual meters on various building systems and equipment can help to pinpoint specific areas that can benefit from improvement.
Regular inspections -- When the LEED-EB standard was updated to become Operations & Maintenance (EB-OM) this year, the building owner was no longer required to conduct quarterly inspections of the building operations after certification was achieved. However, it's still a good practice for the property management team members to have a comprehensive checklist and scheduled in-house inspections to ensure that all sustainable practices and related equipment are maintained.
Vendor meetings -- At a minimum, managers should regularly verify that the property vendors are still following the LEED procedures and using the products that led to certification. In addition, new green products and processes are introduced every day and can easily become overwhelming to track. Vendor partners are a great resource and may welcome the opportunity to explain how they are keeping up-to-date on green products, practices and materials on your behalf. These sustainability partner meetings should be used not only to monitor current operations, but to strategize on continual improvements. At least once a year, consider holding a meeting that involves all of the vendors that impact sustainability.
Tenant meetings -- Tenant participation in sustainability processes is critical to the ongoing success of a LEED maintenance program and the property's overall sustainability efforts. Therefore, property managers should ensure that tenants are well informed and engaged in the process. A green tenant program can offer guidance from management that a tenant may use to engage its work force in contributing to the building's sustainability goals.
File maintenance -- Just as they did during the certification process, it is imperative that the property management staff keep organized files and records on green product expenditures, utility bills, recycling accomplishments, etc. This information will be required for the LEED recertification process and will be much more readily compiled if detailed and current documentation is maintained. However, be cautious of over-preparedness, as the requirements are ever changing.
The green building business is evolving rapidly, and the USGBC is constantly refining LEED standards. It is important for property management staff to become actively involved with the council to keep an eye on these changes, and adjust recertification activities accordingly.
Keeping in mind that continual improvement is the ultimate goal of any sustainability program, property managers and their sustainability teams should also be proactive in their search for new and improved processes, procedures and products that can contribute to a more sustainable property, enhanced energy conservation measures and ultimately continued LEED certification.
Wakeman is executive vice president for Jones Lang LaSalle in San Diego. The firm offers a wide array of commercial real estate services, including energy and sustainability consulting services.