Guest Editorial by Andrew Heaton
Once upon a time, the average office worker was able to find out whether or not his or her building was LEED certified and to what level (if they even understood what that meant), but finding out anything useful in plain English such as why it is or isn’t energy or water efficient and whether the daylight or indoor air quality is any good has been difficult.
Now, however, that is changing. Using a new tool developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) referred to as the Green Building Information Gateway – essentially a search engine for green building – anyone will be able to find out what energy/water savings measures are in place, whether or not building materials have been obtained from sustainable sources, what aspects of the building make air quality and cleanliness excellent or not so good as the case may be, and lots more.
A search of the Empire State Building, for example (LEED Gold), reveals that it is ‘good’ overall with excellent ratings for energy and atmosphere, satisfactory performance in materials and resources and indoor environment but could improve in water efficiency and innovation. The system also reveals specific actions, such as the building’s 40 perc ent system level metering of total energy consumption and 90 percent sustainable purchasing of reduced mercury lamps, which underline its rating.
Better yet, the Gateway allows comparisons against other buildings in the area. The Empire State Building, for example, ranks in the top 96 per cent in New York and the top 95 per cent in the U.S. Nor are the tools used confined to individual buildings. Want to see how your local city shapes up? No problem. Type in say, Vancouver, and the system will tell you the city has 4.104 million square feet of LEED certified space (around three quarters of which is Gold or Platinum), 216 green building ‘activities’ (new sustainable buildings, retrofits or other forms of effort associated with green building) involving 166 buildings.
All this, USGBC vice president for research Chris Pike says, creates essentially a LEED ‘scorecard’ – just like the one used to evaluate projects for LEED but which is easily accessible to a variety of users and one which provides meaningful information in a manner which is easy to understand. A real estate broker, for example, could perform a search to locate energy efficient buildings with daylight views, Pike says. “Also if I’m advising a team and building a building, I can say what are the characteristics of green buildings that have been delivered in a certain market over the last 12 months, and I can use GBIG to answer that question too,” Pike was quoted as saying in a recent report on National Real Estate Investor.
Pike says the tool leverages USGBC data gathered over ten years and tracks around 133,000 green building activities across roughly 80,000 buildings. It also tracks information about key ‘strategies’ (4,375 buildings across 2,624 places employ heat island reduction strategies, for example – the latest being the LBCC New Science Building).
He says feedback thus far has been positive, with a number of users describing it as the tool they had been looking for. And its uses are growing. Local governments, for example, are jumping on board in terms of using it as a reporting tool. Pike says an interesting challenge revolves around managing suggestions for future growth.
Of course, we also get calls from people saying, “You know, it does all these great things; can it also do…” he says. “And that’s great, that’s a good problem to have.”