This is the second part of "Seven Practices of Highly Effective Green Building Consultants," an nine-part series from green building consultant Jerry Yudelson.

Practice #1 of highly effective green building consultants: Be Proactive.

As a green building consultant, it’s easy to imagine yourself in this role as the official scorer at an NBA game who just marks down statistics such as who scored or who committed a foul, how many time outs are left, and more, as called by the referees. But that’s a passive role. I’ve been there, and it’s no fun. It’s also not effective and does not support the growth of the green building industry. We should never consider our role to be a passive one nor that of a scorekeeper.

Instead, things work better when green building consultants work with the owner’s representatives and the building team to make the case for achieving the highest possible LEED certification that is consistent with the budget, mission, and intentions of the project team, as well as with the history and policies of the owner. There is no need to settle for "LEED Light,” or certification in name only. Rather, aggressive green building project certification goals need to be established at the outset, and that’s a key part of the green building consultant’s role.

In fact, if the consultants don’t push hard enough, the project might register for certification but wind up in limbo with a LEED intention, but no certification. Sadly, this has been the fate of more than half of the LEED-NC projects, according to USGBC statistics. In fact, it’s quite common for projects to register for LEED certification even though they never really intend to certify. Instead, far too many green building projects treat LEED certification as a marketing and PR cost because they want to be able to say they are “LEED registered.” For this reason, I never accept a project’s LEED claims (or zero-net-energy claims, for that matter) until the certification is actually awarded or the energy claim is actually verified with at least one year’s performance data.

Being Proactive Can Make a Difference
Sometimes it works the other way, and we know this from experience. In one experience, a design team and owner wanted to be the first LEED Platinum building in their city in Arizona. However they didn’t really have a budget or understanding as to what was going to be required to meet that goal. The process was further complicated by an owner’s representative who had never worked on a green building project before. 

In this case, the Yudelson Associates team held initial eco-charrette focused on sustainable design, which revealed that Platinum LEED certification was going to be a real stretch and achievable only if the owner committed to a major solar PV installation on site, something that was under consideration at the beginning of the project. However, after a few project meetings, it became clear that the owner wasn’t ready to commit to the solar installation, so the project’s green building certification goal was downgraded to LEED Gold. 

In this case, the green building consultants’ role was to keep as many LEED points "in play" as possible, so that Gold certfication was, in fact, achieved. In this particular project, we wound up with 62 points (60 are required for LEED Gold) and met the certification goal. We came very close to not meeting the LEED Gold goal, and I believe that the focus we provided as consultants made a real difference.

On another project, we worked with an owner and project team that had never done a LEED project before, and we got a late start: Our firm got the assignment to certify the project after the construction documents had already been completed. In this case, LEED Certified status would have satisfied the owner. However, in working with the LEED scorecard, we determined that it might be possible to achieve Silver certification. So we kept pushing the team to include various measures such as a LEED-compliant white roof (which was actually a tan color, but still met the solar reflectance index criterion) and to document things such as recycling rates and recycled content, and we eventually wound up with 32 points, just clearing the bar for Silver certification under the LEED v.2.2 rating system.

In yet another project, this one for an academic science building that started in 2007, our firm also led an initial design charrette. At the table were both the faculty science representatives and the university’s development and fund-raising team. We started them with the idea of a LEED Gold project, which looked to be achievable, but through the diligent work of the entire design and construction team, the project eventually achieved a LEED Platinum certification, becoming the first Platinum certification awarded in that state for an academic project.

The bottom line: green building consultants need to be proactive in promoting the business case for LEED certification and in trying to get the building team and owner to agree on the highest possible certification level. The approach is classic self-help: What you can first conceive, you can in practice achieve.

Jerry Yudelson, LEED Fellow, is principal at Yudelson Associates, Tucson, Arizona. This post originally appeared on greenbuildconsult.com/blog.