This is the fourth part of "Seven Practices of Highly Effective Green Building Consultants," an nine-part series from green building consultant Jerry Yudelson.
Practice #3 of highly effective green building consultants: Get Buy-In from the Team.
We have often seen green building projects go astray when the consultants assume that everyone has bought into the green building approach and especially into a given level of expected LEED certification. Frequently, these expectations are simply not the case. However, team buy-in is especially critical in most projects, especially where the budget is set in stone before the design and construction team begins to consider green measures.
In the case of the recently completed Public Safety Building (PSB) in Salt Lake City, team buy-in was essential. A very complex building, the PSB contains police, fire, and emergency dispatch functions and needed to be operational 24/7, even during the worst earthquake and storm events. For any project, this would be a complex undertaking.
In addition to this, architect Kevin Miller of GSBS Architects told me that the project’s $120 million budget (which included $80 million for building construction) came from a bond issue and was thus a fixed amount. Add in LEED Platinum and net-zero-energy goals, and getting full team buy-in for a very demanding design and construction process was critical.
According to Miller, GSBS “aggressively worked to change the thought process from one that considered sustainable design as an add-on to one that made it a design determinant. It took until the end of the initial design phase with the focus of establishing specific goals for seismic and sustainable performance–within the budget parameters–until the idea was truly embraced.”
The fact that the project was completed on the original budget with full expectation of a net-zero result indicates that the entire building team, as well as the owner agencies, bought in to the city’s green building goals. In addition, each occupant had to be educated about the energy goals for the building and what their part was in minimizing energy demand. The PSB was occupied in the summer of 2013, so time will tell if the net-zero-energy goals are met.
How to Gain Buy-In
On another project where we served as the green building consultant, we were engaged late in the design process by a team that had never done a LEED project. The developer, however, set LEED certification as a goal and this worked in our favor. One of our first efforts was to meet with each member of the design and construction team and review how much they could alter or amend the design to meet LEED requirements. Some design engineers were quite resistant to changing their standard (a.k.a. non-LEED-compliant) approaches. But with ongoing discussion, we eventually were able to get full cooperation from the entire design and construction team, which resulted in LEED Silver certification for one of the first of this project type in Arizona.
The lesson we learned is that for highly effective green building consultants, gaining buy-in is critical for high-performance buildings to go from good idea to a successful, operational reality. There are many strategies for gaining buy-in, but in our view, the best strategy is for one passionate and highly experienced individual green building consultant to take the lead with support from his or her team. Every successful green building project has had to have its share of truly committed leaders.