By Eric Baxter
Brightworks Sustainability Advisor
It’s been more than 10 years since the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out the LEED® rating system. Now that LEED certified buildings have been operating in the real world for several years, researchers and the media are analyzing whether these buildings are living up to expectations. One aspect of LEED projects is that they carefully model the environmental and financial savings that greener buildings should create for owners and tenants. The question is, what happens when these buildings move from concept to reality, and how can we best manage the transition when reality presents unexpected but unavoidable challenges?
Brian Libby from the Sustainable Industries Journal recently dove into this subject, using various examples of the gap between expectations and actual performance for green buildings. One of his data points was the LEED Platinum Certified OHSU Center for Health and Healing (OSHU CCH), which as Libby points out, hasn’t met all of the performance targets the building was designed to achieve. Brightworks CEO contributed a guest column to SIJ that gave a fuller picture of the unanticipated challenges the building faced when trying to meet its performance projections (Bridging The Gap). Such challenges can happen with any building. All you have to do is increase your tenant population or install some energy-intensive equipment, and the building you walk into every day is no longer the building you modeled.
So how do you keep a green building performing in the face of changing conditions? With ongoing operational plans and policies that continue to take resource efficiency and healthy environments into consideration.
I want to expand on the discussion of OHSU CHH as a prime example of a building that was designed to be high performance making a successful transition into a building with high performance operations.
Certainly the building was groundbreaking. It utilized best-in-class features in its construction, from photovoltaic (PV) enabled sun shades on its south face to collecting all of its stormwater and treating 100% of its wastewater on site using a membrane bioreactor. You can learn more about the design of OHSU CHH here. It was the first large-scale highrise healthcare facility to earn a LEED Platinum certification, and has established itself as a focal point for the University’s expansion off the main Marquam Hill campus and into the redevelopment of Portland’s South Waterfront district.
As a Sustainability Advisor, I worked with the development, design, and construction team on the project, and am now working with the building operations team in the certification effort for LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O&M). It has been exciting for me to watch a building designed for high performance evolve to be even more efficient and extremely well-run. When OHSU/RIMCO first approached this project, they admitted that they were looking for a different model; one that would allow for experimentation in how to manage and maintain the building. Knowing CBRE’s expertise in that area, the owners contracted with them to operate and maintain the building . Since tenant understanding and use of building systems is crucial to the performance of any building, the building management team has been active in educating tenants. That education included what the building can do, how a green building might feel or act differently from other buildings they have previously worked in, and how their understanding and use of these different attributes contributes to its performance.
This gets to the crux of the change: Even the most high-tech, energy-efficient building might perform no better than a code-built building if it is poorly operated. Efficient operations in a green framework are critical to maximizing a building’s potential, as well as minimizing expenditures and resource uses for energy and water. This ultimately provides operational cost savings on an ongoing basis. Since the building was turned over to CBRE’s operations team, they have worked to continually improve the operation of the building. Their goal is to reach the operations target that the developer, Gerding Edlen, sought from the outset of the project: 50% operational energy cost savings over a standard, code compliant building.
Because of its intended use, the building faced inherent challenges in meeting this goal. Key challenges included higher medical equipment energy loads than originally anticipated, as well as a complex system design that required extensive tuning during commissioning in order to optimize performance. In the process of optimizing the building’s systems and developing a high performance operations program, the operations team has also successfully implemented an array of other green practices, from green cleaning and procurement to a building-wide recycling program. OHSU is interested in formally adopting and receiving third-party recognition for these and other new strategies through a LEED EB O&M certification in order to cement these operational practices. To this end, Brightworks is again working with the OHSU CHH team to develop these practices into the LEED EB O&M framework and prepare the building for this certification.
The building was also recently honored by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) with The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) Award. The CCH competed against buildings from around the world to become the first winner in Oregon. Given the tenant-friendly and operator-friendly nature of LEED, particularly the EB O&M requirements, it should come as no surprise that five of the fourteen TOBY Award winners are LEED certified, including two LEED EB O&M certified projects. I expect to see continued interest and growth in EB O&M certifications, and I’m excited because these programs create buildings that are not only healthier for the people who occupy them, but which reduce operating expenses for building owners and managers, and minimize their environmental impacts.