Be Careful about Talking the Talk: Promoting LEED Projects the Right Way

The following was spurred by a recent NYTimes blog post about a craigslist post that found a developer who was advertising their "LEED Certified Building" before the certification was complete. From a risk management perspective, it seems to me like this wouldn't be much of a problem unless the building doesn't ultimately earn it's rating. In other words, I doubt the USGBC will be going around suing folks for jumping the gun early, but you can bet someone leasing or purchasing the building sure would if these promises aren't met.

LEED Claim too Early

Bad Broker! No Cookie for You!

I figure this is an important enough topic to warrant a post about what you can an can't say during various stages of the certification process, and what guidance the USGBC offers regarding logo usage and other related issues.

"LEED Certified" vs. "LEED Registered"

The only projects that can claim to be LEED Certified are those that have COMPLETELY finished the entire LEED certification process. This sounds obvious, but since it can take awhile for the paperwork to go through, many building owners will really want to start claiming this once the building opens or even before for sales and marketing purposes. It's worth making this clear to your client ahead of time. You don't have to wait for the plaque to arrive in the mail, but you do have to accept the final construction review.

The good news is that a building can claim to be "LEED Registered" the moment you register with LEED-Online and fork over the $450-600 that requires. For all practical purposes, I think just replacing calling a building LEED Registered instead of LEED Certified will carry as much cachet with the general public, so you can still talk up a building's green cred before it's completed. Our company has gone so far as to create a few examples of approved copy for projects pursuing certification but not yet finished, complete with all of the little legal characters:

As a first step toward LEED® Green Building Certification, [organization/owner] has registered this project with the U.S. Green Building Council. To achieve LEED certification, documentation demonstrating that the project has successfully met the sustainable design and performance criteria set forth within the LEED Green Building Rating SystemTM must be submitted, reviewed, and approved by USGBC. LEED® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Official accepted language from the USGBC can be found on page 21 of this guide.

LEED-CS Precertification

The USGBC foresaw an owners need to claim something about the sustainability of the building before it is complete, and as a result created a Percertification option for LEED-Core and Shell (LEED-CS) projects. I've been through this before, and I'm not sure I will recommend it again. The costs are relatively low, but it still does not allow you to claim the building is "Certified", only "Precertified", and in my mind you might as well just stick with "Registered" and save yourself the trouble.

Logos Aplenty

You might have noticed that the LEED brand is very important to the USGBC, and as such they provide official guidelines about what you may and may not do with their graphic materials and logos. All of this info is available here. There are important restrictions about how both the USGBC Member logo can be used on your company's marketing materials and how the LEED Certification logo can be used on marketing materials for a specific project.

Dangerzone!!! Claiming the Benefits of Sustainable Design

The most dangerous thing you can do is imply or outright state that the benefits studies are beginning to show about sustainable design in general apply specifically to your project. If someone moves in and does not find the same benefit you claimed, you could be in for some trouble. In general, I make a big effort to distance specific projects from the general benefits by making sure the studies in question (say, about reduced absenteeism due to better indoor air quality) are clearly credited to the people who performed the study and can not be attributed as a claim I have made about what's supposed to happen in this particular building.

It's also important to be careful about the claims you make as a result of energy modeling or water use reduction calculations. I've gone into some detail about this particular issue here.

Have you found yourself in a sticky situation involving marketing of LEED projects? Please share your experiences by leaving a comment!

Current LEED AP Exam Deadline Announced: June 30th

NOTE: This entry was edited on March 5th, 2009 to reflect an official announcement from the GBCI. The original version of the post cited a USGBC source and did not link to the press release.

The Green Buildings Certification Institute (GBCI) has just issued a press release confirming that the last day to TAKE the current set of LEED AP exams is June 30th, 2009. It is very important to note that the last day to REGISTER for these exams is March 31st, a date that is fast approaching.

Also important to note is that if you schedule to take the test after the March 31st registration deadline, there will be NO opportunity to retest as the registration date has passed. If you're scared about failing and want the opportunity to retake the current exam, it's vital you schedule your exam date before the end of March.

Need help studying? I've offered a few thoughts on practicing for the exam in this post. Official details about the process for registering and signing up for the exam can be found on the Green Buildings Certification Institute (GBCI) website.

Architect (magazine) Representin'

Real Life LEED is excited to announce that it has been featured in this month's Screen Grab feature of Architect. It should go without saying that Real Life LEED is very honored and thankful to receive this coverage, but I just said it anyway!

Architect, February 2009

The Cover is Sad... yet I'm happy!

For those of you that are regular readers, shoot over to the article to learn a few things about the history of this site, why it was started, and view the most flattering photo of me ever taken (way to go Harold!). For those of you reaching the site for the first time because of the article, take a stroll through the site and let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

LEED Risk Management: Crossing the Model/Reality Chasm


What happens if I've already jumped in?

This post began as a comment by Mitchell Swann of MDCSystems. "A question that continues to rumble thru my head is how does the owner's 'actions' related to operations and maintenance factor in to the potential for disputes and damages?".

This brings to mind two issues. While participating in a seminar a few months back the esteemed counsel sitting on the panel surmised that all litigation related to sustainable design and construction would be prosecuted using the same basic claims that exist today: delays ("That LEED certification didn't come through before my incentive options ran out!"), errors & ommissions ("You didn't get me my plaque"), negligence ("How high was that standard of care bar in 2002?"), etc. It seems to me that most of the time these issues will sort themselves out fairly and in much the same fashion as any other claim against an architect or designer. If the architect makes a reasonable effort to earn LEED certification making reasonable assumptions about how to proceed, and avoided making any boneheaded statements about their abilities in the field of sustainable design (I forgot to include misrepresentation in the list of claims above), then the law should smile favorably upon them even if something goes awry.

What interests me is what Mitchell raises above: What is really happening when you have a semi-official document that says you give a client a building whose design outperforms an ASHRAE 90.1 baseline by 25%. Does the client have any right to claim damages if the building underperforms in real life? The ASHRAE standard is not designed to cover all loads. Does the client forfeit any claims if he does not operate the building within the parameters of the design assumptions?

What can we do today to mitigate the issue? Not make any claims? This will be unavoidable problem whenever a school or municipality sets an energy benchmark for a project - see North Carolina's here requiring you to beat ASHRAE by 30% here. Are you just not going to take any of those kinds of projects? Good luck lasting five years...

It wouldn't be a fun conversation, but you could ask for a clause exempting you from any damages arising from the owner's operation of the building straying from set design assumptions. Perhaps a global warming clause is in order as well? That's bound to affect your cooling loads!

With an emerging (and proper) emphasis on tracking and more importantly reporting building performance, the real estate market will soon begin to value relative utility performance into leasing and development cost models. How this issue of designer's assumptions vs. owner operations is resolved will have real economic consequences. It is a looming problem that is not easily resolved, but a delay before it matters may be the one silver lining in having a market that undervalues the benefits energy efficiency. Being a blogger, I'm in the fortunate position to simply raise the question and ask the masses to decide on an answer... Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

Fun with Disclaimers

Guess what? I'm not a lawyer, and none of anything I've ever said or written or will write about should be construed by you, or your family, or your small to medium sized pets to be legal advice. Your large size pets may construe as they may, but that does not make it any more accurate.

Job O' the Vague Time Period: Director of Sustainability, City of Charleston, SC

Yes... believe it or not there are still a few jobs out there, and this one could be pretty interesting.  It's a result of a recommendation from the Mayor's Green Committee in the City of Charleston, SC, and you'll be the top green guru in a historic city that is currently figuring out how to reduce it's impact on the environment.  See a detailed description on page two of this document. A summary of the summary:

Charleston Sustainability Director Position

"Responsible for the direction and coordination of the environmental sustainability activities of the City Charleston... Assists the Mayor and the Director of the Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability in the creation of short and long-range planning goals and objectives related to sustainability of all City operations and advocacy of sustainability to the Charleston community... Oversees the creation, implementation, evaluation and revision of the City’s Climate Protection and Sustainability Plan including coordinating with the Mayor, Department Directors, the Charleston Green Committee, local non-profits and the business community... Evaluates City policies, ordinances and operating procedures to ensure they comply with the City’s Climate Protection and Sustainability Plan... Provides technical expertise on sustainability for City capital projects, procurement and design review initiatives. Identifies, develops and supports grant requests to implement sustainability initiatives... Serves as a primary spokesperson for City sustainability issues and opportunities."

For a complete job description for any particular position, contact the Human Resources Division at 843.724.7388. Let me know when you move down, we'll go have a beer sometime!