New CSU Research Study: The Impact of Charrettes on LEED Certification

Author:  Michael Knox, Graduate Student in the Department of Construction Management at CSU

Charrettes have gained in popularity in recent years as a tool to increase collaboration and communication among building stakeholders, and to efficiently focus the time and attention of design team members in order to achieve greater synergy and sustainability.  However, little research exists documenting outcomes of the charrette process and its role in the overall success of sustainable building projects. To learn more about this relationship, we conducted a research study surveying LEED-NC 2009 project contacts and asked what characteristics were present during the charrette process.


The study’s results showed that implementing charrettes in LEED projects increased the amount of points a project received by 7 on average compared to projects that did not use charrettes. 

In addition to this finding, three separate characteristics were found to negatively impact the the number of LEED points a building received. We consider these three characteristics constraining factors, since they limit what happens during a charrette. The characteristics which were found to negatively impact LEED achievement included:

  • using a charrette as a LEED strategy or checklist meeting,
  • having a defined structured agenda, and
  • having pre-defined project goals before the charrettes take place.

Results of the study suggest the charrette process has the potential to provide significant benefits, regardless of what characteristics are implemented.  But to fully realize these benefits, a charrette should not include factors that limit a group’s ability to produce creative ideas, goals and innovative solutions. Thus, charrettes are best conducted to encourage open-ended dialogue, brainstorming and creative solutions to problems as vetted thoroughly and rapidly among many people with interdisciplinary backgrounds.

This research project was conducted as part of the Masters thesis of Michael Knox, graduate student in the department of Construction Management at Colorado State University.  Michael’s thesis committee included, Caroline Clevenger, Ph.D., Brian Dunbar, and Katharine Leigh, Ph.D.  To learn more about this research project, please download the full research document here. You can also contact the author on LinkedIn.


Is Sustainability Just a Buzzword?

Brody Hatch, IBE Sustainable Building Associate

Sustainability may seem more like a buzz-word than an actual concept or way of doing business.  Words like green, sustainable, renewable, earth-friendly, etc. have become taglines that lead to varying reactions by different people.  I often talk with people that believe that sustainability in business, economic development, and energy production are just passing fads. They are unaware of the impact, influence, and prominence of these concepts in the world.  So how big is sustainability anyway?  The following are some simple facts about the growth of the sustainability movement in various forms.

LEED in the World

Green building materials demand has grown exponentially over the past several years and is expected to continue to grow by 11% annually through 2017.  As the cost of green building materials has fallen, demand for said products has increased due to the undisputed advantages of green building.  In many cases, green building has been shown to be just as cost effective as traditional building, with the additional benefits of significantly lower utility and maintenance costs.

Renewable energy sources account for almost 20% of global energy production.  Obviously, some countries are doing more than others.  The following countries and regions are the top ten renewable energy producers in the world (ordered from highest producer to lowest): China, EU, USA, Brazil, Canada, Russia, India, Germany, Norway, Japan, and Spain.  The amount of renewable energy produced is growing rapidly.

Wind capacity has grown by over 25% annually for the last five years.  It’s hard to drive anywhere (at least in the western US, but I imagine elsewhere as well), without seeing huge wind farms.   With the technology improvements, and costs decreasing, wind power is becoming more and more profitable.

Solar power production has grown 50% annually for the last five years.  This rapid growth, again, is due in large part to the decreasing cost of production and installation of solar panels.  Panels are also becoming ever more efficient in their energy production.


Biofuel (including ethanol and biodiesel) production has increased by 20% annually for the last ten years.  For some countries, this is nothing new.  I lived in Brazil for a couple of years between 2004 and 2006.  I was surprised to find that ethanol was not only common, but in certain areas, used more often than petroleum fuel in cars, buses and trucks.  Several decades ago, when many parts of the world were uncovering petroleum oil deposits, Brazil was unable to discover any within their borders.  Rather than become dependent on other countries for their energy needs, Brazil invested heavily in the research and production of sugarcane ethanol.  Today, the industry is booming and provides a large quantity of the fuel that is consumed in the country and exported outside its borders.

Sustainability in construction and energy production are more than theoretical concepts, they are here to stay.  In a lot of cases, people are unaware of the rapid growth of sustainability that is occurring in construction and energy production as it is happening behind the scenes.  We still have a long way to go but I am optimistic that given the current trends and projected growth, eventually sustainability will cease to feel like a buzz-word and become an everyday way of life.

Report Review – The Business Case for Green Building

By: Angelina Howard, IBE Student Intern

The Business Case for Green Building: A Review of Cost and Benefits for Developers, Investors, and Occupants from the World Green Building Council is now available. The report provides detailed information and case studies on Design and Construction Costs, Asset Value, Operating Costs, Workplace Productivity and Health, and Risk Mitigation. The following is a brief summary of  some of the key topics in the report.

Design and Construction Cost

According to research, green buildings do not cost more than conventional buildings that are built to code. Program management, environment and cost strategies help make building green cost effective, and increased upfront costs in green buildings are often offset by a decrease in long-term life cycle cost. Based on findings from various research studies, actual design and construction cost premium of green buildings have been documented to range from -.4% to 12.5%.  These studies included buildings from the US, UK, Australia, Singapore, and Israel for projects completed in 2000-2012.

The Perception Gap, The Business Case for Green
Building © 2013, pg. 26

There is a major perception gap but when it comes to design and construction cost. 

Some people believe that building green increases design and construction cost by approximately 10-20% (with some estimates as high as 29%) compared to the cost of conventional code-compliant buildings. However, design teams are challenged to deliver green buildings with conventional budgets. Figure 1 illustrates this perception gap.

Asset Value

The Asset Value for green buildings is increasing. Green buildings have begun to attract tenants and command higher rents and sale prices and investors and occupants are becoming more knowledgeable regarding the environmental and social impacts of the built environment. A lot of this is due to a building’s asset value. A building’s asset value has different meanings for the various stakeholders. Figure 2 illustrates stakeholder perceptions that affect the value of the buildings.
Based on information gathered from studies conducted over the past decade, primarily on LEED certified office buildings in the US, green buildings tend to have higher asset values than conventional code-compliant buildings, which have led to higher sale prices. The benefits of this are higher rental/lease rates, lower operating expenses, higher occupancy rates, and lower yields. Sub-market price premiums were found to be in the range of 0-30% when comparing certified green buildings to non-certified green buildings. Evidence also shows that higher levels of LEED certification also achieve higher sales premiums.

Operating Cost

Documenting annual energy savings is fundamental to building green. It is estimated that energy savings from code-compliant buildings range from 25% – 30% in U.S. LEED certified buildings to 35% – 50% in New Zealand green buildings. See Figure 3 for energy savings of 2003 LEED certified buildings.
There are energy savings from green building retrofits, improved maintenance standards, and refurbishment. Energy savings for green building retrofits are not as high as those for new builds, but they are still substantial. As energy prices continue to grow, benefits of energy efficiency will become important, strengthening the business case for energy efficiency retrofits. When it comes to maintenance, there can be a significant decrease in maintenance requirements and replacements if sustainable building systems are used. With refurbishment, green buildings provide adaptability, insuring that the building will be a valuable asset presently and in the future.
Even with these best practices in energy efficient design, there are still challenges that can prevent a green building from performing as expected. However, these are most often resolved through building commissioning, leadership committed to green building management practices, effective and transparent communication of successes and lessons learned, and tenant awareness programs.

Workplace Productivity and Health

Productivity & Health Benefits,The Business Case for
Green Building  © 2013, pg. 67
According to the report, healthy work environments are a prominent agenda item for the building industry. Green buildings positively impact the employees working inside of them. Employees productivity and health are improved due to the healthy indoor environments that green buildings provide. Healthy indoor environments include high levels of natural daylighting, appropriate levels and types of artificial light, use of materials with minimal toxins, appropriate outdoor air ventilation, thermal comfort and open and inviting spaces that increase interaction and physical movement. The improved ventilation has helped reduce the cases of “Sick Building Syndrome.” Healthy indoor environments have also reduced stress in the workplace. A 1998 study, cited by Heerwagen, states that stress and frustration levels declined and patience increased when employees had views of nature through windows. Those with a window view are typically less stressed than those constantly viewing a screen or working in a viewless room.
Please check out the full report here and the Executive Summary here.

LEED v4 Materials

Samala Hartley, Sustainable Building Associate

There are three Materials and Resources credits that focus on the disclosure and optimization of materials used on a project. The intent of these credits is to encourage the use of products where manufacturers are forthright with all the material and chemical ingredients used and their practices to procure raw materials.

LEED v4, MRc4, “Building product disclosure and optimization – sourcing of raw materials” places preference on manufacturers who publicly report information about their raw material suppliers and on responsible harvesting and extraction. In the point system, these two ideas are not exclusive to one another.

In addition to specifically emphasizing the sourcing of raw materials, this credit also combines a variety of other v3 materials credits into one. The following credits from v3 show up within v4 MRc4:

  • MRc3 – Materials Reuse
  • MRc4 – Recycled Content
  • MRc5 – Regional Materials
  • MRc6 – Rapidly Renewable Materials
  • MRc6 – Certified Wood

Now, let’s dissect that credit title.

Building Product Disclosure & Optimization: Sourcing of Raw Materials

Building product: the permanently installed products of a building, separate from the installation costs.
Disclosure: exposing information about a manufacturer’s products and processes. The rationale behind this is that when companies start disclosing this information they are held accountable for their practices and will be incentivized to improve.  This will result in greater, and faster, positive change in the marketplace.
Optimization:  Optimizing informed and sustainable decision making.
Sourcing of raw materials: “Sourcing” not only refers to the location of raw material extraction/harvesting, but also the use of recycled content and even the use of salvaged materials.

What are the options?

Option 1: Raw material source and extraction reporting

This option requires the use of materials from manufacturers that publicly disclose information about their product’s raw material suppliers and their commitment to ecological and environmental responsibility.

1 point is earned by specifying 20 products that meet the requirement (from at least 5 different manufacturers).
  • Products from manufacturers who disclose their practices through a third party verified corporate sustainability report qualify as 1 full product.
  • Products from manufacturers who create their own, unverified, report qualify as ½ a product.

Option 2: Leadership extraction practices

This option is a compilation of all the MR credits from version 3. In combination you must show that at least 25% of the materials cost has some sustainable value, including:
  • Extended producer responsibility (50% of the product value can contribute)
  • Bio-based materials: Meet Sustainable Agriculture Network’s Sustainable Agriculture Standard (verifies sustainable harvesting)
  • Wood products: Meet FSC certified
  • Materials Reuse: salvaged, refurbished, & reused products
  • Recycled Content: sum of post-consumer plus ½ pre-consumer recycled content
Regional location of a material becomes a valuation factor that can add value based on the proximity of the source material. The distance has decreased from 500 miles in v3 to 100 miles from the project site in v4.
USGBC is taking a new approach to the materials credits by emphasizing the greater transparency of manufacturers. Thus the new credits award more points for this disclosure, and less for the material content.

LEED Regionalization for LEED v4

April Brown, IBE Projects Manager

Initially introduced in the LEED 2009 version updates, USGBCrecognizes projects for addressing regionally specific environmental issues. In each of the rating systems, bonus points are awarded for projects that meet the requirements for existing LEED credits that address regional issues. There are 6 regional priority credit options and teams can be awarded for up to 4 out of the 6 options. The environmental issues are identified through a rigorous research process by volunteer environmental scientists and green building professionals in Colorado.
LEED v4 Regional Priority Zones for the state of Colorado

As you may have heard, LEED is undergoing another version update, now referred to as LEED v4, which is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2013. Part of the updates to the rating systems include updated regional priority credits. USGBC Colorado Chapter, along with all the other chapters of the USGBC, created a LEED regionalization task force to evaluate which credits to prioritize in LEED v4 for the state of Colorado. The Colorado task force followed a 4-step process to evaluate the environmental issues and their appropriate zones, which took one year. Some regional priority credits will be changing from the regional priority credits in LEED 2009. A few of the task force members will speak in detail about the process and recommendations for LEED v4 regional priority credits at the upcoming Rocky Mountain Green Conference in Denver on Friday, April 26.

Daylighting in LEED v4

Scott Preston, Sustainable Building Associate

While technology allows us to artificially light a building’s interior, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best solution. Exposure to daylight has health and well-being benefits, especially indoors, where, according to the EPA, Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. For these reasons, there has been growing demand for a reduction in electric lighting and mechanical cooling through architectural daylighting strategies. Daylight has immense power that can overwhelm any designer with the best intentions. Even the best green buildings designed by world-famous architecture firms have examples of too much glare, overheating, loss of productivity and situations of blinds drawn and lights always on.

A well-designed daylit building is estimated to reduce lighting energy use by 50%-80%. The 2009 LEED rating system encourages adequate daylighting in schools and commercial buildings by requiring daylight for 75-90% of regularly occupied spaces. In the current system, compliance can be calculated and documented by implementing one of four options: a computer simulation, a prescriptive method (demonstrating compliance of side and top lighting drawn and measured in sections), measurement (demonstrated through records of indoor light measurements) or a combination of the preceding 3 options.

Daylight modeling software is the best approach to dynamic daylighting metrics.  This approach can predict daylight and glare within a building with incredible accuracy.  In LEED v4, the credit has been updated to address recent innovations in daylight modeling.  Moving forward, the most points will be awarded for a project that implements a more sophisticated and dynamic metric called spatial daylight autonomy or sDA.  This refers to the percentage of the “work plane” that is above 300 lux (28 foot-candles) at least 50% of the time during the spaces occupied hours over the course of the entire year.  This may encourage designers to overglaze the building and therefore the credit requires glare simulations as a counterpoint.  The intent of the credit is to connect building occupants with the outdoors, reinforce circadian rhythms, and reduce the use of electrical lighting by introducing daylight into the space.

Organizational Sustainability: Searching for the Switch

By: Stephanie Barr, Research Associate and Green Schools Specialist

In a recent report from MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group[1], the number of companies implementing and profiting from sustainability initiatives has increased significantly in recent years.  Sustainability is becoming an intrinsic part of corporations – practically synonymous with innovation. 
The results from this report illustrate interesting characteristics of organizations which have seen success through sustainability initiatives and those which have not.  A few of these key characteristics included the adoption of new organizational structures, effective communication, finding bright spots, and integrating charismatic leadership.
Of the businesses profiting from successful sustainability agendas, the researchers found that they were not integrating sustainability into their pre-existing organizational structure.  Instead, they had adopted new structures, introduced new lines of communication, and established new performance metrics.  In Chip & Dan Heath‘s book, Switch, they discuss that in order “to change someone’s behavior, you have to change that person’s situation”[2].  A sustainability agenda requires a shift in behavior and cannot be successful if the organizational structure does not evolve to support it.
In Switch the authors describe people as being motivated by their brains and their emotions, using the image of a Rider (brain) trying to control an Elephant (emotion) to illustrate the difficulty in shifting behavior.  They propose however – and this is apparent in the MIT report as well – that if organizations motivate employees analytically and emotionally, change is more successful. One important analytical motivation is the communication of an intrinsic link between sustainability, innovation, and profit.  The organization must have a unified focus that sustainability is a key to business growth and innovation, and this must be monitored and reported to stakeholders.
Another key strategy used was to increase collaboration and communication across business units.  An aspect of this was the identification of “bright spots” [2].  When one department, or branch, successfully implements a new sustainability initiative their methods are evaluated and replicated across other units. This strategy of focusing on bright spots is very effective because it shifts focus from problems to solutions.  During change initiatives our first inclination is to focus on the problems, on everything that is not aligned with the vision. The work seems immense and those leading the change can quickly feel overwhelmed and discouraged.  Finding bright spots – and publicizing the heck out of their successes – provides the energy and passion which will sustain the team.
Finally, the MIT report illustrated how critical integrated, charismatic leadership was to an organization’s success in implementing and profiting from a sustainability agenda.  The researchers found that the most successful companies had strong leadership buy-in, most having established a Chief Sustainability Officer and an integrated management team to support sustainability objectives.  Coupled with a vision with an emotional hook, integrated sustainability leadership provides the direction and clarity needed for the grueling change process.
If you are interested in learning more about organizational and behavior change for sustainability, I highly recommend reading Heath’s Switch, Kotter’s Leading Change [3], and MckEnzie-Mohr’s Fostering Sustainable Behavior [4].