The LEED v4 stories series features the people the behind diverse LEED v4 projects. Here, you’ll find interviews with project team members and project owners that tell of their experiences—both the wins and the challenges. 

We’re launching our series with the world’s very first certified LEED v4 project: the Haworth Beijing Organic Showroom in China. Located inside a LEED Platinum building, the furniture and office space manufacturer designed their showroom with a focus on sustainability and flexibility—saving money and time and reducing waste. I spoke to the project’s LEED consultant, Alessandro Bisagni, Founder and Managing Director of BEE – Bisagni Environmental Enterprise, and his colleague, Tracy Chen, to get their perspective on what it took to achieve this historic recognition.

Project details:

Name: Haworth Beijing Organic Showroom

Location: Beijing, China

Rating system: LEED v4 ID+C: Commercial Interiors

Certification level: Gold

Certification date: Sep. 12, 2013

Can you give us a little background on the Haworth Beijing Showroom project?

Alessandro: Haworth has been one of our longest-term clients. We started working with them for their showrooms across Asia Pacific. They’ve always been a huge supporter of LEED. I do some work on the LEED International Roundtable, so I was one of the people to whom USGBC reached out to see if there were any clients that were interested in participating in the pilot. Haworth jumped on the opportunity. It was an incredible experience because we started working on LEED v4 before the rules and regulations were set, before LEED Online was launched, so we got the opportunity to really contribute to the development of it and learned a lot in the process.

The Haworth showroom is located on the 7th floor of Parkview Green in Beijing. It’s a 7,000-square-foot showroom and office space. In a similar style to the buildings it’s housed within, the showroom is very flexible. The partitions and the designs are all movable, so they can be adapted to that use for the day, and the showroom itself is open to the building occupants, so they’re allowed to go out and use parts of the space. So, it kind of transitions from the building into the showroom in a very nice manner.

The Haworth Beijing Showroom did a lot. Can you talk about some standout features that were developed as part of the LEED v4 certification process?

Alessandro: There were plenty of outstanding sustainability measures implemented in the project. For example, a huge emphasis was placed on lighting quality. The all-LED lighting design was carefully examined to ensure that the CRI (Color Rendering Index) was 80 or more, there were lamp life thresholds, illuminance levels of the lighting fixtures were studied to best suit the space, daylighting strategies were implemented and occupant controllability was carefully considered.  

Why LEED, and specifically why LEED v4?

Alessandro: For us, it was about being innovative about what can be done in China and what can be done in green buildings. We really wanted to be at the forefront of the movement. But at the same time, and the way that I presented it to Haworth, is that it’s really about future-proofing. In China, there are massive amounts of LEED projects, and especially LEED Commercial Interiors-certified projects. I believe that Haworth wanted to make a space that would be relevant and important from a sustainability point of view for years to come. So the choice between achieving maybe a Platinum rating in version 2009 or Gold as we did in LEED v4…we felt that LEED v4 was much more relevant and would remain relevant for a long time, considering that version 2009 is still applicable. For them it was about future-proofing, it was about doing something that would remain a testament to sustainability, and to be a leader in the market.

Haworth had done many LEED projects before—did that it make the jump to LEED v4 easier?

Alessandro: We have a very good relationship with Haworth—the project team members, the designersso we felt very comfortable working with them. We had trained them on the LEED requirements before, so that did help. Having said that, it was definitely a challenge the first time doing it because we had to retrain them on the new requirements, especially suppliers and contractors, who are sometimes more removed from the process. They needed more hand-holding and retraining of the requirements needed for LEED v4. I think from our point of view, obviously the first time you do anything new, it’s harder and it takes more time. Tracy had to spend a lot of time learning the LEED requirements, and again, at the time we were doing the certification, the new LEED Online was not operating. In terms of hours on our side, it was definitely significantly higher, but interestingly we have gone on to certify other showrooms for Haworth under LEED v4, and we have found there’s a decrease in the number of hours in compared to version 2009. So I think that once you go through the process the first time and you learn how to do it, the LEED v4 system is more streamlined and it does save time.            

Tracy, you spent a lot of time working with the new LEED Online. What do you think of it?

Tracy: The online system for LEED v4 has surely been simplified. Some of the files required to be uploaded and the details needed in the forms has been reduced. I have found that the workload to prepare certain forms for upload is also less, which has allowed me to focus more on project management and training the team. I would say that the new LEED Online system as a whole is more compact and easier for users to operate. For example, the new system has removed many of the signature requirements needed from project team members, which I think weren’t necessary for them and often caused confusion.

Did the new approach to Materials and Resources affect your process?

Alessandro: Absolutely. It was relatively easy in LEED 2009’s Material and Resources (MR) section to obtain material information about recycled content, regionality, renewable materials content, etc. However, in LEED v4’s new MR category, obtaining the necessary EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) and HPDs (Health Product Declarations) is almost impossible, because not enough suppliers currently have this information in China. In all the LEED v4 projects we’ve done to date, we’ve had to unfortunately forgo these credits because the documentation doesn’t exist. The good news is that there is a lot of work being done in Greater China (especially on HPDs) because health, well-being and disclosure are such hot topics here. We also found that LEED certification is definitely achievable in the end, even if these credits aren’t pursued.

What were your biggest wins and challenges with LEED v4?

Tracy: The biggest challenge in the beginning is the increased workload and added project costs due to the enhanced standards and technical difficulty. Examples about lighting quality and materials have been mentioned above. However, we have found both of these to decrease in subsequent v4 projects as experience is gained. I think the biggest win that LEED v4 brings to us is that we are creating green buildings under more rigorous standards. It is asking the industry to improve as a whole and build more sustainable buildings. The simplified LEED Online system has also made it much more convenient for us, as LEED consultants, to perform our work. Last, I think it’s excellent that LEED v4 has developed new rating systems to match different building types (such as hospitality, data centers, warehouses, etc.). This will make it easier for specialty building types to certify under LEED and it will spur green building growth in those specific sectors.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, publishing later this week.