I interviewed Brad Pease, Vice President of Paladino and Company (project owner), to learn about the company’s experience pursuing LEED v4, beginning with their LEED Gold headquarters in Seattle.
Why did you chose to pursue LEED v4 instead of v3?
Being an early adopter has its benefits—we created a learning opportunity and were able to share what we learned with our clients. Initially, we targeted a LEED 2009 Platinum rating, but moved to LEED v4 midway through the design because it aligned with our core values.
A gap analysis between the rating systems found that the projected LEED 2009 Platinum project would only qualify for Gold under LEED v4. The credits in LEED v4 enabled us to design a better office space than those in LEED 2009. By being first, we were able to prove the connection between bigger goals and better performance before asking clients to adopt the program.
What were the biggest differences you experienced in LEED v4?
Credits in the new Location and Transportation (LT) category continue to encourage transit- and pedestrian-oriented locations. However, the LEED v4 credits require projects to meet more criteria or higher thresholds. These changes reward locations where compact development strategies will have meaningful results and penalize project locations that do not meet the credits’ intents (such as a strip mall with amenities but no pedestrian connection to the community, or an isolated office building with a bike rack). This shift encourages developers to consider their surroundings and how they connect with the community—which is vitally important for broader sustainable development.
Even the small changes took some effort to implement. For example, outdoor airflow monitoring is now required for IEQp Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance. And “no smoking” signs are required at all building entries, including those to retail or tenant spaces with exterior doors, for IEQp Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control.
We installed a dedicated outdoor air fan for our office as part of our build-out, so we easily addressed the outdoor air monitoring requirement. But in a building with a central air system that is operated by the landlord and shared with other tenants, this requirement may take some negotiation to meet.
Both the location and airflow requirements required coordination and acceptance on the part of the building owner. But that’s the benefit—the education extends beyond the project space.
What are the most impactful credits you found while working on this LEED v4 project?
We are really excited about the Integrative Design credit. It requires design teams to think about sustainability early and to find efficiencies across the project. This new credit is worth 2 points and is easy to achieve when project teams engage with an integrative design expert during an early phase, like Schematic Design and pre-design. It’s the first credit to encourage a process that moves the industry beyond the standard design approach. Paladino helped author the LEED v4 EBOM and ND credits, and helped revise the NC credit to better align its goals to the documentation required.
Was there a cost difference between LEED v4 and v3 projects you’ve done?
We use LEED as a back-check to validate the performance outcomes of a project. We rarely see added costs for LEED certification, because we establish goals up front, and then select credits that help achieve them. This is true regardless of the version we use.
Tell me about the business strategies and cost incentives for pursuing LEED v4.
Incentives for using LEED v4 are built into the system. It's simpler to use, the certification process and outcome is more predictable, and credits are better aligned to the design process. “Doing things the right way” is more readily rewarded, making it easier to align to our clients’ business needs. We get to position Paladino as a guiding hand on an integrative design process, rather than a LEED accountant that achieves a high certification level on an average building.
What were the biggest lessons learned in the jump to LEED v4?
We chose to upgrade from LEED 2009 to LEED v4 after construction on our office was under way—too late to incorporate the requirements for Building Product Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits into our specifications, but still too early for the new documentation to be widely available in the market.
The real and unexpected complication that we encountered with the BPDO credits was the change to compliance based on the number of products instead of cost calculations. Our space was designed to use fewer materials overall—just 35! As a result, we didn’t have much of a buffer for these credits; more than half of the products we installed would have needed to comply to achieve one of the new BPDO options. So although EPDs were available for products we used, the combination of less materials and our position as early adopters prevented us from achieving that credit.
Manufacturers and industry associations quickly addressed the new requirements to ensure that project teams won’t have trouble finding materials that contribute to these credits when LEED v4 becomes mandatory in October.
Environmental and Health Product Declarations are being published at a fast pace, and options are already available for typical building products used in interior fit-outs like ours, such as acoustic ceilings, flooring and gypsum board. Achieving BPDO credits will be a simple matter of updating specifications, and not the headache or cost premium that some have speculated.
Finally, what have you learned through your pursuit of LEED certification?
We experienced a few hiccups on the path to v4 certification, but the learning curve is not that steep. Here are two lessons that we can impart to you:
- Preparation is essential. Perform a schedule of value analysis for products and materials early in design. The analysis should confirm that all materials are required for the project, and identify a beneficial materials palette that satisfies the Owner's Project Requirements. Since the certification of our Seattle office, the industry has made great strides. There are more products available now with the Environmental and Health Product Declarations, and some manufacturers are pursuing Declare labels from the International Living Future Institute. Even with this growth in product declarations, though, many manufacturers of materials that typically contribute to previous LEED versions are still playing catch-up.
- Engage the team even earlier. With a significantly revised rating system focused on performance rather than as-designed conditions, LEED v4 incentivizes integrated design and decision making. Specialty expertise will be required for some credits where architecture and engineering firms may have used generalists before.
How has achieving this certification helped Paladino?
Our team was able to apply the lessons learned from our headquarters LEED v4 pilot to every LEED v4 project going forward. Our certification ensures that our clients receive an exceptionally efficient LEED management program, without the learning curve that’s typical with a new standard.
We shared lessons learned with our national team, so best practices were applied to Paladino’s Washington, D.C., office, which is pursuing a LEED v4 Gold ID+C:CI rating. Our team recently worked with The Tower Companies to re-certify one of its class-A office buildings, 1828 L. St. NW in Washington, D.C. It achieved LEED v4 Gold EBOM recertification in July, and we hope to achieve more LEED v4 certifications with clients in the coming months, including PNC Financial Services Group on One and Two PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh.