By Margaret Fisher

A new series of articles clarifies misconceptions and explains the real facts about what this program means for woodworkers.

“Every question I get illuminates how little our industry understands about this program,” says Margaret Fisher, market development manager of Saunders Wood Specialties in Park Falls, WI, speaking about the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Fisher was recently appointed as the ARCHITECTURAL WOODWORK INSTITUTE (AWI) liaison to USGBC and has been immersed in understanding the LEED program, and how it relates to the woodworking industry, since its inception. To help “clear the air” for CWB readers about LEED project issues, Fisher is writing a series of articles to explain the program in detail. This first installment addresses the most common misunderstandings regarding participation in LEED.

There is a big gap in our industry’s knowledge about LEED. One factor that contributes to this shortfall is the fact that the USGBC has nothing to do with the woodworking industry and that it doesn’t train woodworking firms, LEED-Accredited Professional (AP) design professionals or General Contractor (GC) project managers how to incorporate wood into the various credits that can be earned using wood. Additionally, in the case of certified wood, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) doesn’t instruct the woodworking industry about the exact specifics of working with its guidelines in a LEED project.

So what typically happens is that a woodworking firm gets a set of project CDs asking for either products or just the credits the project owner wishes to earn, and the woodworking firm is left to figure it out and make it happen. Often, there is no clarity on how much is supposed to be provided, which LEED product and version you are supposed to be complying with (there are several different ones), what the woodworker’s responsibilities and requirements are, what data must be collected and passed along, etc. It is up to the woodworking company to figure out the rules, find materials and, hopefully, provide everything correctly.

Clarifications and Explanations

LEED is a building rating system operated by the USGBC.

I often get questions from firms asking what they need to do to develop a LEED material of some sort. Officially, there is no such thing. The only thing that gets to be “LEED” is a building. Only buildings are designed and specified, built and rated, and then can qualify to be a LEED building. There are no LEED carpets, flooring, wallcoverings, companies, cars, topcoats, etc., only LEED buildings.

Many people think that they have to become a LEED-AP in order to work on a LEED project. Anyone can take the training and then be tested to become a LEED-AP. This gives you the ability to administrate a LEED project and make a submittal for a building to be rated. There is a LEED credit that can be earned if a LEED-AP is on the project, but that person is not the woodworker.

If a woodworking firm wants to send someone through the training and testing, they can. But it is never required. (If someone tells you otherwise, ask what credit it helps them earn if you do.)

Materials, on the other hand, are not LEED rated, but may comply with criteria or guidelines of LEED credits based on their content, origin or the way they are produced. Examples of these could be MDF with some recycled content, beams salvaged from a razed building which has been resawn into flooring, agro-fiber materials used in a tabletop, etc. There are many materials that woodworkers can provide that help earn specific LEED credits in each LEED product.

Reasons to Care

A question that I get asked a lot is whether companies should even bother getting themselves up to speed on LEED. “Before I even get finished understanding the credits, look for the materials and work on a project, this whole thing could pass by, like so many other fads. I will have wasted an awful lot of time and effort,” is a common sentiment.

My response is, whether or not your firm decides that it is right for it to prepare for and participate in LEED projects is entirely an individual decision that a company can only make by looking closely at its capabilities, resources and staff. Keep in mind that participation is entirely voluntary. No one is required by law to participate.

When I go to a woodworking firm to train its staff on participating in LEED projects, it takes me about three to four hours just to go through all the LEED credits, criteria, data and submittal info, regulations, etc. It usually is an eye-opener for the staff to see how much extra administrative work is involved in preparing for and facilitating a LEED project.

During the training, a company also can begin to see how it would play out for their individual firm and what staff, hours and processes would have to be dedicated to doing it right. The company is then better prepared to approach these projects proactively if it decides to participate. It is not going in “blind.”

It can become an advantage in some ways. One firm I worked with reported that having had thorough training, its employees were now “the smartest guys” in the bid review meeting. Even though their bid was higher (because they knew what would really be required of them), they got the job because they showed themselves to be the most knowledgeable about how LEED credits would actually be earned with their participation. The other bidders did not understand the implications of what they were bidding, and it was clear that the project manager did not feel that they would know what to do to run the project correctly to earn the credits.

In the end, it is the LEED-AP who needs to have correct data to submit in order to earn credits for the building. In this instance, the other firms at the bid table had no idea what they could provide that would fit with which credit, or how, or why, and no idea what data needed to be provided to substantiate the submittals. A LEED-AP and a project manager both need to feel confident that the woodworking firm knows how to comply correctly.

So do your homework and be the smartest guy at the LEED table. It is good positioning to be the expert on this issue and the “go-to” guy for any upcoming projects.

Not a Fad

My response to the concern regarding LEED just being a passing fad, is a resounding “No.” LEED is growing all the time. There are 700 LEED certified (already completed, rated and occupied) projects and more than 4,000 LEED registered (on the drawing boards or currently under construction) projects, and more are on the way. A few years ago, it became a rule that all new federal GSA buildings seek LEED Silver rating. There are 43,000+ LEED-APs world-wide and 67 USGBC chapters. While only 2 percent of new construction currently is LEED projects, it is anticipated that the percentage will increase to 10 percent by 2010.

I want to point out, however, that not all projects that get registered originally with USGBC actually become LEED certified. So be careful. Make sure that your company stays apprised of a project’s status. If the project is LEED registered and actually going to be submitted to USGBC for rating and certification, then you have to be very careful about compiling your data and submittals.

But some projects start out as LEED projects and never become LEED certified. There are a variety of reasons for this. Some owners really only want to build an energy-efficient building or a building that has a lower impact on its surroundings. They don’t want the certification, they just want to build a better building or say their building is more green. In other cases, the additional cost of building a LEED building (an average of $4 per square foot) becomes a greater-than-anticipated issue and the process is halted.

There are a host of other reasons, of course. But the bottom line for the woodworker is this: If the building is not going to be LEED rated and certified, the collection of data during the process should not be needed, as there are no submittals to USGBC and no credits to be earned from them. Since collecting this data takes time and time equals money, if it isn’t needed, then it isn’t a part of your proposal.

Make sure this is clear up front. Collecting data after the project is done and gone is strictly guesswork, and if the project is done and you have to go back into your material and project files to gather info and calculate it, this is administrative work which you should have charged for in your bid proposal. After-the-fact, you are engaged in research.

Then the question becomes, “What does your firm charge for research?” It should not be free. It will take many hours to prepare it. If you do it for free once, you send a message that the customer can always ask for things for free. Also, the next time you do a LEED project, your administrative costs will be questioned, i.e., “Why was this free last time?”

Keep in mind that the GC and the architectural firm are also engaged in additional administrative work, and they are charging for it. You need to as well, to be consistent in stressing that there is a value to the information that you are carefully providing. If you are working on a LEED project, your overhead will adjust accordingly. Typically, your increase in a LEED project administration will be somewhere between 10 to 25 percent, depending on what you are providing. Recognizing this can be the difference between succeeding in a LEED project or not.

Upcoming articles will address specific LEED topics, such as using finishes, adhesives and formaldehyde in LEED projects, FSC process rules and labels, data collection and submittal, etc. If you have questions about the information covered in this installment or other LEED-related topics, direct them to hkuhl@vancepublishing and we will address them in future issues as well.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.