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LEEDing the Way

by Nicole Jovel + photos by Chris Jackson

LEED

With the help of national guidelines, construction is getting the green treatment — from inception to completion.

Be it in the form of recycling, hybrid cars, or even bike lanes, environmental consideration is everywhere and building construction is no exception. In Washington County and around the region, businesses that are embarking on a new building project or rebuild are considering the environmental impact of their venture. The architecture, engineering and construction industry have taken note and are responding by embracing new skills to guide their clients in applying green building practices.

Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED is the U.S. Green Building Council’s framework that gives project teams the ability to choose green solutions that work for their project. The idea at the core of LEED is simple — the more companies that take steps to be green, the more “aggregate environmental progress,” — as they call it — is made. In other words, individual projects may seem small in the grand scheme of things but when you add them all together it can have a big impact.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

“It’s a generational shift,” says Brooke Wenger, Business Development Leader for Triad Engineering, Inc. in Hagerstown, who concludes that the youth don’t have to make a philosophical change to be environmentally conscious. “The younger generation joining the workforce, that’s what they’ve known. We have to do what we can.” Triad worked with The Lucy School, an arts-based school in Middletown to achieve Platinum LEED certification, the highest of four levels (certified, silver, gold, and platinum), for its primary building for grades K through 3.

The school boasts a bevy of energy-saving features including solar panels, daylighting, wind-powered energy, cork, bamboo and wood flooring from renewable sources, rainwater-powered toilets, and a geothermal heating and cooling system. “For us, everything is part of the learning experience,” says Chris Zachariadis, co-owner and founder of the Lucy School. “We teach our students that stewardship of resources and sustainability is important because that is our future. Our curriculum includes environmental issues as well, and the fact that we’re on a farm brings that to life every day.”

Ready, Set, Green

Though green elements can be incorporated into existing buildings, Brooke endorses considering your environmental options and including the experts in that process as early as possible. Andrew Reichard, a registered architect with Bushey Feight Morin Architects in Hagerstown, recommends to his clients that they review other projects on the U.S. Green Building Council website (www.usgbc.org) to generate green ideas that might work for their project. “During the design phase, you look at anticipated LEED points before construction begins,” says Andrew, who became a LEED accredited professional in 2008.

It’s a complex process, with LEED’s points or rating system covering five environmental categories — sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality — but it’s nationally accepted as the standard for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

Inside and Out

A lot of attention gets paid to green elements inside a building, but Gordon Poffenberger, an associate with the surveying and land development firm Fox & Associates in Hagerstown, offers a plethora of ideas that companies can consider outside that can have a big impact. “Parking, storm water management, reducing pavement or using alternative paving materials are all options,” he says. “You can also do things to encourage walking gardens or at schools to create spaces for kids to learn outside.” Andrew adds that some of these elements have a benefit beyond the green, “If you incorporate bike storage racks, you’re promoting using less energy and you’re also promoting people being healthy.”

Global Effect

Though Andrew says LEED certification has become more prevalent, it is a costly and rigorous process that some simply use as a guideline. “It’s very common for projects to incorporate green elements without going through the LEED certification process, like LED lighting, for example. Whether you follow through with the certification or not, if you incorporate green elements you’re doing things that are good for the environment and that has a global effect,” he says. “If we deal with things on the micro level, on a macro scale we won’t have to increase infrastructure, like power transmission lines. It’s trickle-down economics.”

Incorporating some green elements can have a hefty price tag, but Andrew says there are benefits beyond the environmental. “A lot of green elements look at occupants’ comfort and perception. For example, if indoor air quality is improved, and natural lighting and other elements are improved, there might be less sick days among employees,” he says. “You can look at the costs and look at the benefits, but in the end it’s just the right thing to do and it’s going to be the future.”