Pump Up the Volume

Going green isn’t possible without integrated systems and efficient design, and it has just gotten easier. Under a program recently developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in Washington, D.C., the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Volume Program streamlines the process for organizations committed to certifying 25 buildings or more. By producing a successful prototype building, program participants create a baseline or flexible model for subsequent building projects to follow, allowing for easier, quicker and less costly certification.

For the electrical contractor with integrated systems expertise, getting in on the ground floor with a LEED Volume Project could make you a contractor of choice for subsequent projects. When multiple volume buildings fall within your sales and service region, there’s a brass ring to be grabbed in what could be a huge opportunity.

Achieving economies of scale

While energy and water efficiency are key imperatives of a LEED-certified building (a measurable 25 percent or more), the efficiency of the LEED Volume Program itself is an added dimension.

“This program leverages uniformity in building design, construction and management to achieve economies of scale and reduce costs for program participants,” said Nick Shaffer, LEED AP, and manager of LEED for USGBC. “It streamlines the project certification process while encouraging building owners to incorporate LEED into standard practices, procedures and tracking processes. In essence, the Volume Program integrates LEED and green building into the corporate culture.”

Though piloted since 2006 by the likes of companies such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and PNC Bank, the LEED Volume Program has not been widely publicized. Shaffer said this best-kept secret is now available and ideally suited for retail, hotels and banks. Commercial office, federal, state and local governments, and other markets could also be a fit. For example, the city of San Jose, Calif., is a LEED Volume Program participant.

“It’s conceivable they would look at multiple offices, police stations, fire stations and the like. You might see the mandating of green cleaning materials, energy-efficiency measures, new lighting, that could be instituted across the board in a Volume Program for new or existing buildings,” Shaffer said.

How it works: Putting the horse before the cart

The LEED Volume Program is available in two tracks: Design and Construction (new construction and interior build-outs) and Operations and Maintenance (O&M) for existing buildings. It requires precertification that allows for a prototype building for future buildings to follow. Think of precertification as the specifications a builder will follow in respective build-outs; it is a framework allowing subsequent projects to easily earn LEED credits.

The LEED Volume Program is suited for organizations planning to certify a large number of new construction projects or existing buildings. Under the program, and different from “one-off” LEED certifications, is the program’s structure. The volume process has three components: a LEED prototype or conceptual building; a uniform technical approach for all subsequent buildings, and required procedures and processes that spell out roles and responsibilities for the building team.

“With this program, precertification is required as a matter of proving or assuring to USGBC that you’ll be able to consistently deliver LEED projects,” Shaffer said. “That’s different from the other LEED programs other than LEED for Neighborhoods where precertification is also required but has a different set of prerequisites. During precertification, the registered prototype is thoroughly reviewed by the GBCI.”

The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) is the third-party certification body for the LEED program.

Under the LEED Volume Program, technical uniformity is another essential to achieving LEED credits and requires consistency in documentation and sometimes material selection and/or equipment (e.g., Energy Star). Such uniformity might be achieved through a standard design package. Multiple layout designs can fall under one prototype as long as technical uniformity is maintained. Marriott International Inc. is one example. It applies the LEED Volume Program across five different brands of its hotels.

“You aren’t locked down into a cookie-cutter design,” Shaffer said. “Another participant, Kohl’s department stores, has three or four different store designs. Different building sizes and shapes can fit into one prototype. There is also leeway on how subsequent buildings meet the prototype LEED points or credits. Credit paths in one climate zone might show 33 percent energy savings. A more predictive path might be used in another climate to achieve the savings in a different way. Each building or location will have differences. “

Shaffer especially likes how all the work to meet LEED is done up front in the precertification process.

“Documentation is very straightforward,” he said. “You set up a process that works best for you. Maybe the general contractor assigns a checklist for all contractors. In that case, an electrical contractor might sign off on the lighting upgrades or installation of a daylighting system or a LED light bay. In any LEED program, you document every credit you think you achieved. Since everything has been documented in the precertification process, it becomes much easier to prove LEED compliance with the following projects.”


Managerial uniformity is another prerequisite for Volume Program success. Under this effort, a quality control plan and education plan are required.

“You want a top-to-bottom recognition of what every person will need to do from the general contractor to subcontractors, the architect and other designers,” Shaffer said. “Checks and balances are another way to describe this plan. A company might choose a Volume kickoff meeting to go over responsibilities of the entire building team. Citigroup issued iPhone apps featuring videos specific to each team member’s project responsibilities.”

A team education plan is the other leg in managerial consistency.

“You need to show how the team will work and receive the information they need to consistently deliver LEED buildings one after the other,” Shaffer said. “You need to show how everyone falls in line and is accountable. Some of the pilot program participants already had strong building programs and processes in place. When they layered in LEED, it complemented their quality controls, standards and on-site construction best practices.”

According to Shaffer, the USGBC will audit the first three Volume Program projects to make sure they are maintaining their LEED performance. Random check-ups will follow in an effort to ensure ongoing performance verification.

Hotelier finds value in green volume approach

Marriott International wants to LEED certify 300 hotels by 2017.

“We feel that the LEED Volume Program is a means to meet that goal,” said Jefferson B. Thomas, AIA, PMP, LEED AP, BD+C, senior design manager and LEED Advocate for the Volume Program within Marriott’s A&C Division. Prior to its involvement in the LEED Volume Program, the company pursued LEED certification for several properties. The firm’s first LEED-certified hotel, The Inn and Conference Center at the University of Maryland, also was the first hotel in North America to be LEED-recognized. Marriott’s 30-year-old Bethesda, Md., headquarters earned LEED Gold in 2010.

“Compared to a one-off LEED certification, the Volume Program saves our owners about $100,000 in soft costs and six months of design time [per project],” Thomas said. “We work on a franchise model, so LEED is not a mandate. But our pilot model and precertification allow interested owners to easily pursue and earn LEED certification. We look at the Volume Program as a tool that reduces the risk, cost and time of LEED certification for our owners. Also, we firmly believe in the hotel business, if you don’t start adopting or adapting for good building performance, you will fall to your competitors.”

Thomas explained Marriott’s Volume Program precertification earns at least LEED Certified (40–49 points) for its franchisees.

“Owners could add more points to move their property to Silver, Gold or Platinum. Some may want to earn the higher LEED levels for status, incentives for tax rebates or to satisfy a need to build at least to Silver due to a jurisdiction ordinance,” Thomas said. “Based on our prototype building, we can repeat that model over and over again with some modification. It’s a good fit for our Courtyard, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn and SpringHill Suites brands.”

Marriott designers conducted an analysis to determine the most cost-effective way to approach incorporating LEED into its building policies.

“Lamps and lighting are one focus for us,” Thomas said. “The use of LED, daylight-harvesting systems, and occupancy sensors are all things we are incorporating. For instance, we use LED lighting in our corridors and daylight harvesting in the public spaces, including lobbies, breakfast rooms and back offices. We’ve even earned an innovation credit working with Philips to design lower mercury compact fluorescent bulbs. What’s nice about our prototype from an electrical contractor’s perspective is having precalculated power densities to follow for other projects within the program as well as consistent daylight-harvesting strategies and other lighting conservation systems.”

Though grandfathered in under LEED 2.2, Shaffer expects his company to discuss whether they will pursue LEED V3 or the upcoming 2012 for future precertification in its Volume Program pursuit.

“If you get in on the precertification effort of a pilot building, it could lead to subsequent projects in the Volume [Program] effort,” Shaffer said. “Some companies turn to the same contractors every time out; others don’t. Either way, a LEED Volume project is an opportunity. The pilot building is the learning curve, but it’s a very easy way to be introduced to LEED if you haven’t previously worked with it. If you have LEED experience, you may have a leg up when being considered for a Volume project.”

About the Author

Jeff Gavin

Freelance Writer
Jeff Gavin, LEED Green Associate, is the owner of Gavo Communications, a sustainability-focused marketing services firm serving the energy and construction industries. He can be reached at gavo7@comcast.net .

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