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Past, Present and Future of LEED for Existing Building Operations and Maintenance

As the foundation of the US Green Building Council’s certification, LEED for New Construction certification (LEED NC) was designed as a one-time effort for designers, architects, owners, builder/contractors, engineers and others to come together in the process of constructing a building to the “greenest” standards. This effort deserves merit and commendation for changing the way buildings are built. All types of organizations, government, corporations, and non-profits have pledged in their portfolios to develop new buildings to LEED standards. Along with this bold commitment, it is imperative that these organizations remain leaders in green buildings by establishing procedures, practices, policies, and standards on how to efficiently maintain and operate its portfolio of facilities sustainably and financially.

With the release of the current versions of LEED in 2009, the LEED for Existing Building Operations and Maintenance rating (LEED EBOM) was launched to be implemented seamlessly at buildings that had received LEED for NC. This gave access to expand the LEED reach into the larger existing building market, allowing any building to pursue. The focus of LEED EBOM is maintaining a high level of performance in daily operations to continue cost saving opportunities throughout the life of the building.

With the coming of LEED 2012 this fall, all rating systems are now undergoing review and being updated to include and highly encourage a focus shift of maintaining high performance green buildings. USGBC along with the industry realized that many LEED NC projects were built to the standards and essentially left to rot without requiring designers and engineers to follow up and continue the relationship with the owners to ensure sustainable performance. For this reason, the industry has seen several lawsuits with USGBC and architects/developers regarding under-performance and lack of savings that were originally promised.

Nationally, LEED EBOM has now surpassed LEED NC as the fastest growing certification and will continue to grow exponentially as new construction is done. Earlier this month USGBC announced that “square footage of LEED-certified existing buildings surpassed LEED-certified new construction by 15 million square feet on a cumulative basis.” LEED EBOM  was designed to be a seamless process from LEED NC, as the name implies, it addresses actual energy performance, water efficiency, solid waste reduction, indoor and outdoor cleaning, grounds maintenance, purchasing/procurement, employee commuting, air quality management, and operational procedures for building systems.

The EBOM credit structure, like the other certification system, is a point based rating system with four levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. What differs is the points are earned by achievement of credits in the general categories of Establishment (policy creation, retrofits, adjustments) andPerformance (ongoing tracking/measurement, new activities, new practices). The credits from NC to EBOM flow well, making it easy for buildings to comply from an infrastructure/systems standpoint and shifting the focus to procedure and operational.

EBOM is a collaborative process involving multiple departments, employees, and associated contractors  to continue monitoring, evaluating, and improving performance and practices. The benefits are tremendous and demonstrate hard results such as capital allocation, environmental impact, and cost savings from an energy/resource perspective. Aside from these benefits, the human efficiency component that is often overlooked by most organizations is definitely a focus. This covers enhancing employee health from an Indoor Air Quality and Thermal Comfort perspective, as well as touching on employee retention through quality control, engagement programs, campaigns, and overall corporate loyalty.

Above all, the greatest benefit LEED EBOM delivers to organizations is the practices and strategies that it outlines for sustainable operations. These foundations can be adapted outside of the built environment into any level of sustainability strategy throughout an enterprise. The policies and sections lay a perfect groundwork to develop a custom roadmap while still following a tried and true framework.

Jeff Benavides is a LEED Accredited Professional with a specialty in Operations & Maintenance (LEED AP O+M). He is senior project manager at ecoPreserve: Building Sustainability, which provides project management, strategic planning and building certification consulting services to incorporate sustainability into organizations and existing buildings of all sizes. One of its keystone project includes managing the LEED EBOM process for the 2nd largest convention center in North America, the Orlando/Orange County Convention Center.

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