Jerry Yudelson Interviewed by GreenSource Magazine
Interview by Sara Hart - May 2013
Sara Hart: You and Ulf Meyer wrote The World’s Greenest Buildings: Promise Versus Performance in Sustainable Design (Routledge, 2013), aneffort to feature how buildings actually perform. How did you collect and interpret the data?
Jerry Yudelson: The book started with the premise that it was possible to find examples of high-performance green buildings that were low-energy-using and architecturally significant. We scoured all publicly accessible databases in the U.S. and Canada and in other major green-building countries—Europe, Asia, and Australia—looking for projects that met several other key criteria: occupied after 2003, at least 50,000 square feet, nonresidential typologies that would provide at least one year of energy data at or near full occupancy and, where possible, water-use data. The cutoff for data was the end of 2011, so only projects completed and occupied by the end of 2010 were considered.
We then went via several routes to collect data, including contacting architects, engineers, owners, and facility managers. We took great pains to determine if reported data represented just the base building or included tenant or occupant energy use, typically for lighting and plug or equipment loads. We have also documented now that we can easily achieve the stretch goal for energy performance in sustainable building: an annual energy use in office buildings of 30,000 Btu per square foot (before renewables). What counts is absolute performance, not relative improvement. After all, nature bats last!
We hope that this book, which requires and features documented performance, will put an end to the current practice of declaring a new building as “the world’s greenest” before it is even finished, certified as LEED Platinum (or equivalent), or has at least a year’s worth of documented performance data.
You chose to be photographed at the Arizona State University (ASU) Biodesign Institute, a building that qualified to be in your recent book. What makes this project stand out?
The Biodesign Institute comprises two large buildings, one LEED Gold and one LEED Platinum, both designed nearly 10 years ago in response to ASU president Michael Crow’s mandate that all new buildings had to achieve at least LEED Gold certification, a revolutionary stance at the time for a university leader. It also responds beautifully to its desert climate, with rainwater harvesting, native vegetation, and solar power.
What are the challenges you face when helping manufacturers to develop sustainability programs and green building products?
In a way, product manufacturers have it the most difficult; they now face more than 300 different certification programs, increasingly stringent requirements for environmental product declarations, life-cycle assessments, Red List avoidance, and so on. I believe that sustainability will move decisively from whole buildings to individual building products over the next decade. We’re just beginning to design and distribute products that meet all key environmental attributes demanded by sophisticated users while still providing longevity (the ultimate sustainable attribute), functionality, beauty, low embedded carbon, and economy.
Many in the industry are cynical about the LEED certification process. Some pursue it merely asa marketing strategy, while others seek ways to game the system. Will LEED v4 change this attitude?
LEED v4 once again illustrates why LEED is so important. By continually “moving the needle” for what constitutes a sustainable building, LEED has become the most important driving force for market transformation to sustainability.
LEED v4 promises to deliver the benefits of green building up and down the supply chain. What do you consider as the biggest challengs facing its implementation?
The biggest obstacles continue to be cost, complexity, and the unwillingness of design, construction, and operations teams to commit to its exacting requirements. I consider LEED to be an unparalleled quality-assurance [QA] process, and I’m always amazed that people will spend $20, $50, or even $100 million on a building without a formal, documentation-driven QA process that incorporates third-party oversight. How does an owner really know what he or she has bought for the money?
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