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Environmentally-friendly standard touted as future of design

As the building of more structures goes green, LEED is a buzzword gaining momentum. It stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is an accreditation process through the U.S. Green Building Council by which the green quotient of a building is measured. Architects and engineers can become LEED accredited and buildings can be LEED certified if a checklist of standards is met.

Joel Price of Aquaterra, a Jackson-based environmental consulting and engineering firm, says the accreditation process works on a point system to give it credibility with points given for different levels relating to impact on the environment. There are four areas of LEED accreditation beginning with a minimum of 26 points going up to 69 points with levels in between.

“It will be a common thing in the future. We won’t be talking about it,” he said. “I just got back from a conference where 70% of attendees were developers and builders, and they’re interested in LEED building. Developers got a bad name and now they’re looking at a promise of putting community first.”

Rickey Simon, also of Aquaterra, said the LEED movement is not growing at a rapid pace in Mississippi but is increasing as numerous architects and engineers are getting certified. “We’re putting financial backing in place to get more employees certified,” he said. “In the near future, the LEED method will be part of day-to-day operations.”

Aquaterra worked on two projects with the Jackson Public Schools that will have some level of LEED certification that has not yet been determined. They’re also involved with the International Council of Shopping Centers, which is making stride toward sustainability with new life style and open air centers.

“There are many components of certification that we’re doing at Aquaterra, including erosion control, storm water management, stream restoration, rain water recycling, geo thermal, indoor air quality, asbestos and lead-based painting from an environmental perspective,” he said.

The Guild Hardy Architects firm of Biloxi has been on the cutting edge of LEED design in Mississippi. Mark Lishen, a principal of the firm and a LEED accredited professional, says making this type of building the norm will take education. The firm is involved with programs for that in several southern states.

“There are intangible benefits that we can’t put a dollar value on, but there can be up to 2 1/2% to 3% increases for basic certification,” he said. “We have to buy into the philosophy of it. There are some points you can get that don’t cost more than conventional building. An example is flushing toilets with rainwater by putting cisterns in the ground.”

Lishen also feels the impact of LEED design can be a positive thing on the overall energy consumption in the U.S. as 75% of the energy consumed is consumed by buildings.

“The Architecture 2030 movement wants to have no carbon emissions by that year. That’s a tall order and we’re looking at the ramifications,” he added. “Green building is in the mainstream now. Developers, such as those developing Tradition on the Coast, are buying into it. It’s the wave of the future and the future is here.”

With an eye to LEED certification, Guild Hardy is looking at doing some mixed-use development in downtown Gulfport, just finished the paper work for a Navy building in North Carolina and is working on a project in Grand Bay, Ala. It is also pushing to upgrade existing buildings to an eco-friendlier level.

But practicing this philosophy in its own building is important to this firm. Its Biloxi office was built to LEED standards, and it is hopeful of getting it certified. It was completed in July 2005, just before Hurricane Katrina roared ashore destroying its other two offices and putting many things on the back burner. Now, it has gotten the certification process back in motion to have its office recognized as the third building in the state to receive this distinction.

Expansive windows, recycled flooring and bio-composite sunflower-seeded cabinets were used in the office for their environmentally friendly attributes. The firm gives tours of the office to civic groups and school children to promote the benefits of sustainable design and environmental responsibility.

“In this building, we have an energy savings of 30% on average over a similar size building,” Lishen said. “There are numerous other benefits that include indoor air quality that helps keep our employees healthier and more productive. It’s a nicer building that they want to work in with natural light that’s more pleasing.”

Additionally, the building is much more water efficient with waterless men’s urinals and landscaping that is drought resistant.

Mike Penny, who served as project manager for Gordon Myrick, the builder of the Guild Hardy office, says the architectural firm led by example in choosing to build to LEED standards.

“Meeting all the requirements of the program, from a building standpoint, took a lot of extra coordination,” he said. “Building green is catching on more, but ours was the first in South Mississippi. It was a new thing for our suppliers in 2005. I had to do a lot of explaining, but I think it will be easier now. Other LEED projects will go smoother but we still need more education on it.”

At Mississippi State University, architecture professor Michael Berk says more emphasis is being put on green building within the profession.

“The code is starting to be part of the ethical code of conduct by the American Institute of Architects and is being taught with each school putting different emphasis on it,” he said. “Everyone is interested in energy efficiency.”

Many issues associated with that interest have a price tag attached. He feels the interest will increase as this type of building becomes more affordable.

“People will still have to look at its whole life cycle,” Berk said. “If they don’t, they’re not making an informed decision. In our culture, we usually look at the initial cost of something. We’ve gotten used to having light switches and air conditioning. We must be prepared to do things that people used to take for granted such as good design and orientation and shade.”

The F.L. Crane Endowed professor says it makes no sense to him that people are willing to buy homes with fixed windows and other less environmentally friendly features.

“LEED is a very good minimum standard. In itself, it won’t solve everything if that’s all we do,” he said. “I’m not trying to trivialize it. It’s a good start — a beginning.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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