The New Green Standard

With the LEED™ rating system in place it is easier to make sure your new library saves money as it treads lightly on natural resources 

see also Public Input Yields Greener Library Design Libraries are on the cutting edge of green design. Long the lonely mission of environmentally responsible architects, green architecture grew out of a desire to lessen the negative environmental impacts of conventional buildings, which use nearly half the energy consumed in this country. Many other benefits have been discovered along the way. For many librarians, the meaning of green architecture has shifted from saving our environment for future generations to saving money now. That economic drive provides an optimistic base for what has sometimes seemed like a hopeless cause. Historically, this comprehensive, collaborative design process - variously labeled as green, environmentally sustainable, or high-performance design - has suffered from a lack of standards. In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) formulated the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) rating system to certify green buildings, and it is rapidly gaining acceptance among library designers and library professionals. Well-designed green buildings cost less to operate and maintain than conventionally constructed buildings. They use less energy and natural resources. They are better integrated into their sites and communities. They are more comfortable, enjoy more daylight, and are more attractive to customers and employees. They are also less likely to contribute to health problems and more likely to enhance productivity and learning. These spaces often require a slightly greater investment in design and construction costs, though there are exceptions. The green Oaklyn Library (pictured below) came in below the cost for conventional construction. In any case, these buildings pay off through a lifetime of return on that initial investment.

LEED™-ing the way

LEED™ scores projects in six categories including Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation & Design. Of 69 possible points, projects must get 26 to be certified, 33 to be certified silver, 39 to be certified gold, and 52 to be certified platinum. Certification is given after the building is complete to assure that predicted performance has been achieved. Seventy projects have been certified since the rating system's inception, and over 900 registered projects currently await certification. Over 400 of the approximately 900 projects registered with LEED™ are federal, state, and local public projects. Local projects make up the largest share. Approximately 16 percent, or 145, of LEED™ registered projects incorporate libraries. While a handful of high-profile green projects were completed prior to the establishment of the USGBC ten years ago and many continue to be completed without using the rating system, LEED™ is gaining momentum as the standard for green design. State governments in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania use LEED™ for their projects, as do the local governments of Austin, TX; Arlington, VA; Boulder, CO; Cook County, IL; Portland, OR; Seattle; and, in California, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Mateo. In some of these locales, LEED™ has been incorporated into local building codes. Requests for proposals (RFPs) for public projects now routinely require candidates to list their LEED™ experience and expertise. This rapid entry of LEED™ into the mainstream has created a rush among architecture and engineering firms to gain competence and experience in green design, one of USGBC's goals. The council's inaugural national Greenbuild convention in Austin last year sold out early at twice the expected attendance and created standing-room-only crowds on the exposition floor and in the seminar rooms.

Early collaboration

The idea that all design decisions are interrelated is especially true with green design. This requires early collaboration among design disciplines (and possibly with community entities), which goes against standard practice in many architecture firms. This is a key difference between conventional design, where some green features may be tacked on at the end of a linear design process, and truly green design, where design integration begins at the earliest stages of the project. The selection of a lighter ceiling color, for example, can improve the performance of lighting, both natural and artificial. Thus, the library will need fewer fixtures or smaller window apertures. This reduces the heating and cooling load, which then calls for smaller mechanical equipment and ducts. These compounding impacts drive down the initially hefty price of the project. Basically, design integration makes green projects cost-effective.

Location, location, urban location

Site selection, important for any project, is critical for green design. LEED™ encourages urban redevelopment because of the infrastructure already in place. Alternative transportation is usually possible. The site will be less disturbed. Stormwater management exists. And an urban site contributes to the big picture: there will be lower impact on the urban heat island effect and a limited increase in light pollution. In turn, LEED™ discourages the use of greenfield sites, or undeveloped land. Site selection also influences building design. Opportunities to orient the building for optimum solar exposure, for instance, can enhance the power of daylighting and significantly improve energy efficiency. That is why it is important to select your design team before you select a site.

Energy is LEED™'s middle name

A core goal of green design is to produce buildings that use significantly less energy. Such buildings create less pollution. They also deplete fewer nonrenewable resources and cause less damage from the extraction and transportation of those resources. Using existing industry standards as benchmarks, LEED™ awards points for energy efficiency savings. Up to ten points are awarded for besting the standards by 60 percent in a new building and 50 percent in an existing one. Other energy-related points come when buildings employ renewable energy like solar or wind power, undergo additional building commissioning (independent testing), eliminate ozone-depleting refrigerants, or measure and verify monitoring and use of green power (power produced by utility companies from renewable resources). The design for energy efficiency requires coordination with other disciplines to optimize the building envelope (walls, glazing, roofing), lighting, and controls. Good plans often result in dramatically downsized mechanical systems that can save enough initial and operating costs to pay for the extra expense of the design and materials. Which is greener, metal studs made from recycled steel or wood studs harvested from certified forests? LEED™ does not specifically answer questions like this, but it does encourage designers to study the options. LEED™ documentation requires research into material origins and life cycle, and the system awards points for use of materials with reused and recycled content. To support local economies and decrease transportation impacts, LEED™ values materials manufactured locally or within a 500-mile radius. Rapidly renewable materials, like cork flooring, are encouraged, as are wood products from well-managed forests. The system requires that green projects include areas dedicated to recycling. LEED™ also encourages the reuse of buildings, which means historic renovation projects can score as well as new construction. Additionally, construction waste management is encouraged, which can be simple or not, depending on the level of cooperation from the contractor and the quality of the local recycling industry.

Let Mother Nature work

Andrew Carnegie asked that libraries designed under his grants include 'a representation of the rays of a rising sun, and above 'LET THERE BE LIGHT.'' Turn of the century libraries, like those built 2000 years earlier, made the most of natural daylight and natural ventilation, two hallmarks of current green design. The relatively recent invention of artificial lighting and mechanical heating and cooling systems reduced the need to design for daylighting and natural ventilation. Then came architecture marked by windowless buildings dependent on artificial means for supporting life. Operable windows became an endangered species in libraries for fear of ultraviolet light, glare, and heat gain or loss. Now it is common knowledge that poor indoor environments can be life-threatening. However, few building owners consider the benefits of good indoor environments, which have a documented positive impact on health, productivity, human performance, learning, mood, comfort, and employee retention. Personnel require a much greater investment than building costs. Small improvements in human performance more than offset most of the cost of improved indoor environments. LEED™ calls for a minimum for indoor air quality and control of environmental tobacco smoke. A building wins points for CO2 monitoring, increased ventilation effectiveness, indoor air quality management plans, use of low-emitting materials, indoor chemical and pollutant source control, controllable heating and cooling systems, thermal comfort, and available daylight and views. Enlightened designers have learned that the benefits of daylight and natural ventilation can be enjoyed without energy penalties. In fact, properly designed daylighting improves human performance and health, saves energy, and reduces the cost of library construction. Aided by new glazing technology, intelligent lighting controls, and sophisticated daylighting and energy analysis software, green designers can fine-tune building envelopes to take advantage of high-quality sunlight while controlling heat loss or gain.

What are the hurdles?

LEED™ certification can be complicated, and critics have found it cumbersome and sometimes inconsistent. It also adds immediate expenses to a project. Registration and certification fees typically total less than $3000 for libraries under 75,000 square feet but max out at $9000 for libraries over 300,000 square feet. Prerequisites for LEED™ certification include basic building commissioning, which is not yet standard practice in many regions. In addition, design fees typically rise owing to the need to spend more time on design and construction phase meetings, research, and documentation. Usually the burden of educating the funding agencies, the public, contractors, and other stakeholders falls to the design team, which often includes one or more special consultants. Bid prices may reflect costs to fulfill additional requirements associated with LEED™, such as certifying recycled content of materials used. The good news is that standard construction documents now incorporate LEED™ requirements, and new computerized reporting templates in LEED™ 2.1 have streamlined documentation. Manufacturers, seeing that LEED™ compliance sells, have caught up with reporting requirements and now make information that was once difficult to find part of their standard literature. When planning a project, consider hiring an experienced green design firm or at least make sure the design team includes a knowledgeable green design consultant. Then incorporate any additional certification costs into the initial project budgets. The USGBC has a listing of LEED™ - accredited professionals ( Also, the American Institute of Architects offers an excellent tutorial on writing green RFPs, which includes guidelines and examples of actual RFPs ( and feedback from users of those RFPs.

A greener future

Approximately five percent of new commercial and institutional construction is some shade of green. As demand continues to grow, competition will heat up among designers, contractors, and manufacturers. This should drive down costs for green design. The prices of innovative new green materials and systems should follow suit as demand and production volume increases. Perhaps conventional design will become obsolete as the benefits and savings of green design become obvious to even the most entrenched critics. Such an outcome will be a good introduction to the real technological shift to come. If we reach a point where all new and existing buildings are LEED™ - certified, we will still be wasting our finite resources. Truly green architecture will exist when we are designing buildings that restore fresh water and air and produce more energy than they consume. That is a challenge that enlightened librarians can help us meet, one building at a time.

What Green Design Elements Work For Libraries

Collaboration: Community collaboration is important in sustainable design, to assure the best use of community assets and help sustain public support. Also, an unusually large percentage of LEED™ registered projects are multi-use facilities with multiple owners. Collaboration among design disciplines also benefits from early participation in community project planning sessions. Daylight: Well-designed daylighting paired with sensor-controlled artificial lighting can reduce energy bills while making library spaces more healthful and delightful. High-tech glazing and overhangs can block damaging UV radiation and unwanted heat gain while allowing quality daylight to pass through. Green materials: Rapidly renewable materials like cork, linoleum, wood, and other durable traditional materials are making a comeback. These natural materials provide a warm, earthy backdrop for a modern library. Green roofs: Roof areas need not be ugly. They can be enjoyed as living habitats or habitable reading gardens. Long roof life and reduced energy costs offset initial high installation costs. In some cases, a garden roof may pay for itself by eliminating the need for expensive drainage retention structures. Raised floor systems: Raised floor plenum delivery of conditioned air allows for optimal energy efficiency and comfort while providing flexibility for future rewiring. Energy efficiency: Pay for comfort, not for gas or electricity. Energy efficient libraries save money every month, which can be used to fund services. Natural ventilation: Studies have shown that operable windows increase the comfort zone of users by eight degrees, even if they are never opened. In some climates, natural ventilation (using modern versions of ancient stack-effect and displacement cooling) can take the place of air conditioning much of the year. Green power and renewable energy: Photovoltaic panels and windmills may not yet pan out as cost effective investments, but demonstration projects utilizing renewable energy are grant magnets that can change the economic equation for a library project. Such demonstration projects make sense in public learning environments like libraries, and they come in handy during blackouts. Indoor environmental quality: The days of dark, musty, windowless stacks are history. Your new library should come without the new library smell and the respiratory system complications that go with it.
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