Building green: Corps of Engineers explores overseas LEED alternative
By Jennifer Aldridge
WIESBADEN, Germany -- Think global, act local. The phrase, popularized in the 1970s on the back bumpers of hippies' Volkswagens and on the front of their T-shirts, has evolved through the years and taken on a wider meaning. The slogan is used by urban planners, environmentalists, government officials and business executives to describe a global mindset with a local focus.
Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District is considering the adoption of local green building standards to meet the Army's worldwide environmental and energy performance goals.
Beginning this fiscal year, the Army mandates all new construction projects must meet strict sustainability standards, according to an October 2010 memorandum issued by Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment.
As the Army's construction agent, USACE works with its customers to plan, program, budget, design and build facilities to achieve a minimum of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver or an equivalent overseas green building rating system certification per Army policy.
"Right now the Army has it right by specifying LEED or an overseas equivalent," said Kristen Stroh, a Europe District project manager. "It's important to stay away from being rigid and keep the policy goal driven so that it is more achievable."
USACE Europe District, responsible for constructing facilities in Germany and throughout Europe and Africa, is exploring a German sustainability rating system as an alternative to LEED, said Rich Gifaldi, the district's sustainability engineering manager.
"USACE policy stipulates LEED or a host nation equivalent must be used," Gifaldi said.
LEED, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is a well-known American rating system used to implement practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. Germany has developed two similar, if not equivalent, green building assessment and certification systems, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen or DGNB, and Bewertungssystem Nachhaltiges Bauen or BNB.
"The intent behind them is the same - to have a green building," Gifaldi said.
Europe District is conducting a pilot project to determine if one or both of the local standards - based on German building codes and written in the German language - can be substituted for LEED certification in the future.
"We are in Germany and they are not familiar with U.S. standards," Gifaldi said. "We want to find something local that will have less of an impact on the project schedule. DGNB is the leading standard in Germany, and the codes are familiar to the design team and the contractor."
By comparison, LEED references an erosion standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Europe District's German partners may not be familiar with the EPA, let alone the agency's standards, Gifaldi said.
Stroh said it can be challenging and time consuming for German architects, engineers and contractors to adapt to LEED.
"We have to do translations of LEED," she said.
The Europe District is using a Child Development Center in Stuttgart, known to Germans as a kindergarten, to compare LEED, DGNB and BNB.
According to Stroh, the pilot will determine if flexibility can be worked into the certification process.
"If we have three standards we can pick from we gain flexibility," Stroh said. "It is good to provide options."
Europe District is working with Thomas Hoinka, a LEED and DGNB certification consultant, to monitor the pilot project and track its progress through LEED and DGNB rating systems simultaneously.
The major distinction between these standards is the economic quality criteria considered by DGNB and BNB but not by LEED. The measure takes project life cycle costs into account. The cost of building materials, operations, maintenance and upgrades to the facility are used to analyze economic quality in the DGNB and BNB rating systems, Hoinka said.
"Life cycle costs have a major influence on the certification," he said. "In the case of DGNB the economical quality comprises criteria like low life cycle costs, flexibility of the building and suitability for third party use."
In addition to economic quality DGNB and BNB focus on ecological, sociocultural, technical, process and location ratings.
"This standard could potentially lead to a better quality building," Gifaldi said. "LEED is not set up to capture life cycle costs at this point. It doesn't reward or penalize based on how much you spend to build."
The CDC pilot project, currently at 35 percent design, is still in the assessment phase. Gifaldi looks forward to reaching the study's final outcome, he said.
"If the pilot project returns great results, then as a district we will consider using DGNB for the majority of our work in Germany," Gifaldi said.
All rating systems are applicable to Europe District's work and should be recommended for further projects, Hoinka suggested.
"The experience of the last year has shown that U.S. construction standards are no stumbling block anymore in Germany if the requirements are implemented early in the certification process," he said.
Editor's note: The CDC pilot project received DGNB pre-certification and is on track to be the first Army project certified by a LEED equivalent rating system in Germany.
child development center