Comment |

5 Ways to Get a Leg up on LEED


By Robert J. Kobet, AIA

I am fortunate to have practiced internationally throughout my career in sustainable design and development, high-performance green buildings, LEED consulting, and environmental education.

Along the way, I was privileged to be selected one of the first LEED faculty in 2000, to chair LEED for Schools between 2002 and 2008, and to participate in numerous U.S. Green Building Council projects in several countries.

As a consultant, however, I still find that many clients have little or no working knowledge of LEED or, more important, their role in completing a LEED project.

The Kobet Collaborative

The minimum-energy Olympic Athlete and Operations Center in Beijing was converted to a mixed-used facility and kindergarten after the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Hamstrung by faulty expectations, these clients are unable to assemble a capable LEED team and end up with projects that are unnecessarily expensive to administer, fall short of goals, or both.

Experts, Experts Everywhere….

Today’s building industry is bursting with more than 180,000 LEED Accredited Professionals, tens of thousands of member firms, and an expanding family of LEED rating systems.

Teams with a track record of successful LEED projects are on cruise control, and many clients are savvier about requests for proposals and qualifications for repeat work.

The vanguard of the movement is firms that charge nominal fees for LEED administration, having integrated the process into their practice. These firms understand the credit categories and how they relate.

The American Institute of Architects publishes contracts for forming working relationships on project teams. Publications, workshops, webinars, web sites and other resources for LEED project administration are everywhere.

Speaking LEED

And yet, for all of this, I still read RFPs and RFQs that state simply, “Must be LEED Silver.”

 © iStock / Nikada

Educating clients about their role in the process is a critical first step to achieving the highest possible LEED score.

As a green school consultant, I have seen that phrase added to new-school RFPs that otherwise have not been revised in years.

Now, any client may know the required minimum number of LEED points, but still understand little of what goes into achieving their eventual point score—much less their role in getting there.

Achieving cost-effective LEED administration and the highest LEED scores is best accomplished using integrated design. This emerging discipline offers a comprehensive, collaborative approach to building design and construction, optimizing as many variables as possible to achieve the best results.

And yet, clients not fluent in LEED are vulnerable in team scenarios, no matter the skills of the other team members or the division of contracts.

The View from Upstream

The answer: Start way, way upstream of the very first contract in the project. Here’s how.

The Kobet Collaborative

An innovative collaboration produced the LEED-certified Pine Jog Elementary School and accompanying Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach, FL.

1. Educate

A successful project begins with educated clients who understand their role in the LEED certification process, including the time and resources that will be demanded throughout: from issuing RFPs through construction and into the post-occupancy phase.

Although clients’ roles will vary with the project and rating system (for example, New Building Design and Construction vs. Existing Buildings, Operation and Maintenance), they must realize that project success requires their continuous participation.

2. Participate

The client also needs to understand, and actively participate in, the integrated design. This starts with getting past inviting “the usual suspects” to formulating teams and facilitating charrettes with the right parties.

An independent charrette facilitator can help identify those parties. Or, the decision can be made through discussion of the project goals and consensus on who should attend.

The most valuable member of the team may be a cost estimator who fully understands how to estimate costs using an integrated design approach.

© iStock / Marje

Whether the project is new construction or renovation, the LEED team should reach beyond the usual suspects for best results.

In any case, the goal is to structure subsequent contracts and fee schedules to incentivize computer modeling, site and building systems integration as early as possible.

Basic decisions about building form and massing, as well as the computer analysis to estimate building system performance, should be done by halfway through Design Development.

This awareness is the antidote to value engineering, and the basis for the most comprehensive, cost-effective building design possible. Fee schedules should ensure that the analysis is completed before finishing Design Development.

3. Verify

The client should ask for evidence that the RFP/RFQ respondents can deliver integrated design and construction in a LEED project.

Suitable evidence includes project logs, memos, invitation lists, videos of LEED charrettes, and LEED Online project documentation.

Conversely, bidders should assure themselves that the party issuing the project invitation understands what the client is asking for, and whether the project is viable. 

4. Evaluate

The client should have a working understanding of the LEED-related project context, choices and processes—and their influence on the LEED score.

The Kobet Collaborative

Clients and bidders alike should ensure that the other can deliver on a LEED project like the 2004 renovation of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

This is best done with in-house LEED consulting help or third-party assistance to review RFPs and RFQs before issuing them.

For instance, evaluating site options should include a review using the LEED Sustainable Sites category before issuing RFPs/RFQs that state the LEED target score. This limited exercise can have its own “upstream value” when it comes to site acquisition.

Site selection can have a significant impact, for better or for worse, on the ability to implement integrated design and achieve the target score.

5. Balance

LEED is mostly performance based, not prescriptive.

That means clients should be ready to facilitate and participate fully in conversations balancing price, cost and value, and to welcome debate about first costs versus lifecycle costs. LEED leaves the resolution of these issues to the owner and project team.    

Addressing these considerations way upstream of signing a contract will greatly increase your chances for reaching your downstream LEED goals on time, on budget—and with fewer surprises along the way.


Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Robert J. Kobet has enjoyed a dual career as an architect and educator. For more than 35 years Kobet practiced internationally in the fields of sustainable design and development, high-performance green buildings, LEED consulting and environmental education. He is currently enjoying a working retirement that includes a position as adjunct faculty in the Kent State University College of Architecture and Environmental Design where he teaches a variety of courses based on sustainability and regenerative environmental stewardship. For more about Kobet, please visit



Tagged categories: American Institute of Architects (AIA); Architects; Building design; Construction; Good Technical Practice; Green building; LEED; Schools; The Kobet Collaborative; Building owners; Commercial Construction; Consultants; Green design

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

Quikspray, Inc.

Tarps manufacturing, Inc.

Sidewinder/Persyst Enterprises, Inc.

Julbert, Inc.

Modern Safety Techniques


Nationwide Overspray

APV Engineered Coatings

base painters

Just Like New Overspray Management


Technology Publishing Co., 1501 Reedsdale Street, Suite 2008, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

TEL 1-412-431-8300  • FAX  1-412-431-5428  •  EMAIL

The Technology Publishing Network

PaintSquare the Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings Paint BidTracker

EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About   |   Privacy Policy   |   Terms & Conditions   |   Support   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us