... to help them navigate through the waters to sustainability, so to speak,” Burrelsman says. Some clients truly care about LEED certification and are enthusiastic about meeting each credit, but others see it as a marketing tool, she says.

While some owners decline to pursue LEED certification even when building green, Ritchie says LEED has become a important brand name that owners and the pubic have come to identify with sustainable design. “Owners use LEED certification not just for public relations, but to attract sophisticated employees who want to work in an environmentally friendly facility,” she says.

Changing Processes

Sustainable design also has had an impact on the design process. “We have to maintain the strength of the design yet accommodate for certification points,” says Weiss. He adds that green design can be frustrating if a firm is designing according to a checklist. “We’re trying very hard to make our design stand for itself and use certification as a benchmark,” Weiss explains.

For some firms, sustainability is old hat. Green design does not really mean a great change for Leo A Daly, according to Brad Schaap, corporate director of sustainability. “We take the team approach to design with both architects and engineers,” Schaap says. “With LEED, it’s a modification to the process because we are documenting everything for it, but it’s not a huge change.”

Sustainable design “requires a mindset shift where all parties to the design process have to come together at the start. You have to get everyone involved early to make it work well,” says Vaughan. “With integrated project delivery and [building information modeling software], you are better able to get the mechanical, electrical and plumbing and structural engineers involved in the design process from the start where they can make a big difference.”

For engineers, early input is essential to sustainable design. “A lot of energy savings comes at the outset when working on the building envelope,” says Cooper. “It is so much more effective to work in collaboration with the architect rather than trying to present an applied solution to an existing design.”

The growing profusion of green products and materials have given designers a freer hand in specifying. “It used to be tough to specify, and added cost to the design, but no more,” says Wittmann. “Five years ago, you couldn’t identify the amount of recycled content in a particular material,” notes Vaughan. “Now, you get full documentation.”

Many designers worry about the proliferation of green materials and products. “Manufacturers are rushing products into the market to take advantage of the surge in interest in sustainable design,” says Vaughan. “You don’t know what is good, and what is merely greenwash.”

For the future of sustainable design, many firms are looking past LEED toward the 2030 Challenge, issued by the Santa Fe, N.M.-based nonprofit group Architecture 2030. The challenge calls for the rapid reduction in the use of carbon-based energy through the year 2030, when all new buildings should be designed to be carbon-neutral.

Many designers have embraced this challenge, but some are more reserved. “Not all owners will be willing to accept the requirements, and I’m not sure that the goals are realistic,” says Wittmann. Cooper of Flack+Kurtz has a different view: “We should let the goals drive the technology and not let the technology drive the goals.”