LEED’s need for speed: Green building certification process needs to be accelerated, officials concede

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The organization responsible for doling out a much-coveted seal of approval for green buildings still has some work to do to reach its goal of speeding up the approvals process, one of its officials said.

The Canada Green Building Council is on average still several months behind its targets for certifying buildings under the well-known leadership in energy and environmental design program, better known as LEED, said Mark Hutchinson, the non-profit’s director of green building programs.

Chasing the LEED certification has become popular with developers in Ottawa and beyond who hope to achieve long-term costs savings and positive publicity through the energy efficiency designation. However Mr. Hutchinson said that spike in popularity three years ago also led to a backlog of applications.

The CGBC fell so far behind schedule that applicants had to wait eight months before inspectors would even begin looking at the request, said Mr. Hutchinson.

He said they’ve addressed that backlog and have now set a target so that each project, barring any major hiccups, will be approved six months after an application is submitted.

They are still not where they need to be, though, as the average new construction project is getting approved somewhere between nine and 12 months.

The City of Ottawa has had so many delays in getting approval that councillors on the environment committee voted last month to get rid of a rule that requires most municipally-owned buildings to get the LEED designation. A subsequent city council decision, however, effectively shelved the proposal by referring the issue to municipal staff for further study.

A staff report found that 15 buildings – including the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans – were awaiting certification. One project, the Albion Heatherington Community Health Centre, was still not approved more than two years after construction wrapped up in December 2010.

As part of the debate, councillors suggested the city continue constructing buildings to meet the same environmentally-friendly standards, but wanted to remove the requirement that projects receive official certification.

Mr. Hutchinson stressed that each building is different, so there will be different time frames depending on how big or small a project is.

Delays on projects aren’t always the CGBC’s fault, he added. They need to get information from the applicants once they’ve submitted their bid, but sometimes don’t hear back for six months or even a year.

Concerns about the wait times are valid, said Mr. Hutchinson, since organizations such as the city want the ability to advertise the designation soon after construction is complete.

However he believes there’s no reason to use that as an excuse for not taking the extra step and getting the official designation.

“I think the problem is that, very often, people who are considering not certifying are not really saying that they’re going to do everything but certify,” said Mr. Hutchinson. “They’re going to take another step or two back, their building isn’t really going to be quite as green.”