Back to Our Roots: Thriving Communities from Urban Forestry

Trees play a vital role in a healthy urban environment by providing city streets with shade, wildlife habitat and beauty, among many other benefits. Anyone who has ever visited a neighborhood that has lost its tree canopy due to disease, rampant urban development or simple neglect knows what a difference this greenery makes to the quality of city life.

Grand Rapids is fortunate to have an abundance of trees within its city boundaries. That’s largely due to the efforts of the Forestry division of the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, which inventories and maintains an estimated 62,000 street trees and 20,000 park and cemetery trees throughout the city.

Grand Rapids has steadily increased its greenery for more than a decade. In the early 2000s, the City had seven certified arboretums. Today, that total stands at 13, and efforts are underway to achieve arboretum status for several cemeteries. Visit Oak Hill or Greenwood on a sunny afternoon to understand the value of forested city property.

The 2011 Green Grand Rapids amendment to the City’s Parks and Recreation Strategic Master Plan established a 40 percent tree canopy goal for Grand Rapids. In the years that followed, total tree canopy rose to 34 percent. The GR Parks and Recreation Department had every intention of continuing this forward momentum.

In 2016, the Forestry division logged all street, park and cemetery trees. From that inventory, it’s now addressing all trees it has identified as “Priority 1” for removal or pruning. Beyond this routine maintenance and to reach its 40 percent canopy goal, the 2015 Tree Canopy Analysis identified that over 65 percent of plantable area exists – on private residential property.

Recognizing the need to engage citizens in the overall effort of planting and young tree care, Grand Rapids Forestry and the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks launched the Urban Forest Project with core funding from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The effort offers residents hands-on opportunities, from planting to pruning, to learn about and directly impact the City’s urban forest. The Urban Forest Project has certified almost 100 Citizens Foresters since its inception.

The Urban Forest Project now reaches out directly to property owners and community organizations to encourage them to plant more trees, offering volunteer assistance to help sustain the trees’ ongoing health and maturation. Other nonprofit and community organizations likewise are becoming involved.

The vision at work here is to make calculated, data-driven decisions to sustain healthy urban forestry, moving from a reactive to a proactive approach to creating a sustainable tree management model.

The Forestry division handles a multitude of tree-related issues, including the removal of trees that pose a threat to public

health and safety; providing 24-hour emergency response services to tree-related emergencies; and, in recent years, treating more than 1,400 of the City’s ash trees to protect them against the Emerald Ash Borer. Clearly, hands-on support from community members will make a critical difference in helping Grand Rapids reach that 40 percent tree canopy goal.

The division has partnered with Building Bridges Inc., a program that employs local at-risk youth to work within their own neighborhoods to plant close to 1,000 street trees each year in the City of Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss understands the social, economic and environmental benefits trees provide to her city. As part of her Mayor’s Greening Initiative, Mayor Bliss will host – along with the Forestry division and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks – a tree planting event on Arbor Day, Saturday, April 28th. As with last year’s event, the goal is to plant hundreds of trees in Grand Rapids, with the help of community and corporate volunteers.

To find out how you can get involved, check out the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks website for details on this year’s event. 

By Chuck Otto, USGBC-WM Staff Writer



USGBC-WM attends the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit

The 4th annual GR Neighborhood Summit, hosted by the City of Grand Rapids at the GVSU Pew Campus in the DeVos Center, proved to be another successful year in which City residents left inspired about the possibilities in their community.

The annual event is designed to connect residents, build skills and leverage their leadership to make the City of Grand Rapids a more equitable place. The success of the Summit is a testament to the unique and vibrant place Grand Rapids is to live, learn and labor. Even the keynote speaker Dr. Radesha L. Weaver expressed that in all her studies on communities, she has not seen an event quite like this.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss’ leadership and charm excited the audience at 8:30 in the morning with opening remarks. Her love for the city was apparent in her belief that together we will grow from, “the energy and people in this room who care so deeply. The only way to beat our challenges is through our need to come together.”

She welcomed GVSU President Thomas Haas to the microphone who emphasized the power in systemic collaboration to promote the strength and resiliency of the City. The GVSU vision “shape students, professions and society” rang true to the foundation of the event.

The final call to action came from the wisdom of Dr. Weaver, Assistant Professor at the University of Vermont, as she advocated for being a positive social change agent through business development and community partnership. “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire; [and when we do so] we inspire, motivate and indirectly give permission for others to do the same.”

The USGBC of West Michigan supports our partners as they strengthen the City’s neighborhoods and vibrant local identity. The great work they are doing aligns with our mission to embrace where we live, learn and labor. Learn more about the 5th annual City Neighborhood Summit on their Facebook page.

By Gillian Giem, USGBC-WM



Navigating Building Audits: an enlightening start to the ZNE Series

The first of a series of Zero Net Energy (ZNE) events hosted by the Grand Rapids 2030 District, titled “Navigating Building Audits”, was inaugurated on the 20th of February, 2018 for a Lunch & Learn at The Knickerbocker – New Holland Brewery.

Local experts, Mark Zoeteman from Fishbeck Thompson Carr & Huber, Eric DeVries from E3M Solutions, and Perry Hausman from Tower Pinkster demystified the auditing process as a vital component of the ZNE planning process. The moderator was Jake Wilkinson from Michigan Energy Office.

Cheri Holman, Executive Director of USGBC – West Michigan, opened the event with introductions and announced upcoming news including the Small Business Energy Assistance Program, 2018 Michigan Energy Summit on April 18th, and the next of the ZNE series: Harnessing Building Controls on March 13th, 2018.

The conversational dialogue between the panelists and the audience elucidated topics including: how building audits are incorporated into the ZNE approach, differences and applications of ASHRAE levels I, II and III, making the business case to higher management, data collection and interpretation, and navigating the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

“ASHRAE took audits and made them palatable” said Hausman, when the panel was recommending their trusted ASHRAE handbook.

The panel discussed the benefits of performing a high level audit with detailed components pulled from the deeper level, hence customizing a “1.5” or “2.5” audit to fit the building manager’s needs. Although a level III audit unveils detailed information which may otherwise be overlooked, sometimes not all recommendations are implemented.

“If you can’t get the detailed information to make sense to a decision-maker, you are going to have a really expensive binder sitting on your desk” DeVries pointed out. 

The panel discussed strategies for communicating the value of building improvements to a CFO. Sometimes the same message delivered with alternative metrics or jargon is all that is necessary. Zoeteman offered using positive words like “survey” or “assessment” instead of the gloomy word “audit”. Even though there are multiple metrics which tell a building’s story, choose to showcase the metrics which are powerful and relatable to higher management.

Data is gold, and not always the easiest to collect. Benchmarking energy data will substantiate the depth of savings accrued over time. Demonstrated results will strengthen the business case when petitioning for the next project. Energy Star Portfolio Manager was recommended as a universal tool. 

Closing thoughts of the hour were filled with real-life examples and practical advice from the professionals.

Hausman reminded the audience that  “time is money” while highlighting an example of a manufacturing facility which programmed its machinery to be shut down on weekends. That no-cost operational change saved the company $45,000 in annual energy savings.

DeVries left on the final note “Don’t forget the little things”. His story showcased that an Energy Conservation Measure (ECM) which saves $1000 for the cost of $100 may be overshadowed by large projects. Though, “10 of these little things can be just as valuable as a big sticker item”. Any ECM will add money to the bottom line. Maybe energy demand ramps up because of operational changes in a facility, but the ECMs deferred what the cost could have been. “Don’t be discouraged”, he ended optimistically.

Wrapping up the hour, Zoeteman addressed the crowd as slides displayed on the screens. He left the audience equipped with understanding how to communicate the benefits of energy efficiency measures. Energy efficiency optimization is the most effective and most neglected way to provide energy services. Utilize them!

Though the conversation could have surpassed the hour, the event was concluded punctually with the promise to continue the ZNE dialogue at the next series event.

Learn what’s on the Grand Rapids District 2030’s horizons.



Geothermal Energy Comes to Michigan’s State Capitol Building

By Chuck Otto, USGBC-WM Staff Writer

The Michigan Capitol in Lansing is in the midst of a conversion of its heating and cooling system to geothermal energy.

The geothermal renovation is part of a two-year, $70 million project known as the Capitol Infrastructure Upgrade (CIU), an effort designed to bring the 138-year-old building into the 21st Century. Earlier this year, Midwest Energy News reported that building officials have labored to keep up with “the deterioration of the building’s insides caused by antiquated heating and cooling controls.” The initiative follows a recent renovation of the building’s exterior.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) started studying the Capitol’s infrastructure problems early in 2016 in response to numerous leaks and failures throughout the building and subbasement. The laundry list of problems included corroded electrical boxes, leaking pipes, heating and cooling units simultaneously blowing warm and cold air, and improper wiring.

“The decision to proceed with geothermal to heat and cool the Capitol was made for a variety of reasons, with economics being a major factor,” says Tim Bowlin, CFO and project manager for the MSCC. “Originally, the engineers we hired to review our mechanical and electrical problems and needs made a recommendation to look at the possibility of using geothermal.”

After performing test bores on the site to see if geothermal was a viable option, the Commission proceeded to look at the other factors, including economics. By choosing geothermal, the MSCC determined that “We will realize approximately $250,000 to $300,000 savings annually,” Bowlin says. “It will take us about seven years to repay the investment in the geothermal field. After that, all the savings will be fully realized by the State.” The geothermal wells have a 50-year guarantee, but Bowlin anticipates they will last “100-plus years.”

Approximately 224 individual bores will be drilled to a depth of 500 feet below the state Capitol lawn. The holes will house vertical-loop piping to pump vegetable-grade glycol fluid deep underground, where it will be naturally heated or cooled then circulated throughout the building.

By the end of the project, the Capitol will have an all new heating and cooling system, and the bulk of the building’s mechanical equipment will be relocated to a new underground Central Utility Plant (CUP). In addition to the geothermal upgrade, leaking sprinkler heads will be fixed, and corroded electrical boxes and wiring will be replaced.

The Michigan Capitol joins a growing list of state government buildings nationwide, including those in Oklahoma, Colorado and soon Nebraska, that have converted to geothermal.

The conversion will mean “utility independence, cost savings and clean, green energy,” Bowlin tells us. “Closed-loop geothermal systems are safe, efficient, long-lasting and a good economic investment. The decision to proceed with geothermal was a sound decision for the State of Michigan.”

We agree. Geothermal is among the most efficient energy sources on the market today. Kudos to Tim Bowlin, the MSCC and the others driving this project for making the clean, sustainable choice for the Michigan State Capitol building.



Zero Net Energy: Workshop Highlights

At a workshop sponsored by Consumers Energy with partners from Grand Rapids 2030 District (GR2030) and New Building Institute (NBI), experts took a deep dive into Zero Net Energy (ZNE) for midwest buildings. The event took place at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) on Tuesday, November 14th, 2017.

Cheri Holman, Director of the GR2030 District and the Executive Director of the U.S. Green Building Council West Michigan Chapter welcomed more than 100 guests eager to learn that ZNE is possible for Michigan properties.

Joseph Wadel,Commercial and Industrial Pilot Program Manager for Consumers Energy introduced the most aggressive incentive program offered by Consumers Energy, the Net Zero Energy Pilot Program.  Believed to be the first of its kind, the program offers generous incentives and technical assistance that help Consumers Energy gas and electric customers lower their energy use and reduce utility bills.

Dana Friis-Hansen, Director and CEO of GRAM shared a compelling story of how GRAM was envisioned by the late Peter M. Wege as a pillar in sustainable design. This led GRAM to achieve LEED Gold certification and ensured the museum would tread lightly on its environment.  To stay focused on continuous improvement, Dana announced that GRAM would be joining the ZNE movement with the help of Consumers Energy and the GR2030 District. This announcement is an enormous step toward the Grand Rapids 2030 District goals.

Ben Glendening, Consumers Energy Pilot Program Manager, confirmed Long Lake Culinary Campus, Catalyst Partners, Kalamazoo Nature Center, and Keeler Flats are also launching ZNE projects. Ben spearheaded the introduction to the Consumers Energy pilot program, discussing program goals, ZNE strategies & concepts, program structure and available incentives.

Ralph DiNola, CEO of NBI located in Portland, Oregon examined the national status of ZNE. Ralph defined ZNE at various scales and familiarized the audience with the growing number of ZNE buildings across the nation. He delivered information on national and regional ZNE projects, policies and programs, ZNE financing & incentives and the life cycle cost analysis of ZNE buildings.  See Ralph’s presentation here.

Alison Sutter, Sustainability Manager for the City of Grand Rapids provided an update on sustainability goals of the city including the city’s dedication to achieve 100% of their energy from renewable resources by 2025.  To learn more about Grand Rapids sustainability, check out the five-year plan here.

Ralph DiNola and Webly Bowles, Project Manager of NBI, gave a general overview of ZNE. They provided guidance to design your own ZNE project including: selecting a team, setting goals, engaging stakeholders, designing to the target and verification through ongoing monitoring.

As a local example, Jim Wenson from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 58 in Detroit shared their story as one of Michigan’s first ZNE buildings. Check out this video highlighting the challenges, insights, and features of this ZNE building.

Celia King-Scott, Senior Engineer with Consumers Energy took a deep dive into the offerings of the ZNE pilot program explaining each step, the incentive amounts and the technical assistance that will be offered by the pilot. See the details by viewing Celia’s presentation here.

Kyle Peczynski, from Petros Partners, shared information on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). A tool that provides long term loans as property assessments. To learn more about Grand Rapids PACE financing, click here.

The workshop concluded with a panel discussion addressing questions from attendees.  It was an inspirational day filled with deep discussions on the low carbon future of ZNE in Michigan.

To view all presentations from the ZNE Workshop click here

Written by Morgan Price, USGBC-WM



GVSU Wins the 2017 EXPI Award

Grand Valley State University Facilities Planning Department was the Sustainable Construction and Innovation Award Recipient at the 2017 West Michigan Design and Construction Expo.

The Sustainable Construction and Innovation Award recognizes construction and innovation that has proven economic, environmental and/or social benefits, contributing to sustainable building practices.  The innovation will be recognized as a robust project, product or service, to which the market is responding with enthusiasm.

This year’s inaugural award was presented to Grand Valley State University Facilities Planning Department for their on-going commitment to the high green building standard of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

What is LEED? Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an independent 3rd party verified rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design. The system is credit-based, allowing projects to earn points for environmentally friendly actions taken during construction and use of a building.

Why GVSU Facility Planning Department:

  • All told, in the state of Michigan, there are 130 LEED-certified projects classified as part of the “higher ed” owner sector. It total, these projects comprise approximately 12 million gross square feet of space.
  • Of those, 26 projects are owned by GVSU. And they have four more in the construction and certifying process for a total of just over 2 million square feet.
  • GVSU’s LEED-certified projects vary from Certified to Platinum. Their first building to achieve LEED certification was in 2004 in Muskegon which is now Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub. And one of the more recent was a LEED Platinum which is the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning & Information Commons on the Allendale campus.
  • Two recent notable examples of LEED projects on campus:
    • GVSU’s P. Douglas Kindschi Hall of Science, which achieved LEED Gold in 2016. Kindschi Hall prioritized community connectivity, access to alternative transportation, use of regional materials, optimized energy performance and more. This classroom building is just one example of the University’s many accomplishments with LEED, but it exemplifies the holistic approach the University takes to sustainability — addressing every area of a building’s design, operation and maintenance.
    • Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons certified LEED Platinum in 2015: As the first LEED Platinum library in Michigan, the facility demonstrates the university’s commitment to sustainable progress through innovative design and construction.
      With more than 154,000 square feet of space, the new facility is more than double the size of the former James H. Zumberge Library and has triple the seating capacity. The library boasts multiple customizable spaces for both quiet studying and collaborative work, more than 700,000 books, one million e-books, an abundance of natural lighting, outdoor work spaces and a Knowledge Marketplace where students can find academic support services.

The LEED Platinum-certified building excels in sustainable design and management. During construction, a nearby storm sewer was redirected to a storm water management complex, not only protecting habitat during construction but also reducing the need for irrigation. The library anticipates increased green energy use and has built in capacity to adapt the building to support these changes. Invisible investments yield a 54 percent improvement over minimum requirements for annual energy use, including underfloor air distribution, radiant floors, wraparound heat pipes, and high-efficiency mechanicals. Refreshed air in study zones combats drowsiness, and surprising yet carefully constructed views provide natural inspiration.  A green roof mitigates runoff and supports insulation and low energy use.

“The university embarked on a journey to improve its energy signature more than 10 years ago,” said James Moyer, associate vice president for Facilities Planning. “We concentrated on making the building more energy efficient from both a basic construction perspective and an operations perspective. We had to reduce the energy signature of the buildings, then operate the buildings as designed.”

Striving always for a minimum standard of LEED Silver certification, the Facilities Planning staff work diligently to meet or exceed their goals with the team of experts they have pulled together over the years.  By pursuing LEED certification for all new construction and major renovations on campus, GVSU is doing more than actively reducing their impact on the environment. They are also improving their bottom line, contributing to the health and productivity of their students, faculty and staff, and showcasing the value they place on responsible, sustainable development.

In Use:  26 GVSU LEED projects that are certified in Allendale, Grand Rapids & Muskegon for a total of 1.7 million square feet, as well as 4 additional projects either under construction or in the certification process for just under another 300,000 square feet.  Here is a link to GVSU information page on their LEED projects http://www.gvsu.edu/cms4/asset/83D77566-0FCE-1482-0E85CB93ACE30B91/leedsqft102617.pdf



City of Grand Rapids Pace Launch Celebration

Mayor Bliss, GR 2030 District and Lean & Green Michigan
celebrate launch of Grand Rapids PACE program

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss joined representatives from Grand Rapids 2030 District and Lean & Green Michigan, along with the City’s new sustainability manager on Monday at an event celebrating the launch of the Grand Rapids PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program.

Nearly 100 community stakeholders attended the PACE kickoff event at Founders Brewing Company. The launch party was both celebratory and informational, with Mayor Bliss and others touting the benefits of PACE and providing details about the program and application process.

“This is an exciting step toward our community’s sustainability goals and our efforts to reduce energy consumption and move to cleaner, renewable energy sources,” Mayor Bliss said. “The City has its own goal to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2021. These goals align with those of the private sector-led Grand Rapids 2030 District.”

Mayor Bliss was joined by her colleagues on the City Commission in August in adopting a PACE program for the city. Special assessment PACE districts make it easier for property owners to complete energy-saving improvements and installations.

During the launch event, Alison Sutter, the City’s new sustainability manager, provided an overview of the Grand Rapids PACE program and touted the program’s support of property owners wanting to increase energy efficiency of their buildings or install renewable energy.

“Property owners understand the value of operating more energy-efficient buildings,” Sutter said. “PACE is a tool that supports their efforts to realize these energy and financial savings.”

Sutter also provided information about the application process, which begins with the completion of the PACE Project Inquiry Form available at grandrapidsmi.gov/PACE. The form requests basic information on the property and the types of energy efficiency or renewable energy projects for which the owner is interested in pursuing PACE financing. Once the form is submitted, the PACE administrator ensures the project meets eligibility requirements and assists the owner in securing a PACE contractor and lender. After the property owner submits a formal PACE application to the City, the City Commission must approve a resolution creating the PACE district and the special assessment agreement. 

The Grand Rapids PACE program does not use any City funds. Instead, a PACE administrator helps to match lenders and property owners. Lean & Green Michigan is serving as a PACE administrator for the Grand Rapids program. 

“We couldn’t be more excited to be part of Grand Rapids launching its PACE program,” said Andy Levin, Managing Partner of Levin Energy Partners, which administers PACE programs statewide through Lean & Green Michigan. “We believe that Grand Rapids will become a national center of PACE activity because of its unique business culture, which weaves together civic engagement, innovation and sustainability.” 

Levin also announced a PACE training workshop set for noon to 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16 at a Grand Rapids location to be announced. The cost is $150, which includes lunch and materials. More information and registration is available at leanandgreenmi.com/seminar_signup.

Cheri Holman, director of Grand Rapids 2030 District, said the organization was working toward a goal of 50 percent reduction in districtwide energy and water use by 2030.

“The launch of this innovative financing mechanism by the City of Grand Rapids gives property owners another way to look at the return on investment in energy-efficient and renewable energy projects.” Holman said “By offering a longer term than traditional financing methods, PACE projects can produce immediate cash positive opportunities.”

Additional information about the Grand Rapids PACE program is available at grandrapidsmi.gov/PACE. 

Holman also shared information about an upcoming zero net energy workshop dedicated to design and implementation. The workshop – set for 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, 101 Monroe Center St. NW – will provide information about zero energy, including existing codes and polices, national market adoption and a presentation on Consumers Energy’s new zero net energy pilot program. The cost is $45 and includes lunch. Registration is available at  usgbcwm.org/events.

The PACE launch event was sponsored by Energy Alliance Group and CleanFund Commercial PACE Capital.



No Time to Waste; Waste Diversion in Construction

Managing waste has been a ball and chain on society throughout the years, and we are still in the process of ironing out systems that are efficient and sustainable. According to the EPA’s 2014 study on Waste Management, published in 2016, 258 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were generated. With a statistic like this, it is clear that changes need to be made in order to mitigate this generation. The construction and demolition (C&D) tier of waste management is often overlooked, however, C&D materials contribute to a significant amount of this waste stream. Focusing on a tier such as this could have a substantial impact on the future of sustainable cities.

C&D materials are generated when new buildings and structures are built and when existing buildings and structures are renovated or demolished. These various materials can be diverted from disposal, separated and managed into new productive uses. C&D sites are multi-faceted with various forms of traffic flowing in and out, daily. It can be hard to enforce and track waste separation on site. Hiring a waste management company makes the process easier. They separate and track waste for you, saving time and increasing project efficiency.

Construction projects may have waste diversion goals or requirements depending on project type. Waste diversion is the process of diverting waste from the landfill. In order to divert waste, all construction materials are separated by type and disposed accordingly. Materials that are recyclable are separated from materials that are not recyclable. Both recycled and non-recycled materials are weighed and a percentage is calculated to determine how much waste overall was diverted from the landfill.

Many responsible building owners and managers are pursuing LEED building certification.  Waste diversion is a part of the requirements for the certification process. Being a prerequisite, a waste management plan is put into place prior to project construction. Implementing and tracking this waste management plan during construction can help earn LEED credits, making the project that much closer to achieving the certification.

Some waste management companies are taking on the challenge of waste diversion and are becoming the leaders in this beneficial process. One of these leaders is Knight Transfer Service: a waste management provider located in Zeeland; servicing West Michigan, Lansing, Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor. Along with their waste management service, Knight designed a program for sorting waste on and off site for construction projects. The program developed over time as they saw a need in the construction industry.

Since 2002, Knight has partnered with 60 project teams to divert waste at over 200 project sites pursuing LEED certification in Michigan.

Business models like Knight’s can help to achieve waste management goals on and off site. If the construction site is large enough, dumpsters are delivered and the waste separation is done on site. If the construction site has limited space, different dumpsters are brought in that host multiple materials per bin and are then separated off site.

The program helps construction projects with waste responsibility; creating more space on site, improving accuracy of sorting materials, and helping projects meet waste goals. It provides companies with peace of mind knowing that the job is getting done in an efficient and sustainable manner.

Waste is inevitable. With the right guidance, information, and leaders driving projects such as these, we can tackle the giant that is waste management.


Written by: Rebecca Holman of the USGBC West MI Chapter



LEED Recertification – Get the Facts

LEED is a third-party verification for green buildings. Pursuing and achieving LEED certification provides independent verification of a buildings green features in design, construction, operations and maintenance.

How long does certification last?

A building can never lose its LEED certification achievement. You will always be able to say that the building was certified to the level achieved on a particular date. A project can continue to maintain up to date certification by being recertified – and demonstrate additional, important green achievements.

What is recertification?

Recertification is the subsequent application(s) for certification after a project has received an initial certification under any version of LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED EB O+M). This achievement ensures that the LEED project continues to function to LEED standards. For example: a five-year-old LEED for New Construction certification means that five years ago, the building was designed to be a sustainable building. Project teams choose to recertify buildings, because the original plaque says nothing about whether the building is operating sustainably today.

What LEED rating systems require recertification?

The LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance rating system can be applied both to buildings seeking LEED certification for the first time and to projects previously certified under any version of the LEED Design and Construction rating systems. It is the only LEED rating system that requires projects to recertify. By nature, LEED for Existing Buildings is an ongoing process, and its prescriptive and performance strategies are intended to provide operational benefits throughout the life of the building. If the strategies are sustained, the building can maintain and even improve its performance over time.

LEED O+M projects have two options to maintain their certification:

  • Recertify (every 1-5 years) using the credit-based approach in LEED Online


  • Recertify annually through the performance based approach in Arc, i.e. ongoing certification

When using Arc for ongoing O+M certification, the team does not need to complete any LEED credit forms. Instead, the team will enter data in Arc under the five categories – Energy, Water, Waste, Transportation and Human Experience. This data will determine the project’s performance score. A previous LEED certification contributes up to a maximum of 10 base points, depending on previous credit achievement in the initial certification. The base score is static and is not impacted by the data entered into the platform. Find out more at http://arcskoru.com/.




Net Zero, Zero Carbon, Carbon Neutrality, Oh My!

For some time Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) was not clearly defined, but ten Green Building Councils (including United States & China) worked to change that.  They convened in New York City on September 30, 2016 with the goal of aligning their ZNC definitions. Architecture 2030, a non-profit dedicated to combating climate change through innovative design, led the discussion by putting forward the ZNC definition they developed in collaboration with Rocky Mountain Institute and New Buildings Institute.

Today, a ZNC building is defined as:

A highly energy efficient building that produces on-site, or procures, enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet building operations energy consumption annually.

ZNC buildings = Energy Efficiency + Renewable Energy

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) consisted of scientific studies that illustrated the next decade is a critical time. They also emphasized that the only way to stabilize our climate is to reach zero total global greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 to 2080. To meet this timeframe, our entire building sector must shift current building design, construction, and operations towards ZNC, and our solution must bring every building – new and existing – into the fold.

In 2012, there was approximately 85 million square feet of new buildings built in the United States.  Today there is over 275 billion square feet of existing building space in the U.S. This translates into incredible potential to transform existing buildings into more sustainable, healthy, and profitable buildings. Traditionally, buildings have contributed about a third of climate change-causing global carbon dioxide emissions, more than any other sector, because of their heavy reliance on fossil fuel resources.

It is critical that we adapt our built environment to withstand the impacts of a climate change.  We are already experiencing the effects of our changing climate. In order to maintain a healthy atmosphere, it is estimated that carbon emissions must be cut by 80% by 2050. 

The Paris Agreement was adopted by consensus in December 2015.  This agreement within the UNFCC addresses greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation, adaption and finance starting in the year 2020.  The Paris Agreement objective is to hold the increase in global average temperature at well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. While the U.S. is taking steps to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, this has not slowed the other 193 signatories on their progress toward mitigating climate change.

In response to President Trump’s announcement of the U.S. plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement more than 2,200 leaders from America’s city halls, state houses, boardrooms and college campuses, representing more than 127 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy signed the We Are Still In declaration, a commitment to the Paris Agreement. Its signatories demonstrate America’s enduring commitment to delivering on the promise of the Paris Agreement and America’s contribution to it. To date, ‘We Are Still In’ is the largest cross section of the American economy yet assembled in pursuit of climate action. ‘We Are Still In’ is a bottom-up network, supported by many individuals and organizations. Grand Rapids was an early signatory to the movement and other Michigan cities include Ann Arbor, Buchanan, East Lansing and Grandville.

Our cities are already facing climate change risks, infrastructure demands, and increased resource needs for water & energy.   Many cities are creating climate change and resiliency policies and programs.  Local policy and regulations will drive the building industry to address these issues.  Innovative and diverse incentives, policies and partnerships will pave the way for market adoption of ZNC.

Grand Rapids is a long-time leader in climate change strategy. The city was the first signatory to the Resilient Communities for America and one of the first local governments in the nation to use the ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability’s Climate Adaptation Program: Climate Resilient Communities ™ . The program aids local governments with the tools to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Tools & Resources are Emerging

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) helped set the federal 2030 net zero energy goals in 2007. Today, they are still making strides in energy policy and pushing for renewable energy incentives.

In June 2016 the World Green Building Council introduced Advancing Net Zero which includes an aggressive target that 100% of buildings are operating at net zero by 2050.  In order to be successful, widespread adoption is critical.  The consensus among Green Building Councils (GBC’s) is to create training for green building professionals and operate green building certification programs that will ensure that net zero buildings become the new norm.  They have set a goal to have these programs in place by the end of 2017.

An innovative project that works to provide solutions for  the built environment  is the 2030 Challenge, created by Architecture 2030. “This is the first comprehensive program in the U.S. that educates the architectural profession in specific design and technology applications to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions,” said Edward Mazria, Architecture 2030 Founder and CEO. The goal of this challenge is to have all major renovations, developments, and new buildings be carbon neutral by 2030.

The New Building Institute’s (NBI) provides tools and resources for guidance, maintenance, and measurability for ZNE. NBI has developed a set of action paths for jurisdictions to support a long term commitment to ZNE Buildings. They have created Zero Net Energy policies, the Zero Energy Performance Index (zEPI) which provides a scale for measuring commercial building energy performance, as well as an online tool to guide building owners called Getting to Zero Database. Case studies and other research is also provided on the website. Learn more here.

Boots on the Ground

In December 2015 the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan (USGBC-WM) launched the Grand Rapids 2030 District as a way to facilitate the reduction of carbon emissions in the city and lead the ZNC transition. The Grand Rapids 2030 District fosters the collaboration of property developers & owners, city leaders, community and professional partners to reduce carbon by 50% (from a 2003 baseline) by 2030 for existing buildings and a zero net carbon goal for new building projects.  The goals were set by Architecture 2030 which charters 17 other 2030 districts throughout the U.S. & Canada including Detroit, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and more.

With collaboration and innovation, we will continue to push forward to a healthier, more sustainably built environment.


Written by: Morgan Price, USGBC WM Program Administrator