It has been a long and winding road, but the Civic team has reached the finish line: LEED Silver! A goal designated by the client at the onset of the project, the LEED credit work was initially helmed by the project’s commissioning agent; however, after some issues with submission attempts failing to meet the stated certification goal, the project was turned over to the Lionakis Sustainability Studio.

The team had already solidified points in Water Efficiency and Energy and Atmosphere, these being the two central strategies of the project. The design team reduced indoor water use by 34% from the baseline and outdoor water use by 50%. A majority of the project points were derived from energy use strategies. After conducting an energy simulation, the team had optimized building energy performance by a whopping 78%. This impressive reduction is owed to building-wide advanced energy metering and efficient HVAC systems. PG&E Merced also incorporated onsite photovoltaics (PV’s) to support decarbonization and net-zero energy consumption. These PVs will offset over half of the site’s energy use. The team picked up points with several site-specific credits as well. The green vehicle credit was achieved by providing onsite EV charging stations. They successfully included heat island reduction and light pollution reduction strategies, including PV-covered parking lots and BUG rated lighting. The project also fully utilized the innovation category and achieved a point for an all-LED schedule and not one but two exemplary performance points for the project’s significant achievements in energy optimization and renewable energy production.

Even considering these significant sustainability measures, the project still had a way to go to achieve LEED Silver and only one chance left. So, the team buckled down and got to work by gathering data and documentation to submit several more credit categories. Some were saved for the construction phase and others were re-attempted from the initially rejected design credits. The team knew that they could achieve Site Assessment and Enhanced Commissioning with ease; however, Building Product Disclosure, Interior Lighting, and Low-Emitting Materials remained uncertain. These credits had historically been quite difficult to secure, so LEED altered the credit structure in v4.1 to simplify documentation. Though the project followed LEED v4 certification, the team used v4.1 credit substitution on Building Product Disclosure, Material Ingredients, Low-Emitting Materials, and Interior Lighting and thus started documentation for these credits from scratch. They pulled together what they could and sent in the Final Construction Review, feeling confident in their meticulous course-correction. Then, the Construction Review came back. The team had failed to achieve LEED Silver by two points. The Civic Studio was disheartened not only for not reaching their goal, but also for the project which had set out to solidly achieve LEED Silver. However, after reviewing the Final Construction Review notes, the team felt perhaps the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) ruling on the Low-Emitting Material had been misguided. So, they began the appeal process and with a little extra time, a clarifying conversation with the USGBC review team, and a resubmittal of the Low-Emitting Material credit, LEED Silver was achieved!

Our Sustainability studio’s leadership, guidance, and material documentation allowed for this to be accomplished. This story serves a dual purpose as both recognition of the expertise our in-house sustainability studio brings to the table and as a cautionary tale. When it comes to sustainability and LEED certification, professional experience, collaboration, and knowledge will either make or break a project!