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Putting Together a LEED Team
Lynne Bryan Phipps, Contributing Editor

Assembling the team for any commercial building project is crucial, but when it's a LEED project, the task takes on even greater importance. Architect Lynne Bryan Phipps talks about the challenges.

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Putting Together a LEED Team

Jay Holtzman: Hello everybody, and welcome again to the newest installment of the Taco Advanced Hydronics Podcast. I'm Jay Holtzman, a member of the Taco communications team, and with me is Lynn Phipps, an interior architect and a very active member of the green building community here in Rhode Island. How are you this morning Lynn?

Lynn Phipps: I'm fine, thank you Jay. How are you?

Jay Holtzman: I'm doing pretty good. I understand you're calling in from between job sites this morning?

Lynn Phipps: I am. I've been on one of our Providence Green Pathways job sites and I'm back and forth between a couple of swap sites.

Jay Holtzman: Maybe in an upcoming episode we'll talk about the Green Pathways project. That sounds, just by the name of it, pretty interesting. Off topic for a moment, before I ask you about team building, to your knowledge is there a lot of the green building going on right now in this area?

Lynn Phipps: Well, all of my work is always green and I'm pretty busy so yes. From my perspective, yes, there's a lot of green building. But I would also say that up and down the east coast, and certainly I'm speaking on the west coast in February and everywhere between, there is a lot of green building going on. The codes have changed recently, and are requiring buildings to be much more sustainable. So that in and of itself means that there will be even more green building going on. But even without those code changes, people are recognizing that green building is a much more productive, much more successful way to go. So I think the answer is yes.

Jay Holtzman: It's interesting, even with the obvious slowdown in construction activity, that green's still kind of building and going on. Today Lynn is going to talk to us a little bit about team building, specific for LEED projects. Again, she does a lot of green building so she has a lot of experience in this area. Lynn, I guess my first question really is, first of all, who should be on a team for a LEED project?

Lynn Phipps: Well in LEED commercial projects, any kind of new construction or major renovation or reuse, any LEED building has to have a LEED accredited professional on the team. That person sort of spearheads all of the paperwork and all of the tracking of the LEED points, so you would need to have a LEED accredited professional. Now that person could be the architect. It could be the engineer. It could be another major team player. But all of the professionals do not have to be LEED accredited. Certainly the more people who are familiar with the LEED process on the team, the better, because it goes much more smoothly but it's not a requirement. I think the most important thing about doing any LEED project in terms of sustainable design is that you have progressive thinkers, people who are interested in doing green works because anytime you've got a bunch of sort of naysayers around the table, it's just not going to be any fun and it's not going to be very productive. But to have people to work with who are interested in the process, who are interested in helping green building move forward and become better, because really that's what LEED is about. LEED is really about finding new and innovative ways to make buildings greener, better for people and to make the green building process a better process.

Jay Holtzman: So does that mean that the LEED accredited professional, LEAD AP, should be or it's best for that individual to be the team leader or is that not necessarily?

Lynn Phipps: They usually tend to be a major player but not necessarily the leader. Oftentimes the LEED AP is a member of the architectural team, but really tracks a lot of the paperwork. So you could have the lead architect on the team not be a LEED accredited professional, but have that sort of right-hand person be the accredited professional, helping that architect understand what the really important parts are of the process to help that person design towards the standard.

Jay Holtzman: In your experience, is it a full-time job for someone to be the LEED process coordinator if you will, or does this individual often do something else on the team as well?

Lynn Phipps: They usually have another role. It's not that the paper trail is that time consuming, but understanding the LEED process, that knowledge is an important thing to break to the table. And for a long time, not everybody in a firm — it's a very expensive process, and a very extensive process to be a LEED accredited professional so not everybody in a firm was always accredited. Now more and more people are interested in being accredited, and more and more people are interested in being able to be that person on the team, so it's more and more frequent that the team leader is the accredited professional.

Jay Holtzman: Aside from the requirement, if you will, to have a LEED AP on the team, is there anything else about a LEED team that differs from a team for a commercial project that isn't going to be LEED certified?

Lynn Phipps: I think the biggest difference is the approach, and I hope, honestly, that this approach has bled or bleeds into the approach in general to building design in the future. And that is the way that we've always designed buildings in the past is that it was a very linear process. The design started either in the engineer's office or in the architect's office, then went to the engineer, to the mechanical engineer, to the electrical engineer, sort of in this linear fashion where the different layers of the building were just applied. And it was a formulaic approach. If the building didn't have operable windows, then you applied a certain formula to how much extra AC was required. If the lighting needed to be engineered, it was based on a formulaic approach to how many lumens needed to be lighting what area at what time. It was based either on dramatic lighting or task lighting or whatever was required for the type of building, the type of use. It was just very formulaic.

Now, because of the goals associated with a LEED project, the goals of being most energy efficient, of being most person or human centered, the goals of creating the most interesting environment for the least energy consumption for the most psychologically and physically comfortable for the people using them. The root that is taken in a LEED project is you bring the whole team together at the beginning of the project. You're focused, first and foremost, on what are we doing at this particular site on this particular piece of property if it's new construction, or with this particular building if it's an existing building, to make it what it can become. Maximize its potential. In doing that, how is this group of people — because we're bringing this whole group of people together to do that — how is this group of people going to do that together?

So it's a very collaborative approach now, so it's not let's pass what the architects designed onto the structural engineer or onto the HVAC mechanical engineer and tell them they have to work with whatever the architects designed. It's now, let's work together, and if we do this what will that do if you, the HVAC or mechanical engineer, has the opportunity to do that? Or if the mechanical engineer wants to do this, how can the architect make that work? So it's a very collaborative approach now, and that's where what we call in LEED terminology, innovation points come in. When everybody comes up with a new way of doing something, then we apply for innovation points on a LEED project.

And so the potential for our highest award, the highest number of points being platinum or gold, the only way you can reach a platinum or a gold LEED standard for a building is if you actually exceed all the other possibilities and you get innovation points. So the goal is that collaborative approach, and the way I look at it is it's sort of a spiral. You begin with a concept, then you sort of work in a circle and you sort of spiral up as you develop that context, going back and forth and back and forth, around and around and around the table developing the concept with the whole team. Visiting it and visiting it, revisiting it and revisiting it, and then visiting it again and visiting it again, making it better and better and better and better.

Jay Holtzman: It sounds like it's pretty much the direct opposite of a linear approach where there's not a lot of crosstalk between the players. Just the opposite, there is a premium on back and forth and collaboration.

Lynn Phipps: Yes. That's the way I see it, having started in the field 26-27 years ago before LEED and having worked on buildings that were green buildings as long ago as that, I would say it's exactly the exact opposite. And from my perspective, much more refreshing, and much more interesting, and much more fun.

Jay Holtzman: Sure, I would think so. So you have a completely very different process, it would seem to me then, that changes the kind of talents, abilities, attitudes that you're looking for for these members of these kinds of teams. Is that right?

Lynn Phipps: I would say it does. I think that with these kinds of teams, that's why it's much, much more important that people not be the kind of people who want to work alone, who want full control. They have to really have a desire to be collaborative, and they have to really want to be team players. They have to really get excited and charged by doing this kind of work, or be interested in learning from each other. I take a lifelong learning approach to my life, and I think that that's sort of a good analogy for this kind of work; if you're a team player kind of person then you're open to learning new things. Bringing something to the table, learning through the process and realizing that someone else is probably going to take an idea that you have, grow it and you're going to learn something from them.

Jay Holtzman: Yeah, so if you're a fairly rigid, top-down, management type of individual you're not likely to fit into the team very well it sounds like.

Lynn Phipps: Yeah, or if things are about power over rather than shared... yeah, it's not going to be...

Jay Holtzman: In your experience, is it more difficult to find the right kinds of people for these teams than for a traditional sort of linear team?

Lynn Phipps: In my experience, sometimes. I think that in my experience, earlier on in the process it was much harder.

Jay Holtzman: You mean X number of years ago?

Lynn Phipps: Yeah, exactly. Because for a long time there were a lot more people who really didn't think green was ever going to work, and so there were a lot more people who really didn't want to take the time, to really spend the time working at it. Or the energy. They didn't see it as a viable market. But because it has become such a viable market, now everybody wants to do it and I think people see it as an opportunity to learn and to grow, and if you want to learn and grow then you're coming at it with the right attitude. So there are more and more and more people who are interested in learning and growing. Now whether or not they have the right personality type or the right sort of makeup to be a good team player is a whole other story, but I think that a lot of people, at least we have the interest level or the people who want to be part of a team now which is very different.

Jay Holtzman: So is the attitude that a potential team member brings, it's more important than whether they have specific green building experience? Is that what I'm hearing?

Lynn Phipps: I think so. I think the attitude is sort of like, what is that phrase, 90% of success is showing up? It really is. If you're going to get there with the right attitude, you're much more likely to be successful than if you show up without it. That's my experience.

Jay Holtzman: You know, it strikes me, I think last time we touched on the fact that green building is causing big changes throughout all of the professions that are involved and it strikes me this is a great example of how a building professional, to really fit in well with a green way of doing things, has to have a certain set of attitudes that maybe weren't even required at all previously.

Lynn Phipps: Yeah.

Jay Holtzman: If I'm looking to assemble a team and I'm looking to find a LEED accredited professional, where do I go? Are there resources? Is there a directory? Do I just have to advertise for that? How do I go about finding, at least to pool, some candidates for that LEED AP or with that LEED AP qualification?

Lynn Phipps: Yes. The US Green Building Council website does have a list of all the LEED accredited professionals on it.

Jay Holtzman: It does? Okay.

Lynn Phipps: Then there's also what's called the Green Guide. There's another called the Green Register. So there are several places — now the other two, they actually have to pay to be a part of those registries, but the Green Guide and the Green Register members pay to show up there. But the USGBC keeps a list of everybody who is LEED accredited. So whatever level they're accredited, you can find them on the USGBC.

Jay Holtzman: I'll get those URLs and they'll be part of our Green Notes. Just for our listeners, there will be, or there is a hardcopy — a written copy — of what Lynn has been talking about today. It's available for download on the podcast page of the website. Again, I'll make sure that these URLs get in there for further examination. Guess what, Lynn? The clock again is our master and we have more or less run out of time. Not that we can't do a second version on this. Again to our listeners, if you have questions or there's topics that you'd like Lynn to discuss, by all means let us know via the website. In the meantime, please do visit www.taco-hvnc.com. We're there 24/7 to help you. And Lynn, again, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Lynn Phipps: It was a pleasure.