A Step-by-Step Guide for Finding a Green Building Consultant

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Inspired by this post from K4 Architecture — Here’s the intro to the piece about how to procure architectural and building services: A building program is a major effort entailing the investment of much time and money.  Therefore, an important step in achieving success is the selection of the Architectural/Engineering firm (A/E) that will play a very important role in the undertaking.  The basic components of the A/E procurement process include the following: 1. Develop the program for which the project must be designed. 2. Gather available data. 3. Prepare the scope of A/E services required. 4. Submit the Request for Proposal to A/E firms. 5. Interview A/E firm(s). 6. Make the selection.

Note that K4’s post does not focus on LEED or sustainable building like this post does exclusively. That’s not a criticism since we are greenies, because the K4 blog post author makes many good points that anyone should heed. It’s just that the biggest difference between a sustainable building, versus a code building, is gathering an integrated design team led by an experienced sustainable project manager. The owner is the only person who can force this major change in the direction of the building process.

greensource Cincinnati

greensource Cincinnati

Having dealt with building owners who want to fly their green flag, they are likely the only team member who can personally enjoy and share the sustainable level of concept, design, construction, operation and employee comfort a green building exemplifies. The (resulting) building is their inspiration and their story. Someone can ask for a LEED Platinum or other certification, but if they don’t understand the intent of sustainability, the project will not perform. Let’s be clear, we’re saying the building won’t “live up to its potential” because you can’t pay someone to care about measurable environmental benefits. The photo is of Greensource Cincinnati, LEED Platinum.

Here’s a good example: Messer Construction LEED for Existing Building Certified headquarters in Cincinnati. It’s an employee-owned company, and the employees conceived, planned, executed and documented the LEED EBOM Certification. Congratulations to the employees of Messer Construction!

However, no matter how much an owner may desire personal involvement in their project, that may not be possible. An owner must have someone manage the project. Someone they can trust with their goals and objectives. Many of which don’t have a measurable (or even accepted) traditional dollar value. That project manager is the lead on a sustainable building project because Green Building projects require managing location administrators, lawyers, financial institutions, engineers, architects, trades, designers, consultants, occupants and the public. None of these segments or professions have standard ways of dealing with sustainable design and may need to be educated as to best practices for the decision-making process and responsibilities.

The basic components of the project manager procurement process include the following:

  • Establish the owner’s project requirements and basis of design.
  • Gather similar project data.
  • Plan the timeline.
  • Prepare and submit team RFPs.
  • Team interviews.
  • Help advise the owner on the team selection.

Green Building Consulting Elements iVIncidentally, if you have a well-established, trusting relationship with a highly qualified professional for your project, you may very well elect to provide them with the RFP and attempt to negotiate an agreement rather than using the competitive selection process. LEED Silver Elements IV Office Furniture Systems in Dayton did this with Heapy Engineering for its HVAC system. The photo is of of their lobby.

Develop the Program for the Project
Even with lofty goals and unlimited aspirations every project will have budget limitations. There will be trade offs of materials, technology, new versus reused, and other goals. The first steps include integrated design meetings of all individuals involved in the project. The first team members will be required to assist in selecting the other team members until the entire team is assembled.

Interview team members:

  • Evaluate communication skills.
  • Track record in fulfilling past requirements.
  • Track record in meeting budget and time frame requirements.
  • Track record in avoiding costly extras resulting from deficiencies in understanding sustainable systems.

green building consulting frank lloyd wrightIntegrated design is the single most contrasting element in sustainable design versus the current silo process in building. Traditionally drawings are approved, construction bids go out and decided, project managers come and go, the building is built, and occupancy permit received. Integrated design is needed for sustainable design because many times the last steps in the building process can effect the first steps. We are assembling the integrated design team for a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Cincinnati, see photo. Economical sustainable projects need not give up quality or distinctive architectural features, though the large glazing is making it much harder to plan and budget.

Make the Selection
Fees are obviously important, but there are other factors to consider in making team selections. Since you and your project manager are entering into relationships that will involve intense collaboration over a significant period of time, it’s helpful to select team members with whom you will be able to work harmoniously both professionally and personally. Also, in accord with what has previously been learned by word of mouth, website research and interview, you may decide the best value will be provided by a firm whose fee was not the lowest quoted.

After gathering the team, they prepare the program consisting of, but not limited to, the following:

  • The desired timeframe, budget, space use while under construction and possible future expansion.
  • Site considerations and how to leverage to meet project goals.
  • Water use with an eye for water independence in the future.
  • Energy maps, what are the energy flows on site? How can the site be net-zero in the future?
  • The basic evolution of the building materials to limit carbon footprint.
  • Interior environment quality.

green building consulting leed platinumWith careful planning, sustainable building projects can come well under the budget of a comparable traditional building. It’s a fundamental feature of sustainable buildings to be lower in cost to construct and have lower water and energy costs. If that’s not the case, the project isn’t as sustainable as it could be. We achieved LEED Platinum on our office for less than $12 per square foot.

Another outstanding sustainable and LEED building example is Greensource Cincinnati. Owner Ez Housh and his children, Elizabeth and William, took a historic building shell in downtown Cincinnati and achieved LEED Platinum. Lohre & Associates provided the LEED Documentation on the project.


If you liked this post you may enjoy, “The Joys of a LEED Platinum Green Office and How You Can Achieve It.


greenlips_postcard_shadow_1Request your free guide to obtaining LEED Certification on your office, building or home.

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