It’s a common misconception that Green Building — or to be specific about it, LEED only applies to new construction. The other misconception is that you have to renovate it according to green building standards. People think that they have to tear down the walls, repaint, replace systems etc etc — which translates to costly renovation.

This is not true.

There is a LEED rating system specific for existing buildings. It is called Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance or EBOM. It is a set of performance standards for certifying the operations and maintenance of existing commercial or institutional buildings and high rise residential buildings of all sizes. What it aims for is to promote high-performance, healthful, durable, affordable and environmentally sound practices in existing buildings. Tenant spaces are excluded.

If the project is already LEED certified, pursuing LEED EBOM is easier.
If you look at it — sustainable practices during the operations and maintenance of a building is as critical or perhaps even more critical than the design and construction itself. A very good car works best and runs efficiently if it is well maintained and it is the same for a building.

A building has a life of at least 50 years. During the course of its operation, the needs of the users might be different from the original basis of design. The equipment might not be that efficient anymore. And these inefficiencies translate to increased operating costs. The Philippines has one of the highest electricity rates in the whole region, and investments in improving efficiency be through retrofit or proper maintenance will translate to long term savings.

I am fortunate to be involved in an EBOM project. Compared to the New Construction (BD+C) and the Commercial Interiors (CI) rating systems – the EBOM is a totally different matter that requires a more comprehensive understanding of building operations. EBOM is a complex process because it touches on many aspects of building operation and maintenance.

Like the other rating systems, EBOM requires meeting the minimum program requirements, pre-requisites, and earning credits under the following topics: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation in Operations (instead of Innovation in Design), and Regional Priority. It also follows the same number of credits to be awarded to be Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

The similarities end there. Inside these topics are absolutely different requirements from LEED BD+C, and CI but similar in terms of standards. In EBOM, the management, owners and operators play a key role. They have to show that: 1) they are committed to pursue sustainable practices by having policies in place; 2) they practice these sustainable practices during the performance period; and 3) they will have the metrics to measure how well they performed according to their policies, plans and programs. One important difference from the other rating system is that the LEED EBOM certificate is only good for 5 years. The project needs to be re-certified after 5 years if it wants to maintain its LEED status.

While I was doing an EBOM project, I got to appreciate LEED more. The BD+C requires policies and management plans but there is no way of measuring the impacts of these plans and its implementation. EBOM addresses these issues and is comprehensive in its scope. Some of the policies and management plans required are on: promotion of alternative commuting transportation, hardscape and landscape management, erosion and pest control, cooling tower management, energy efficiency management, solid waste management, purchasing, green cleaning, and facility alteration and addition. Policies and management plans should include who will do it, when it will be done, what should be done, and of course, how are these monitored.

EBOM is also taking stock of what you have or an assessment of current practices. For example, in the case of solid waste management, there is a credit on waste stream audit. This means, collecting all the garbage, sorting, weighing and analyzing them to look for opportunities to divert wastes away from the landfill, and also reducing wastes in general. A plan should be developed on how to do this, and after the implementation of the plan, conduct an assessment to see which works, which didn’t.

Taking stock also includes an assessment of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. At the onset, the current performance of the building will be compared to other similar buildings using the Energy Star Portfolio. By bench marking the building’s energy consumption against the global database, we’ll know where the building’s performance stands, and how the performance can be improved. Looking for opportunities for this can include conducting energy audit and commissioning, installing sub-meters or even building automation systems. It is a systematic and practical approach in problem solving.

The Indoor Air Quality is almost similar to the Energy and Atmosphere in terms of knowing where the project stands how can it be better, and applying rectification work to make it even better to meet, at the minimum, the ASHRAE standard.

When we talked to people interested in pursuing EBOM, we suggested conducting a feasibility study first. This is for the client to know the feasibility and practicality of having a LEED EBOM building. There are cases that the buildings we looked into are so far off from international standards on fresh air requirement, or the energy performance is extremely way off the mark that it is impractical to go for LEED at that point without the conduct of major renovation work or replacement of equipment. The feasibility study will also give an estimate on how much it will cost to meet the pre-requites and earn the credits. The client will then be prepared cost-wise, and will choose, according to their sustainability goals, which credits to pursue.

When pursuing EBOM, it is then important that the management or owner provides 100% support to the project, because the credits are not the sole responsibility of the facility manager. Purchasing department is also involved, as well as the vendors/ suppliers, tenants, service providers — and to some extent, the food concessionaires and even the tenants. There must be a buy-in and participation from many players because a lot of people are involved in running and using a building.

What is also important to consider in EBOM is the time-sensitivity of the plans and programs, and their implementation. It has performance periods which could be a minimum of 3 months. During this period, the implementation of the plans, through various activity log sheets, purchase records, and readings of sub-meters (if going to be installed) must be continuously maintained. No break allowed. In some cases, there are credits that are related to each other, and the implementation for various credits must either be at the same time or at least ending within almost the same time frame.

This is where the feasibility study provides another advantage. The client can, at its own pace and budget, start some rectification work or prepare itself to become a green building by at least to meet international standards.

In terms of costs, it is difficult to say how much exactly it will cost to be a green building. The older the building is, the higher the chance that it’s not that efficient anymore. It also depends on the current practice and diligence of the facility manager in maintaining the building and its equipment. However, in general, many of the credits are of no-cost. That includes the alternative commuting, hardscape management plan, cooling tower management plan, sustainable purchasing- food, occupant survey. There are also credits that are practical to implement because LEED, in most cases during the performance period, only asks for 20% adoption of sustainable practices such as sustainable materials, food purchases, low-VOC materials, sustainable furniture etc. What they want to see is that there is an earnest attempt to prefer and adopt sustainable practices.

Bottomline — there will be costs involved during the process but there will also be returns in terms of measurable savings in electricity and water, and in some cases, better profit from higher rental charges. However, there are other savings that might be more difficult to measure. This includes better performance of employees, less sick time, improved recruitment rate, less loses from failing equipment, and of course, a statement of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

EBOM is a good option to guide owners, facility managers and operators to make the building green. As there are more existing buildings than new buildings being constructed, it is never too late to make a move for sustainability.