LEED’s broad applicability in Europe: from Sweden, to Italy to Germany

LEED’s broad applicability in Europe: from Sweden, to Italy to Germany

Winter 2019 | Written by Kiley Jacques

Three new flagship projects spotlight LEED’s flexible and pragmatic applicability in Europe.

Though American-born, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is right at home in Europe, where green building communities and business stakeholders have long demonstrated a commitment to improving sustainability, human health, and economic prosperity. Increasingly, LEED is being adopted as a means of delivering a better quality of life for all, drawing on its universal applicability and reliability.

With its emphasis on building efficiency, performance, and occupant well-being, LEED can be adapted for building projects worldwide. Its flexibility is demonstrated, in part, by the allowance of Alternative Compliance Path Credits (ACPs) and Regional Priority Credits (RPCs), which recognize differences in environmental and climatic conditions, building codes, standards, and laws. All of this makes it a pragmatic choice for owners and builders in Europe, a region of 45 countries with varying national certifications. With more than 45,000 commercial projects certified across more than 167 countries and territories worldwide, LEED is truly a global rating system.

In addition to being a valuable tool that community officials can use to communicate goals and metrics in a globally recognized format, LEED can be used to track and report progress toward carbon emissions targets—data that can support a country’s efforts to meet its climate action goals.

The Sergelhuset development in Stockholm, Sweden, includes refurbishment of approximately 86,000 square metres (approximately 860,000 square feet) of floor space. Upon completion, the building will contain retail and office premises as well as 34 apartments. The transformation will take into account the original modernist vision, but will be adapted to today’s extended vision of what constitutes a vibrant urban environment.

Advancing LEED

Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the certifying body for all LEED projects, launched GBCI Europe in 2017. Its development was a response to the call for a verification system with global presence. Headed by managing director Kay Killmann, GBCI Europe provides third-party verification services for both LEED certification and credentialing. It oversees business development and addresses certification questions and concerns for LEED as well as for EDGE, GRESB, SITES, PEER, TRUE, WELL, and Parksmart.

“I think Europe is the most competitive region in the global [market], primarily because sustainability was addressed very early on,” says Killmann. “We have multiple recognizable international as well as national certification schemes.” Of the recent partnership between Building Research Establishment (BRE) and USGBC, he says, “I think it’s really important that they don’t compete but rather align to address the bones of sustainability and well-being.”

“Certification of a building is a given,” says Killmann, adding that, in the commercial sector, particularly class A buildings, green certification is the European standard. Killmann notes a shift that has occurred in the past five years: Third party–verified sustainability criteria are part of many investors’ requirements when adding to their portfolios. It’s generally understood that wise investments are those that incorporate a measurable commitment to sustainability. At this point, European stakeholders want to know how they can use each system to its greatest advantage.

Killmann describes LEED as pragmatic and views it as the only true international certification system. “That’s why more and more clients aren’t thinking in terms of borders, they are thinking about their portfolios and assets. And LEED provides a strong backbone.”

Stockholm’s Sergelhuset district, to be completed in 2022, encompasses three properties, three streets, and a public square. An aquifer will pump on-site water into the building complex to support demand-response heating and cooling systems, which will mean major savings on energy consumption.

Some clients choose from among the different systems based on cost or how documentation is handled; they also consider the certifications offered by each system. “With LEED v4.1 having a performance approach [and data tracking platform] with [Arc]… No other scheme has that,” Killmann explains. The challenge, he says, is making the business investors aware of its existence and inherent opportunities.

Killmann begins client discussions with the topics of performance and portfolio assessment. That’s where the Arc platform comes in—it enables project teams to accurately benchmark and track performance data across critical areas. Killmann explains to clients how it can be used for reporting and stresses the surveys and portfolio management components. “The platform itself is agnostic, which makes it a good way to engage clients,” he says.

LEED v4.1 is now being used for CO2 emissions reporting, too. The European Commission has defined carbon emissions frameworks and timelines that need to be met on a country-by-country basis. “With LEED having the option of communicating CO2 emissions by square meter or occupant, we can use it as a reporting platform that feeds into these other requirements,” Killmann explains, noting that LEED is being adopted as a reporting standard by an increasing number of investors.

Killmann sometimes hears people voice concern around LEED being a U.S. system. His response is to make clear that “LEED is the product and GBCI is the certification body,” thereby taking the focus off the U.S. connection. Currently, the European Commission is developing a new rating system, LEVELS. GBCI Europe is working to tie LEED into the LEVELS pilot programs to highlight LEED’s flexibility.

Sweden sets the standard

Vasakronan, a global leader in green building development, has chosen to pursue LEED for 100 percent of its portfolio. Using the LEED Volume Program, the carbon-neutral company has been able to certify a large number of properties concurrently; to date, they maintain 126 LEED-certified buildings. “LEED Platinum is the goal for all of our new construction and major renovation projects,” says sustainability director Anna Denell. “And that’s because we always use green funding—whether through the Nordic Investment Bank, the European Investment Bank, or green bonds—which requires the highest environmental standards.”

Kay Killmann is the managing director of GBCI Europe.

Vasakronan sustainability director, Anna Denell.

Currently, Vasakronan is overseeing the redevelopment and extension of Stockholm’s Sergelhuset district. On track to be completed in 2022, the plan encompasses three properties, three streets, and a public square. The primary existing building was built in 1965 to house a bank; because it hadn’t been updated since then, it was necessary to demolish a section. A second existing building is being transformed into residential units—a response to Stockholm’s housing demand—and the third building faces a large public square, which Denell describes as “the heart of Sweden.”

The demolition phase focused on materials management. Workshops were designed to identify opportunities for reducing the amount of waste per square meter and to increase the percentage of renewable materials. The result was that more than 40 tons of material were reused on other projects and almost all the rest of the waste was recycled.

Also key to the project is the measurement of carbon emissions—in terms of development processes as well as the life cycle of materials used. Transportation needs have been streamlined to curb emissions and promote time efficiencies. “We have organized a logistic hub,” Denell explains. “All of the building materials that are going to the site first land at this hub outside of Stockholm, where trucks are fully loaded and then driven to the site—instead of each supplier arriving independently with a half-empty truck. They are also packed full when they leave the site. This reduces the amount of transport dramatically. And it decreases the amount of time and money spent taking care of deliveries.”

The new building complex will take advantage of its unique site atop a ridge with running water underneath. An aquifer will pump on-site water into the building to support demand-response heating and cooling systems, which will mean major savings on energy consumption. Because the building is located in a central district where train and bus transportation as well as the city’s bike lane system are easily accessible, most people will not arrive by car. Those who do will have access to electric charging stations as well as a car-sharing facility. Upon completion the project will comprise 86,000 square meters of office space, restaurants, cafés with outdoor seating, shops, apartments, and green roofs. “All the extra work we are doing in terms of green building is always paying off,” says Denell. “First, because it will lower our costs during the operations phase, and it’s easier to attract new—and retain—existing tenants in LEED certified buildings. It’s also easier to sell a green building—the liquidity in the transaction market for green assets is much higher than for non-green assets. And last, but not least, it has a huge impact on our financing costs with the possibility, in our LEED certified projects, to issue green bonds and to get green loans with lower interest rates.”

Italy builds for the greater good

Established in 1895, Lavazza is Italy’s primary coffee supplier. Now operated by third- and fourth-generation family members, Lavazza tracks sustainability throughout all of its processes—perhaps best demonstrated by the Lavazza Foundation’s ¡Tierra! Project, a partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, which promotes and implements economic, social, and environmental sustainability projects to support coffee-producing communities around the world.

Recent efforts include supporting the redevelopment of the Aurora district in the city of Turin, home to Lavazza’s new corporate management center, “Nuvola.” Part of a redesign of the block between via Bologna, via Pisa, via Ancona, and Corso Palermo, it is the first LEED-certified building in the Piedmont region. Completed in 2017, Nuvola houses 600 employees and is described as “part of a long path dedicated to education around sustainability.”

The building’s distinct “cloud shape” is the result of passive solar strategies that include variations in wall heights—determined by their orientation to the sun and the surrounding buildings. Interiors are shielded from heat gain by an exterior grid of pilasters and metallic string courses. Key amenities include a large terrace with rooftop garden; a glass atrium that connects the corporate management center to the Lavazza Museum, a garden courtyard, and La Centrale, the Lavazza events area; and interior furnishings designed for human comfort, reduced energy consumption, and efficient space management.

Functional areas within the Nuvola building have been designed in collaboration with work teams creating a smart working environment that facilitates sharing, efficiency, comfort and wellbeing. More than 90 percent of the space is open, offering break-out meeting areas and meeting rooms with the latest technology to easily connect with colleagues overseas: everything in the Lavazza Nuvola building promotes creativity and collaboration, both real and virtual.

Lavazza fully embraced LEED’s call to enhance community and quality of life. Early in the construction phase, the company involved employees by collating suggestions and ideas to create a work space that would best respond to their needs. “The amazing thing about LEED, especially for new construction and renovation, is the integrated process that, in this case, included deep involvement of the owners from the beginning,” says a spokesperson for the project. “They also decided to involve the local citizenship during construction to introduce them to the new space because the building is not only a corporate headquarters, it is also a public plaza dedicated to the neighborhood.”

In addition to hosting on-site events, Lavazza developed a website with the sole purpose of disseminating easy-to-grasp key points of the project to ensure information about LEED development, implementation, and market expansion was readily available in the public domain. The information and insights that resulted from that level of involvement were shared with the design and construction teams, and helped to shape the entire project. Furthermore, upon completion, employees were introduced to the new space to explain how to manage and take advantage of the new technologies and social opportunities created by the building.

Germany adds to its greatest green effort

Transmission system operator 50Hertz manages one of the world’s greenest grids. And now its employees enjoy Berlin’s largest green building, “50Hertz Netzquartier.” Located in EuropaCity and opened in 2016, the 14-story building includes 750 work stations, a 130-seat restaurant, a 300-person conference room, a 90-car garage, and a child care center. A solar plant and two wind turbines on the roof and electric vehicle and bike charging stations are a few of its many green features. Additionally, given the open-concept floor plans, noise reduction measures are a key design element.

Of the decision to pursue LEED certification, CSR Manager Ralf Segeth says: “We have an ambition level that is quite high in terms of sustainability, so when we decided to move offices to accommodate our growth, it was natural to think the new headquarters should fulfill a high sustainability standard.” He notes, too, that many of 50Hertz’s ancillary buildings are also certified using green building rating systems, and any future buildings can expect to be as well.

A large part of LEED’s appeal was its global reputation for consistency, quality and scope. Segeth explains that by fulfilling DGNB—the German Sustainable Building Council certification standard—they were already more than halfway to fulfilling LEED Gold standards. “We want to be transparent, so we orientated ourselves toward an international standard for global reporting because it helps us to remember everything and to think about all of the points that are important.”

Berlin’s largest green building, LEED Gold 50Hertz Netzquartier is located in EuropaCity. The 14-story building has both a solar plant and two wind turbines to maximize the use of sustainable energy. The interior offers 750 workstations in an open space concept.

Andre Stephan, project manager, adds: “LEED helps us think about what is important for sustainability.” He uses water conservation as an example category. “We know saving water is important in America but it’s not as much in Germany. The difference between the German and LEED standards is . . . if we didn’t have to fulfill the LEED standard, we wouldn’t have been so focused on water savings because in Germany there is no water shortage. And actually the system pipes are dimensioned in such a way that right now—because of all this water savings—there is a surplus of water.”

The company uses its new headquarters as tool for voicing its mission of sustainable processes across all platforms, and many architectural firms and investors have visited to see an example of a LEED-certified building. The open-concept floor plan is of particular interest to other businesses keen to see how the idea can be well executed. “Ours is a showcase of how nice an open space can be,” says Segeth, adding that “it’s a building you can be proud of—that you enjoy sharing with business associates and family members.”

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