Nissan's $100 M HQ Goes Green, *Snubs* LEED

Nissan HQ Wetland

It’s a story that I’m seeing more and more, although I’m not too sure we’re seeing a good thing.  Nissan USA spends $100 M to build a brand new office building and plans for LEED Silver certification, but in the end, they decide to spend certification cash on the wetland "rather than have a plaque on the wall."#  Certification gets dropped, but we should ask ourselves a serious question:  Is LEED certification merely about the plaque?  Is that the only benefit we see from LEED?  Spending money to get a plaque?

I’m a skeptical type, and you probably already know my opinion.  I think LEED is beneficial in that it forces projects to consider all aspects of the environment, including energy, water, materials, sourcing, land use, deconstruction, air quality, lighting, commissioning, etc.  LEED provides a level of comfortability that a building meets certain environmental standards in all these areas (and not just one or two).  But I’ll forgo an all-out discussion of LEED for a more thoughtful article to come.

Back to Nissan’s HQ.  The building uses about 35% less energy than a baseline code compliant building.  Nissan invested money in restoring the nearby wetland and also in the building shading system.  The structure has a light harvesting system that changes the interior light output depending on the natural light coming in the building.  And if you look at the image below, you’ll see that all the wiring and hvac is placed under the floor.  That way, less air is wasted by being pushed down because it’s coming through the floor.  Each workstation has individual temperature controls to adjust the air coming through the floor, too.  Looks like a nice office building. 

Via Associated Press + Knox News.




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  • Brendan

    I remember when I was working at an environmental center in Wisconsin and my boss told me that the Exec Director had decided not to apply for LEED status on their new building (which is amazing, ftr) for these very reasons. He wanted to use the money that would have been spent on the certification process to do more green upgrades on the building and the site, and felt that the certification was more for large corporations and other financially well-off orgs, since it’s more of a way of broadcasting “greenness” than actually being green. Not exact words, but that was the gist, anyway.

  • Preston

    @brendan – I think you’ve enunciated the common case that we’re hearing. The formula is simple. Take the dollars you would have spent on certification and spend that on green features.

    Couple points. First, are we so sure that certification is only about the marketing, about verifying to the public that the building is green? Is there not something in the certification process, you know, the hassle of going through it, that makes the building greener. Better. Maybe even cheaper to build and operate?

    Second, can we trust that the money that would have been spent on certification actually goes to green upgrades?

    Just a few thoughts … thanks for chiming in.

  • JoAnn

    I would be very curious to know–what IS the cost of certification? how much was actually saved by not going for the “plaque”?
    thanks very much

  • Preston

    @JoAnn – that’s a good question and the cost of certification depends on the size of the building.

    This is a 460,000 sf building, I understand.

    There’s registration , which is $450.00 for USGBC members.

    Then there’s certification, which is $0.035 per square foot for design & construction review, price also for members. Based on a 460,000 sf building, the cost of certification is $16,100.

    So we’re talking about a total of $16,550 for registration and certification. Plus, if you go platinum, your certification fees are rebated.

    Now, depending on the team you’re working with, you might have to pay someone to prepare the paperwork. But with a $100 million building, $16,100 is quite nominal.

    Here’s a link to more precise costs depending on various situations.

  • JoAnn

    thanks so much for giving us the numbers, preston. they seem nominal with regard to the total budget. so nissan didn’t see approx. $16k worth of benefits to obtaining certification? makes me think that there is another “story” buried under the floor along with the wiring and hvac………..

  • Jeff

    I’m the victim of thinking LEED is easy and affordable to do mainly as a result of inaccurate solid information on the program. It’s actually much more than stated above..probably in the case you mentioned it would be about 10 times as much at least. There are more indirect costs. Preston, you didn’t include all of the fees for the testing and calculations which is actually the meat of the cost in certification and required by LEED to even commision the building. It also depends on who is doing the certification. For homes, it is a designated “LEED for homes” provider. Their prices and policies vary greatly. I’ve never heard of being refunded the certification costs if you go Platinum…they certainly were not going to do that for us or ever mentioned it and we were scoring Platinum.

    Preston, you’re my boy, but I don’t know where you came up with those numbers. I only wish LEED was that “nominal”. Check out AUDEN SCHENDLER AND RANDY UDALL’s article “LEED is Broken: Let’s Fix It”

    Though it’s about 3 years old now. It definitely is the most detailed analysis of the problems, and costs, that still plague LEED. While a lot has changed, many of the problems listed in the article are still prevalent today.

    LEED=Marketing/Bragging rights…it doesn’t make your structure more green; quite the contrary. It’s fairly basic fundamental logic if you think about it.

  • Preston

    @Jeff – I know you have a beef with LEED, and I recognize many of the concerns you’re saying. But first, LEED for Homes and LEED for New Construction have different rules. Second, I included a link to the numbers in my comment. Not being defensive, just trying to clarify my comment and this thread. Here, we’re talking about LEED-NC and you DO get certification fees refunded if you go Platinum in LEED-NC.

    Now, there’s one sure-fire way for certification to get expensive. If you expedite it, you’re talking about pure certification fees going up in the thousands of dollars. See that link above.

    We have kind of a semantic debate going on, though. What is certification? Well, that’s the costs that I mention above. Certification costs a certain amount depending on the square footage of the building.

    The indirect costs you talk about, such as commissioning, etc., that’s part of building a green building that works, right? I mean, you don’t commission the building, how are you going to know if the systems work properly? And yeah, it costs money, but that’s not a cost of certification per se, it’s a construction cost that you account for in the design.

    The reports out there say it costs roughly 5-6% premium to build a LEED-NC Platinum, and the more recent stuff suggests it’s smaller. Lower certification levels cost less to build the building. But we’re talking about costs of the building, not costs of certification.

    Now, maybe the discussion should be: it costs too much to do the things that LEED requires. If that’s the discussion we’re having, we ought to consider the implications. If people aren’t willing to pay for the parts and labor of what LEED requires (not talking about the certification costs): the actual materials, systems, landscaping, etc., then what is the result? When someone says, I’m not going to pay the costs of certification, but I’m going to build green, then what does that mean? They following the LEED reference guide, but they’re just not going to submit the paperwork? Or does that mean they’re going to make the building green in their own way and the certification paperwork doesn’t even relate? With the former, we’re talking about $16,550. With the latter, we’re talking about what? A building that’s more green than a LEED building or less green than a LEED building? Hard to say, but I venture you get what you pay for.

    But look at Nissan. They’re saying, we didn’t want to pay the money for the plaque. Well, that’s the certification, right? The $16,550? I’m suggesting, without going into it too deeply so as to require a phone call to Nissan, as JoAnn says above that there’s something else going on. There’s more to the story.

  • Jeff

    I understand your position, but remember there is no point of paying for certification if you can’t get certified. That means if you don’t do the LEED pre-reqs i.e. energy modeling, commissioning, etc. then you can’t get certified. To me this is part of the cost of getting a certification. I talked to the USGBC guys in Chicago this year at Greenbuild as well as some of the thousands of vendors and participants there who’s businesses, in large part, depend on LEED to earn them money. Lots and lots of people make really good money off of LEED, so this fact needs to be remembered when anyone is thinking of entering into the program. It’s not like a non-profit like Sierra Club running a program to simply help the environment…USGBC, and it’s benefiting off-shoot businesses, make a lot of money.

    Almost everyone I talked to at Greenbuild gave off this very exclusive almost incestuous vibe. It was kind of like “you’re either with us or against us”. If you even suggested doing or using something that wasn’t certifiable or wasn’t affiliated with the LEED program, you got a very overt negative reaction. I think that’s unfortunate because the whole point of all this is supposed to be aimed at being better stewards of the Earth. An inclusive/helpful attitude should be put forth by not only the USGBC, but the businesses that have formed around the LEED program. I was slightly turned off by the purely capitalistic exclusive attitudes I got from a lot of people when I was there. A couple of the high ups (I won’t name names) at the USGBC I talked to really were pompous corporate jerks who knew less about a lot of aspects of green building then I did…and I would consider my knowledge of green building average at best.

    Point is, the marketing face of LEED and the actual nitty gritty of LEED it once you’re in the program are almost counter to each other. I’m jaded, yes, but only after pretty much all of my expectations of LEED were trashed.

  • Preston

    @Jeff – I was thinking about that. I’m pro-LEED, but I also recognize you can have a super green building without the program. Even still, I’m skeptical when projects claim super green status without some third party verification. I’m just so used to corporate b.s. and spin, though.

    Also, it seems from my perspective that LEED has brought about a huge shift towards greener buildings — but at the same time there’s probably a little you’re with me or your not. I need to tone that down on my end, but at the same time, I’m want to push for more LEED because I think it’s a stepping stone to more and better: carbon neutral, positive energy, etc.

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