Canadian Consulting Engineer

Contractors see dire need for consultants who can help with LEED

December 19, 2008
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

While the owners of roughly 30% of buildings today are requiring that their buildings be designed to LEED environme...

While the owners of roughly 30% of buildings today are requiring that their buildings be designed to LEED environmental standards, the design consultants still haven’t all mastered the best ways to write specifications and other documentation to reflect LEED requirements, said a panel of general contractors at Construct Canada in Toronto on December 3.

The Contractors Roundtable was moderated by Jeff Morrison, President of the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies (ACEC). The panelists were managers and directors from four large contracting companies from across Canada: Cameron Blair of Ellis Don, Compton Cho of VANBOTS, Klaus Gloge of PCL, and Murray MacKinnon of Ledcor.

The discussion ranged widely over the “Continuing Challenges and Opportunities of Green Design.” A recurring theme, however, was that the contractors find consultants, but also contractors and material suppliers, still have a learning curve ahead to adapt to this relatively new aspect of construction.

MacKinnon of Ledcor in Vancouver noted that obtaining LEED certification takes “a lot more work and overhead to do the documentation.” Doing LEED, he said, is “predicated on getting good information from the details.” He had high praise for one consulting firm that highlights any specifications related to LEED in green ink.


Gloge from PCL noted that in contrast, consultants have a habit of including a generic LEED requirement only in the general section at the front of the specifications. Instead, he suggested, consultants should be embedding the LEED requirements within the pertinent divisions, since the suppliers generally only read the divisions that’s relevant to them.

The panelists all agreed that there is a huge demand for consultants to “champion” the LEED process. “We have three qualified LEED consultants in Vancouver,” said MacKinnon, and “clients are begging for advice.” He also said that clients are looking for consultants to facilitate the integrated design process, which they agreed is extremely important. Cho of Vanbots saw the same need for LEED experts in Ontario, especially the demand for experts to calculate lifecycle costs for materials, etc.

The contractors had suggestions for owners, who, they said, don’t really understand how LEED works when they include a dollar value as a penalty clause if the project doesn’t achieve the required LEED certification. The contractors felt that meeting the LEED requirements is 80% related to design, and only 20% related to their role on the project, so they shouldn’t be held responsible for 100% of the penalty (unless it’s a P3 or design-build project).

The contractors also said that while things are improving, many of the suppliers don’t really understand how LEED works. For example, a glass manufacturer might not understand that the LEED points for 20% recycled content don’t count if the recycled glass is waste product picked up from its own factory floor. All this means that the contractors and subcontractors have to really analyze how the LEED points are given.

And for small contractors, the panelists’ advice was to quickly get “on board,” and become familiar with LEED requirements.  Cho of Vanbots suggested that firms should initially take on a LEED project at a loss if necessary in order to learn the ropes and familiarize the staff with the process.

The contractors said they hadn’t yet noticed any major effects from the global economic turmoil, except that it was getting more difficult in some cases to find recycling companies who would take waste materials from construction sites.



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