Consider this recent headline from Zoo and Aquarium Visitor magazine: “Cincinnati Zoo is America’s Greenest Zoo and Leed Certified;” or this from USA Today: “More companies want employees to stay in ‘green’ hotels.” Sustainability has cachet these days, and LEED certification is the green accreditation of choice in the construction and property sectors. It stands for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System™, and it is operated by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Ergonomics now occupies a niche in the system.
As described by the USGBC, LEED is a third-party certification that is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. It verifies “that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.” According to the Council, LEED is flexible enough to apply to all building types – commercial as well as residential, and “it works throughout the building lifecycle – design and construction, operations and maintenance, tenant fit-out, and significant retrofit.” The Council adds that LEED for Neighborhood Development “extends the benefits of LEED beyond the building footprint into the neighborhood it serves.”
According to the Council, LEED “gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance, [promoting] a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.”
Shaping A Niche for Ergonomics
Ergonomics is not listed in the five key areas. Nonetheless, its niche is secure. The Ergonomics Report™ recently asked one of the ergonomists who had a hand in shaping the niche for details.
Alan Hedge, Ph.D., CPE, director of Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group, said applicants for LEED 2.2 can get a maximum of 69 points for everything. One of the four points grouped under the Innovation in Design and Innovation in Operations Credit for an Ergonomics Strategy is where ergonomics fits in, he explained.
The Council sets up technical committees that look at different aspects of the LEED rating system, according to the professor. “Some two years ago, or maybe longer, one of those committees was set up to look at the role of ergonomics or the human factor in the whole process.” The architect spearheading the committee consulted with ergonomists and with architects whose interests embrace ergonomics, he added, and over time, the requirements were developed that are set out in the guidance documents for LEED 2.2.
Asked where and how ergonomists fit into the system now it established, he replied that it will depend on the particular project seeking LEED credit. “You can get LEED credit for a renovation project, so that if you are a company that already has an ergonomist and ergonomics program in house, then that ergonomist is going to be able to work with architects and designers to develop the ergonomic requirement from the ergonomic program for the renovated space, and to apply for credit for that.” In a second situation, the ergonomist is engaged directly by a client with a new construction project. A third situation sees the ergonomist consulted on a generic building project.
The ergonomist “can have a role within a company helping to get LEED credit for a specific project,” he explained, “a role either within a company or within an architectural practice helping [to] get LEED credit for a specific client. Or they can have a role with an architectural practice or a developer in the development of a more generic building.”
Establishing An Ongoing Role for Ergonomics
The one thing that is different about the ergonomic requirement from the other LEED requirements is that it’s for a program, he said. “Everything else in LEED is for a physical design something – you have to have this aspect in your design.” Professor Hedge describes the ergonomics credit as pertaining to the physical aspects of the design – in terms of the furniture and the design of the workstation – and as an educational program. “You have to provide people with electronic information about ergonomics, he added, to provide them with face-to-face training about ergonomics, and they have to be able to have access to that information on an ongoing basis. “That makes it very different to anything else in LEED because it’s really about the process as well as about ergonomics being involved in the design of the project—so you don’t just design it and walk away. There has to be an ongoing ergonomics program in that organization.”
Professor Hedge noted that there’s an incentive for an organization seeking LEED credit to employ an ergonomist to create an ergonomics program that will have life after the project has been constructed.
Because it recognizes that ergonomics is an ongoing process, he said, the Council is considering making recertification a requirement, “so that maybe every three years, you have to recertify that you are still doing this.”
He sees an interest in the Council in expanding the ergonomics requirement. “Instead of it being one point in the Innovation category, [ultimately the idea would be] to create a separate category and expand the contribution of ergonomics in the overall process. “So we’re in the very beginning here of what is likely to be a growth in the demand for ergonomics, rather than this is the latest in the design world. There is a genuine interest here in really trying to boost the role of ergonomics plays, because what the Green Building Council recognizes is that it’s one thing to have an energy-efficient building, but it doesn’t mean the building works very well for the people in the building.” That’s where the ergonomics becomes important, he said, “to have buildings that are not only sustainable and energy-efficient, but also are well designed and very productive workplaces.”
The professor finds LEED making inroads in other countries as well, “just like McDonald’s.” American companies building facilities overseas are beginning to apply for LEED credit for those facilities, he explained, and there are companies in the United Kingdom that are beginning to seek LEED credit in preference to BREAM, the leading UK green accreditation. “There are other countries around the world that have their own sustainable design rating systems in place, but what is beginning to happen is the globalization of LEED. It’s starting to become the international standard, rather than just the American standard.”
Sources: Professor Alan Hedge; United States Green Building Council
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-11-11.