DOWNTOWN — There’s the cost of going green, and then there’s the cost of letting everyone know about it.
One of the largest local developers of affordable housing, Community Corporation of Santa Monica owns approximately 80 properties in the city, a combination of apartment rehabilitation and newly constructed complexes.
The nonprofit organization is one of many public supporters of sustainable design, incorporating environmentally-friendly features in many of its new apartment buildings, many of which would qualify for certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a designation awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Yet only one of its projects — Colorado Court — is LEED certified.
“We do not seek LEED certification for new construction because it’s expensive,” Joan Ling, the executive director of CCSM, said last week during an interview about a series of new construction projects the developer is undertaking. “We’re committed to doing every project at LEED silver level equivalent or above.”
There are more than a dozen LEED certified projects in Santa Monica, including The Ambrose Hotel, Public Safety Facility, Civic Center Parking Garage and two buildings on the Lantana media campus.
But there are a series of other developments in the city that were built with a whole slate of sustainable features in mind, which together could qualify them for certification.
The reason why the developers didn’t go for the designation could be the money.
John Zinner, a locally-based LEED project manager, estimates that the soft costs of going for certification could range roughly from $40,000 to $200,000, depending on the size of the project.
“We’re talking just the design process, not the hard cost,” Zinner, a former city planning commissioner who worked on the Sustainable City Plan, said.
Established in 1998, LEED has grown as a benchmark for acceptable environmental design, an industry standard for which projects are considered sustainable in offsetting impacts caused from construction and operations.
The Green Building Certification Institute, which manages the LEED program for the U.S. Green Building Council, charges developers a fee to register their project and get the process started, which costs $450 for members and $600 for non-members.
Then there’s the certification fee that comes after the application and supporting documents are filed, which is all based on the size of the project and square footage, ranging from $1,750 to $17,500 for members to $2,250 to $22,500 for non-members.
Applicants are also required to hire a commissioning agent who checks to be sure the project is operating properly. The price of the agent’s service depends on the project size, but generally start at about $15,000, said Brenden McEneaney, the green building program adviser for City Hall.
Then there are the extras, including a consultant, which is not required, to help navigate the applicant through what can be a time-consuming and complicated process to achieve certification, including filing and tracking all of the paperwork.
“You need someone who understands how the system works,” Zinner said. “There are a lot of people out there who have studied the system.”
Ling estimated that going for LEED certification could add about $100,000 to a project.
“I think for the market rate projects, it gives them some marketing cache,” she said. “For us it’s a good thing to build sustainably but we don’t need that market cache and it adds a lot of money.”
City Hall, which has several LEED certified projects, including Virginia Avenue Park and the Santa Monica Public Library, typically designates about 10 percent of its total construction budget for green features, which includes both hard and soft costs.
Most projects typically finish well under the 10 percent.
“In my opinion, it’s a huge overestimation of what it takes to do the minimum LEED certification,” McEneaney said.
He added that while there are costs of going for LEED, including the registration and certification fees, savings can be realized through downsizing equipment and building more efficiently, leaving more money for soft costs.
Specific figures for LEED-related costs in the city projects were not available.
McEneaney said that he believes more architectural firms will have professionals on staff who are trained in the LEED certification process, eliminating the need to hire an outside consultant.
Miriam Mulder, the principal architect for City Hall, said that a consultant was necessary in the earlier days when many builders were not familiar with the certification process.
“(U.S. Green Building Council) has been working hard to try and improve things and make it more user friendly,” she said. “At the same time people are more familiar with the process so contractors are not bidding as much.”
Mulder said she hopes the application process is made to be less complex so that when City Hall tackles projects with a smaller budget, a staff member can handle the LEED portion.
The U.S. Green Building Council last month released a new version of its rating system, making the requirements and project submittals more clear for applicants, said Corey Enck, the director of rating system development.
“They are much more in line with the typical documentation that is created during the construction process,” he said. “It is documentation created not specifically for the LEED process, instead we tried to align our documentation with that of any construction project would generate.”
Gregory Brown, the director of facilities planning for Santa Monica College, said that he thinks costs related to green design in general are coming down as sustainability becomes more mainstream.
SMC has two buildings that are LEED certified — both the north and south wings of the Humanities and Social Sciences Complex.
He estimates that about $350,000 — including both hard and soft costs — was spent on LEED.
“I think they are coming down but the big cost still are on some of the technologies,” he said. “Just having natural ventilation and natural materials used in the building and low-flow fixtures doesn’t add too much to the building anymore.”
As much as it costs, going for LEED certification and having that designation could be well worth it for developers.
Lori Selcer, a project manager and sustainability manager with HOK, an architecture firm that worked on the LEED certified Allsteel Inc. furniture show room in the Water Garden, said that the market is going to drive developers to go for certification and green design.
She said that most developers find that they’re surprised how short of a time it takes to recoup the costs.
“It’s going to be an expectation their buildings have a certain level of sustainability in them,” she said. “When a potential tenant comes looking, it’s going to make their property more valuable.”