Sustainable Building Coordinators Design a Green Future The Buzz


Sustainable building and architecture coordinators help builders go green from start to finish. It is their job to make sure construction doesn't impact our environment more than it should. They work with others to make sure a building meets "green" standards.

More and more people are concerned about living and working in healthy buildings that are good for the environment. For example, today's buildings need to use energy and water efficiently. They also must contain products that have no negative health effects for the people who use them.

Joel McKellar says environmental design really gained steam after Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth came out. McKellar is a researcher at an architecture firm in Charleston, South Carolina. He says before the film, he had to try to convince clients that they should choose sustainable building and design. Now clients come to him asking for it.

This is a relatively new trend for builders. They need some help to keep track of all the many factors involved in building green. Coordinators make sure projects meet all the requirements to be considered a sustainable building.

Setting Standards

The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Rating System sets the industry standard for environmentally friendly buildings. It has set requirements for many categories of building. These include the site, energy, water, materials, indoor environmental quality and design innovation.

Green Globes is another environmental assessment rating system for buildings. When a building is approved by LEED or Green Globes, people know it meets high standards.

Where Job Opportunities Are Building

Green building coordinators work for sustainable consulting, commissioning, energy engineering and facility management firms. Many coordinators find jobs with different levels of government or with universities.

"A career path in institutions of higher learning is the most visible at this point. Engineering consulting firms and architect offices are easy to identify, as well as administrative positions in any institution or agency that owns an inventory of buildings," says Robert B. Vaughan. He's the director of capital planning and management at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Ten to 15 years ago, sustainable architecture firms didn't exist. But that's all changed, says McKellar. He is a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP).

"Now it's hard to find a firm who doesn't do green design. Many do only sustainable projects," he says. "If you can build it, it's probably going to go LEED at sometime."

What Sustainable Building Coordinators Do

Coordinators help to track building projects and manage the LEED or Green Globe certification process. The coordinator might also write grant proposals. They may need to research sustainability issues.

They could make presentations, and prepare reports, assessments and documentation. They must be in touch with all the different players involved in the building project. Everyone needs to be kept informed.

They also must administer the building project. Schedules, budgets, deadlines and any problems that arise along the way could be the responsibility of the coordinator.

"The Green Building Coordinator has become the 'champion' of making sure everything stays on course," says Vaughan.

What Employers Want

Experience in architecture, engineering, urban planning, construction management or another related field is a benefit. Candidates with education in these fields are also sought after. Having the LEED AP credential will make a candidate stand out.

Employers want people with knowledge and experience in green building strategies. Green building focuses on holistic strategies -- so the more areas they are familiar with, the better.

They need to be able to advise construction teams about how to incorporate green building in their projects. Building owners may also need guidance for developing programs for sustainable operations once the building is built.

"It is a great chance to learn a lot about the industry and to learn how to manage projects as well clients and client expectations. The learning curve can be steep at times, which can sometimes be frustrating. So it is important to be patient, and at the same time take advantage of opportunities," says Amanda Pursell-Genck. She is the human resources manager of Green Building Services in Portland, Oregon.

Learning to Go Green

To become a LEED AP, you must take an exam from the Green Building Certification Institute.

McKellar says the LEED AP credential is marketable. But there are still many jobs you can get without it. And if you find a good firm, they might pay for your LEED training and the LEED AP exam. Also, you should have building knowledge and experience before you attempt the exam.

You can gain knowledge through design, environmental studies, architecture, architectural technology, engineering, interior design or construction management programs.

"Many universities are beginning to create new degrees in sustainability. It is important that the applicant has a proven interest in sustainable building and that this is evident in their resume," says Pursell-Genck.

Sue Clark is a LEED AP who works for a consulting firm as a sustainability analyst and designer. She earned her undergraduate degree in pre-professional architecture. She's now finishing a master of architecture degree.

Clark suggests considering your interests when deciding where to get your training. A good way to find out is to talk to people involved in the industry.

She highly recommends choosing cooperative education. She says it will help you gain an edge when competing for jobs. It will also introduce you to the wide world of work that's out there.

McKellar says if you're more a hands-on type, you should look into contracting work. If you like design, think about architecture. And if math and science are your best subjects, consider engineering.

The Future for Building Coordinators

From a coordinator position, you can continue consulting and take on more direct interactions with clients. Pursell-Genck explains that you can choose to move into project management.

"The project manager is also a key position in our organization," she says.

McKellar says there are many independent LEED consultants now. But he warns that most firms are learning how to do this function in-house. He suggests developing knowledge in green design through a specialty in architecture, engineering or contracting.

"The need for a separate LEED AP will diminish over time," says McKellar.

"My advice is that we have just scratched the surface for sustainable design," says Vaughan. He adds that being an agent of change will give you great career satisfaction.

Links

Green Building Certification Institute
Information on becoming a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED APs)

U.S. Green Building Council
This nonprofit organization certifies green buildings and LEED APs

Green Globes
Delivers a rating system for green building design

Green Building Encyclopedia
Learn more about environmental design