Pioneering a Platinum Interior

By Derrick Teal
Published by edc on July 13, 2014

A lot of time and effort is used to create a healthy building for occupants or residents. From schools to hospitals to office buildings and more, daylighting, furniture and finishes with low VOCs, and mechanical systems are all a part of creating a building with a healthy indoor environmental quality (IEQ). In fact,healthy buildings have even become synonymous with green buildings since IEQ is one of the proverbial legs on which many green building rating systems stand. LEED is one such rating system. Although the industry adapted to LEED’s IEQ requirements since its introduction in 2001, the game has changed with LEED v4, and the industry finds itself adapting once again.

Determined to stay at the crest of the wave of change is HKS Inc. The Dallas-based firm has long been a
leader in sustainable practices and prides itself on its ability to offer clients the latest sustainable design services. With as many as 100 LEED projects underway at any given time, it’s critical for the firm to be able to communicate to clients what is required to achieve various LEED credits, according to Kirk Teske, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, chief sustainability officer for HKS.

There’s no better way to learn than by doing, so the firm set out to test LEED v4 on a pilot project: its own headquarters. The LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) project covered 140,000 square feet of space occupying floors one through seven at One Dallas Center. This modernist skyscraper, originally designed by I.M. Pei & Partners in 1979, is currently owned by St. Paul Holdings LP, a joint redevelopment of Todd Interests and Moriah Real Estate Company.

HKS’ goals were nothing short of the highest possible rating, Platinum. In and of itself that seems like a normal goal. However, the firm sought certification under both LEED v3 and LEED v4. “Our clients want to know [what is required] with a high degree of certainty, and this opportunity gave us that insight,” says Teske. “It also has given us an insight into the man-hours involved in the administration of the revamped system.”

The Challenge for Early Adopters and Manufacturers

Much of what HKS went through during the tenant improvement is reminiscent of a 2010 Wall Street
Journal article “How I (Almost) Saved the Earth” by Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip. Adams relates in the article some of the woes incurred while building a new green home. From
municipalities to manufacturers to builders, a recurring theme is that of information—or rather, a lack
thereof. Adams states in his article that he would do it again, if for no other reason than to help others down the road who wish to do the same. Adams’ motive was a familiar one for HKS. So were the challenges.

“Similar to when the original version of LEED was launched in 2001,” says Teske about some of the
challenges between LEED v4 and its predecessor, “we are very much challenged by the lack of building
products that meet the credit requirements and by a lack of documentation to support seemingly qualifying products.”

The project began in December 2012. While it was known even then that LEED v4 would have a
revamped focus on material selection and transparency, specifics had yet to be officially released. This provided a challenge to groups involved in the pilot phase of v4, like HKS, since the information necessary for appropriate material selection under the new criteria wasn’t available from product manufacturers.

“In fact, that month we published an open letter to building product manufacturers in our quest to encourage them to disclose their material content through tools such as a Health Product Declaration (HPD),” Teske says. “Like-minded firms in the industry have since issued similar letters and have held numerous forums with manufacturers to promote the conversation and collaboration.”

Unfortunately, getting the requested additional material disclosure didn’t happen swiftly enough. The HKS team received minimal LEED-specific product data in the form of environmental product declarations
(EPDs) and the aforementioned HPDs. The team has since reached out for the documentation after the
project’s completion, but with mixed results.

As has been made clear by legislatures in states like Ohio and South Carolina, some groups are unhappy
with the voluntary product transparency credits under LEED v4. While their reasons and the credits’
efficacy are debatable, what LEED v4 is challenging manufacturers to do is not lost on architects and
designers focused on sustainable design. But because there is such a need for transparency under LEED v4, manufacturers who can provide the documentation might be able to get a step ahead of the competition since there are yet very few willing to offer such detail.

“We sent letters to 40 manufactures representing over 75 products within our new space asking for
documentation required for LEED v4,” says Teske. “EPDs, self-reported LCAs and HPDs were available
for only a small percentage of the products.”

Solutions to Get the Needed Result

Although transformative tools like EPDs, the Healthy Building Network’s PHAROS tool and HPDs, and
others weren’t ready to meet HKS’ needs to meet some of the criteria for credits under the not-yet-fullydefined LEED v4, HKS was not completely out of luck finding products to meet the end goal. While other tools were, and still are, in their infancy, one longtime third-party certifier of products was particularly useful: the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard. Originally developed by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) and now administered by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard is a rating system for assessing and constantly improving products based on five categories: renewable energy, clean water, material health, social responsibility and material reutilization. According to Chris Mundell, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, HKS DesignGreen manager,products certified under this standard were more beneficial from a LEED documentation standpoint, and he sees the industry gravitating toward products with this type of third-party certification.

“One of the reasons is that it puts the burden of toxicity evaluation on a party that is better suited to do so than architects,” he says.

However, even with the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard, more product information was
needed. HKS decided to somewhat shift its focus and examined its criteria for the prominent finish materialsto be used throughout the space.

“First and foremost we wanted them to reflect a theme of ‘honest’ materials—no faux products pretending
to be natural,” says Dan Noble, FAIA, FACHA, LEED AP, who was director of design during the process
and later promoted to president and CEO of HKS Inc. “That ruled out things like plastic laminates, vinyl sheet goods, etc. We researched the materials carefully and used tools like Pharos to identify not only desired products but common product chemicals that we wanted to avoid.”

Designing Interiors for LEED v4 Takes a Lot of Energy

One might think that having to obtain undisclosed information on materials used in products to appease the requirements of an as-of-yet unpublished rating system would be the toughest task HKS faced. But that wasn’t the case.

“The most surprising lesson relative to the new LEED v4 for Commercial Interiors was just how stringent
the criteria were to earn energy credits,” says Teske. “With all the hoopla over the Material Credits
Category, we found the Energy Category to be the real surprise. We earned 84 percent of the Energy
Credits under v3 and only 42 percent of the credits under v4. That’s a huge difference and one that will require a lot of dedication on the behalf of future tenants in order to gain high point scores. Projects following the prescriptive path to energy points will be leaving nearly half of the available energy credits on the table.”

Teske adds that the time and effort used to document energy efficiency credits was challenging compared
with previous versions of LEED-CI and recommended in-depth energy modeling if a high score in the
energy optimization category was targeted.

Specifying and procuring products under the LEED v4 system was also a learning experience for HKS.
“The v4 system for materials is built around multi-attribute criteria, which makes it extremely difficult to specify under a competitive procurement process,” Teske says. “This will naturally put a greater burden on the general contractor’s buy-out process and will push the determination of the actual achievement of the credit until later in the process.”

HKS undertook this project in part to experience firsthand the differences between LEED v4 and its
predecessor. The firm now has insights that can benefit clients and the industry as a whole thanks to its work on the pilot project. Perhaps more importantly, HKS now has a headquarters that not only helps
revitalize Dallas’ downtown real estate, but also embodies a healthy, sustainable work environment. The
site plays host to numerous public events and houses a street-level learning center capable of
accommodating around 150 people. Here, the story behind the headquarters can be shared and help impart
the sustainable lessons learned by the HKS team. Sharing this story is an especially gratifying part of the project’s completion.

“As architects, we believe it is our social responsibility to design sustainable environments for our clients as well as our own spaces,” says Noble. “This space demonstrates our commitment to a sustainable future.”

Selecting Healthy Building Products

HKS wanted to select the healthiest products available for the renovation of its headquarters. While finding information on the products available was sometimes a challenge, the firm’s efforts weren’t in vain when it came to creating a healthy, environmentally friendly workplace. A few of the choices that ended up in the new headquarters follow.

Toxic-free Deck

An outdoor deck provides a fun alternative workspace when the weather allows. Material choices were
numerous and included exotic wood species, plastic-wood hybrids and treated lumber. TimberSIL, a fusion
of wood and sodium silicate (glass) that is nontoxic and VOC-free, was chosen for the space. The silicate is a derivative of agricultural waste (rice husks) and greatly reduces the product’s environmental footprint.

Healthier Window Shades and Fabrics

Citing the growing health concerns associated with halogenated flame retardants and perfluorinated
chemicals used in some window fabrics and wall coverings, HKS sought a safer alternative and opted for
Mermet’s Greenscreen Revive. This 100 percent recyclable polyester fabric averages 89 percent recycled
content and is GREENGUARD Children & Schools-compliant as well as Silver-certified under the Cradle
to Cradle Certified Product Standard. In lieu of vinyl wall coverings, HKS opted for Maharam Tek-wall, a 61 percent polyolefin, 39 percent post-consumer recycled polyester fabric wall covering that is
GREENGUARD Gold-certified with a perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)-free stain-resistant finish.

Healthy Floors that Last

To achieve a PVC-free office environment, HKS installed Interface’s SuperFLOR carpet throughout the
headquarters. The carpet tile line is durable and PVC free—there is actually a vibrant resell market for previously installed product.

Bio-based Wall Surfaces

Forbo Bulletin Board linoleum was the choice for the tackable surfaces throughout the workspace to aid in collaboration and sharing. The product is made of renewable raw materials. Renewable raw materials
consisting of a combination of oxidized linseed oil, rosin, cork and pigments give it flexibility and resilience, which prevent crumbling and loss of grip often associated with traditional materials. Linoleum is also hygienic, does not attract dust and is bacteriostatic.

Socially Responsible Furniture

From workstations to chairs, HKS sought system furnishings that were free of “red list” chemicals and
exhibited holistic environmental stewardship. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers
Association (BIFMA) Level sustainability standard drove the selection of Knoll workstation products.
BIFMA Level 3 products are analogous to LEED Platinum building certification, and all furniture pieces
for the new work environment had to meet this standard.