Green building consultant Jerry Yudelson delivered two keynote addresses earlier this month at an event sponsored by the Central Texas Green Building Council. According to a press release, during the course of his remarks Yudelson “presented clear evidence that high-level green outcomes add significant value to buildings. ‘What part of a 30 percent increase in value from LEED certification is hard to communicate?’ He challenged architects and engineers to do a better job of advocating for green building with their clients. ‘You are doing your clients a disservice by letting them build projects without LEED certification,’ he said. ‘It almost amounts to dereliction of your duty as professionals.’” As you likely know, this latter remark about the design professional’s responsibilities in the green building space is exactly the opposite of what many construction attorneys have been preaching over the past few years as best practices for architects and engineers. Putting aside for purposes of this article any analysis of Mr. Yudelson’s claims of 30 percent increases in value for LEED-certified buildings, I think his remarks provide a good opportunity to review the risk management implications of the design professional’s representations to his or her clients about the possibilities and potential pitfalls of green building, including the LEED certification process.
First, the design professional who functions as an advocate, extolling the promises of increased energy efficiency, asset values, and rental premiums of LEED-certified buildings is creating a corresponding high expectation in the eyes of his or her client. As we noted over at gbNYC in the aftermath of a BIM/green building panel held here in New York City nearly two years ago, insurance industry professionals will almost always observe that claims start with violated expectations. As architect and attorney Fred Butters points out in his seminal Real Estate Issues article, Greening the Standard of Care: Evolving Legal Standards of Practice for the Architect in a Sustainable World, “[i]f the architect does not clearly and sufficiently indicate the positives and negatives [of green building installations, technologies, or certification programs], the client will be looking to the architect to make him or her whole. Becoming an advocate for many types of sustainable approaches may cause the design professional to overlook the messy reality for the sake of being a good advocate.”
Butters also points out that “[i]f the architect is serving as an educator, the client’s decision to ‘go green’ may be only that- the client’s decision. However, if the architect is ‘encouraging’ or ‘advocating’ for the incorporation of green features, his or her advice is implicated in the design decision. In that instance, the possibility that the architect can avoid the effect of the client’s unmet expectations is low.” Advocating for LEED or other green design features may also implicate standard of care issues, potentially elevating that standard beyond what prevails for architects and engineers in their particular geographic location. As we have noted previously, this amounts to an assumption of liability above what is imposed by law; most professional liability policies will exclude coverage for claims where the design professional has failed to satisfy that heightened standard.
What makes this issuer thornier, though, is that the architect actually does, in fact, have an obligation- both in the 2007 version of the AIA contract documents, and the new AIA Canon of Ethics- to promote sustainable design practices. For example, Canon VI, Obligations to the Environment, requires the architect to “advocate the design, construction, and operation of sustainable buildings and communities.” (Ethical Standard 6.2). In performing design work, the architect “should be environmentally responsible and advocate sustainable building and site design.” (Ethical Standard 6.1). As Mr. Butters also points out, and as we’ve noted here at GRELJ previously, the B201 (2007) Owner – Architect Agreement contains similar requirements:
§ 3.2.3 The Architect shall present its preliminary evaluation to the Owner and shall discuss with the Owner alternative approaches to design and construction of the Project, including the feasibility of incorporating environmentally responsible design approaches.
§ 184.108.40.206 The Architect shall consider environmentally responsible design alternatives, such as material choices and building orientation.
The National Society of Professional Engineers’ Code of Ethics contains a similar obligation under Professional Obligations, III.2.d: “[e]ngineers are encouraged to adhere to the principles of sustainable development in order to protect the environment for future generations.” The design professional is thus placed in a delicate position; professionally, it has an obligation to promote sustainability, but at what potential perils?
Mr. Yudelson’s remarks are also important to note in light of our recent article here at GRELJ about the insurance coverage implications of the Energy Ace LEED certification “guarantee.” You can also click here to learn more about their insurance policies. Unbridled green building advocacy could also provide an insurance carrier with the argument that the design professional has provided the functional equivalent of a guarantee- either LEED certification, performance, or otherwise- that might give the carrier grounds to deny coverage for negligence claims arising out of the project. For example, and as we noted previously, “the concept of a guarantee is essentially representing perfection; anything less is a breach of contract, claims for which are similarly not covered by a professional liability policy (though the insurer may still defend under the policy but reserve its rights). In short, absent confirmation from the carrier that coverage will remain available, it will continue to be dangerous for parties that maintain professional liability insurance to make the types of representations implicated by the Energy Ace guarantee.”
I think it’s therefore worth repeating that while the analysis of green building legal issues related to standards of care, professional liability insurance, and LEED building performance continue to play out, architects and engineers should be particularly careful when making the types of representations that Mr. Yudelson suggests when participating in the design of green construction projects.
- Green Building Consultant Challenges San Antonio City Groups to Welcome “New Green Era” (PR)
- Green Insurance Law: Thoughts on BIM and LEED Coverage for Design Professionals (gbNYC)