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Sunday, 13 April 2014 20:01

Q&A: Nate Gillette, Natura Architectural Consulting LLC

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Nate Gillette Nate Gillette COURTESY PHOTO

As an architect, Nate Gillette was instrumental in the design of several key projects in Grand Rapids’ East Hills neighborhood. He later went on to lead the sustainability focused division of a local energy and environmental firm. Recently, however, Gillette launched Natura Architectural Consulting LLC that advises on energy efficiency, sustainable design, due diligence and assessing. He sat down with MiBiz to discuss the evolving world of sustainable building.


How do you continue to make the case for sustainable building projects now that the economy is stronger and companies are focusing more on operations and growth?

You have to make the case to them that it’s good for operational dollars. If you can prove you can save them business dollars, you’ve certainly captured their attention at that point. That was really key back in 2009 and 2010 when the economy started on the skids. Building owners were looking for anything to save operational dollars because sometimes what they considered to be a good payback was different.

How did the recession affect sustainable building projects?

When times were the toughest, no one wanted to look at doing any energy retrofits that (had paybacks) longer than a year and half because most of them were just trying to figure out how to stay open for the next month. That became tough. This particular area is blessed with some pretty reasonable energy rates comparatively so that makes it even more of a challenge to find short-term payback.

What happens after a company picks off all the low-hanging fruit and you have to sell them on longer payback periods?

After picking off a lot of low-hanging fruit, building owners got savvy. They went through and implemented everything they easily could. So now, it’s not as easy as saying, ‘Well, you can just swap out these lights and save X amount on energy.’ Now you have to dig deeper.

It seems many building owners and operators are becoming more knowledgeable about sustainable design principles. What’s the learning curve like these days?

I think people are starting to change their idea of what an acceptable payback period is. A two-, three-, four-year payback on something isn’t as detrimental as it was in 2009 to 2011, and the technology continues to change as well. Almost on a daily basis, there are new products out there that are designed to help building owners save money. The combination of those two items will move this industry along.

Architects and contractors alike have dissenting opinions on LEED certification. What’s the value of a green building program?

The true value of any green building certification – whatever program it is out there – is the third party aspect of it. I can very easily go get a gold star and stick it on my forehead and say, ‘Look what I did – I got a gold star.’ That’s why it still makes me cringe sometimes when I hear things are ‘designed to LEED standards,’ which is pretty much just a cop-out.

Is the added cost of a program like LEED still an issue?

There are ways to reduce the cost of green building certifications and it involves how the building is designed. The point is getting all the people together upfront to understand the common goals of the project. Of course, there are costs to certification and USGBC fees that you’ll never get away from. But dollar for dollar in the construction cost of the building, you can build a LEED silver building for the same cost as a traditionally constructed building, hands down. I’ve done it for years.

LEED certification is still an effective system in your opinion, right?

I still very much believe that the LEED system is still the best green building system on the market. Is it perfect? No, it has its problems. I have my own criticisms of the program, but the program is dynamic and ever-changing based on the input we give as users to make it better. I think it will continue to become better down the road.

Interview conducted and condensed by Elijah Brumback.

Read 2967 times Last modified on Saturday, 12 April 2014 17:09

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