A User’s Guide to AIA’s New Guide for Sustainable Projects

By: William E. Kelley, Jr.

In May 2011, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) released its AIA Document D503-2011, “Guide for Sustainable Projects”.  The new AIA document provides an overview of some of the key legal and contractual issues that can arise on projects that incorporate sustainable goals, including projects seeking certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, projects subject to mandatory jurisdictional requirements (including green building codes), and projects incorporating less tangible sustainable goals.  In addition, the Guide for Sustainable Projects includes model contract language that can be added to the B101-2007 Owner-Architect Agreement, the A101-Owner-Contractor Agreement, and/or the A201-2007 General Conditions.

It is important to understand that the D503-2011 document is not a contract document, exhibit, or addendum that can be incorporated in whole into project contracts.  Instead, it is what it says it is:  a “guide” for projects with sustainable goals.  Parties wanting to use the D503-2011 must therefore make manual modifications to the project contracts in order to incorporate the model contract language outlined in that guide.  In addition, the guide provides guidance on important contract considerations, including how the standard contract provisions contained in the B101, A101 and A201 documents could apply to the ever-changing world of sustainable design and construction.

Ultimately, the D503-2011 serves an important role in the AIA conventional family of contract documents.  In this regard, the AIA contract forms previously did not have any guidance as to how project contracts could incorporate the establishment or execution of sustainable project goals—with one exception.  For projects seeking LEED certification, the B101-2007 form included reference to LEED certification as an optional, additional service that the Architect could provide for the Owner.  For those projects seeking LEED certification, Owners and Architects could use the B214-2007 LEED Certification exhibit, which outlined a scope of services for Architects and Owners where the Architect was to be involved in establishing LEED target goals, identifying LEED credits necessary to achieve those goals, and incorporating the LEED Certification Plan into the plans and specifications for the project.  However, the AIA contract documents have not previously had any model exhibits or contract language for the A101 Owner-Contractor Agreement or the A201 General Conditions that address LEED or any other sustainable project goals.  Thus, the D503-2011 guide helps to fill the gap where there may have previously been some uncertainty as to how those goals should be addressed in other contract forms.

A free copy of the D503-2011 can be downloaded from the AIA website: http://info.aia.org/aia/sustainabilityguide.cfm.  Future blog articles here will provide a more in-depth analysis of the Guide for Sustainable Projects from the perspective of Architects, Owners, and Contractors.  For now, though, it is important to be aware of the existence of the guide, and for entities involved in sustainable or green building projects to begin familiarizing themselves with the structure of the model contract language outlined in the D503-2011, and to consider how those model contract provisions might be incorporated into their own contract forms.