Chances are that if you are interested in green business initiatives, you have heard of LEED, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The term is frequently mentioned in articles covering green building practices. LEED is a voluntary sustainable building rating system created by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), a national nonprofit organization promoting sustainable architecture and design. The LEED rating system establishes national criteria for constructing green buildings.
What is LEED?
LEED focuses on state of the art approaches in the following areas: sustainable site planning; conservation of materials and resources; water and water efficiency; energy efficiency; and indoor environmental quality. According to the LEED rating system, points are given for these strategies and the number of points a project earns determines the level of certification the building will receive. There are four progressive levels of certification, certified, silver, gold and platinum. The system is designed so that participants can start at one level and learn as they go to achieve higher levels of certification.
A few examples of ways to generate LEED credits are as follows:
Development of a green cleaning program
An initiative to reduce employee commutation costs
A construction waste management program
Green power purchasing
Local sourcing of materials
Greenhouse gas reduction
It is also important to note that LEED credits can also be generated for other approved practices and projects, not actually specified in the LEED criteria. Further, certain projects can be deemed to exceed the criteria and earn extra credits.
Specific LEED building programs include: New Commercial Construction and Major Renovation projects, Existing Buidling Operations and Maintenance, Commercial Interiors projects, Core and Shell Development Projects, Homes, Neighborhood Development, Guidelines for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects and LEED for Schools.
Why Build Green?
Federal statistics indicate that buildings use more energy than any other sector of the economy. Buildings account for more than 70 percent of the electricity demand and more than 50 percent of the natural gas demand. Constructing a building to maximize efficiency and reduce operating costs seems like a no brainer. There are so many compelling reasons to build green. A study of 33 national green buildings found the average premium for these buildings at about $3 to $5 per square foot. Yet, returns on these buildings are estimated between $50 and $70 per square foot.
According to the USGBC, Green commercial buildings provide the following financial and environmental benefits:
- Energy and Water Savings
- Reduced Waste
- Improved Indoor Environmental Quality
- Enhanced Employee Comfort and Productivity
- Enhance Asset Value
- Reduced Employee Health Costs
- Lower Operations and Maintenance Costs
Who Would be Interested in LEED?
Architects, real estate professionals, facility managers, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, construction managers, and lenders are some of the people who would be interested in LEED.
Indoor Environmental Quality
I recently attended a seminar on Indoor Environmental Quality sponsored by the USGBC-NJ. When it comes to indoor environmental targets for commercial buildings, the baseline used by the USGBC-NJ is that 80% of the People Should Be Comfortable Most of the Time. You can’t please everyone but if you achieve this standard, you are in good shape according to the USGBC.
Some best practices for Indoor Environmental Quality for commercial buildings follow:
- Illuminate with daylight
- Offer views to large fraction of occupants
- Provide control over heat, light and ventilation
- Prevent indoor air quality contaminants (e.g., formaldehyde in furniture, carpets and fabrics and industrial cleaners)
A Myth – Green Costs More and Takes More Time and Effort
Many building owners and developers are reluctant to pursue sustainable building due to the fear it will cost more and will take more time and effort. Many may feel overwhelmed by all the choices and will not know where to begin. Despite the rising costs of energy and the increase in operating and maintenance costs, building owners and developers may still hesitate to build green. The USGBC-NJ and all USGBC, national and local chapters are there to demystify the fears of building green. They provide resources and experience to guide you and make the process easy and effective. LEED buildings provide quantifiable results and the experts at USGBC will share these with you. Minimal LEED certification will save you money and will provide your facility with accessible and practical avenues to reduce costs. Studies have shown that building green costs the same or less than standard construction yet those who build green will see notable savings in operation and maintenance costs.
More Benefits to Building Green
Following are more persuasive statistics:
- LEED buildings are designed to use an average of 32 percent less electricity, 26 percent less natural gas and 36 percent less total energy than standard buildings.
- LEED buildings rent for $11.24 per square foot more than non-LEED buildings with a 3.8% higher occupancy rate.
- LEED buildings bring in $171 more per square foot than non-LEED buildings.
Not only do LEED buildings save money but they are successful marketing tools in this tight real estate market. In the seminar they mentioned that the people are the most costly part of a building. It is critical to educate your staff about the importance of sustainable business practices. Please see our article on Energy Awareness Campaigns for more information. Even if you are not a building owner or operator, there is much to learn and profit from by learning about how LEED can benefit your company. The USGBC offers extensive educational seminars, a professional credentials program (LEED AP) and networking opportunities for professionals in varied fields that are interested in sustainable building.