Every year, it becomes increasingly important to adopt an eco-conscious approach to building design and maintenance. The green building market is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, creates millions of jobs, contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, and offers tremendous possibilities to buildings looking to improve their value and longevity.
With technology always on the move, though, it can be challenging to keep track of what truly makes a building “green.” That’s where LEED enters the picture.
Through LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) helps leaders worldwide commit to a smarter, sustainable, and more prosperous future where eco-friendly buildings and communities are the standard rather than the exception.
The benefits of LEED certification are many. Not only does it provide clear, comprehensive guidelines for achieving environmental goals in architecture and building design, but obtaining certification can also provide a building with various incentives that will boost press interest and cut down on operating costs.
What is LEED Certification?
According to LEED itself, “The LEED plaque on a building is a mark of quality and achievement in green building.” As such, any building with LEED certification has proven itself to be designed, built, and maintained with the highest degree of energy efficiency. As eco-friendly design and green building initiatives continue to grow in popularity and necessity, achieving LEED certification is an important differentiator for modern facilities.
Between 2015 and 2018, LEED-certified buildings were “estimated to generate as much as $1.2 billion in energy savings, $149.5 million in water savings, $715.3 million in maintenance savings, and $54.2 million in waste savings.”
Not only are these building owners generating massive green energy savings from LEED compliance, but they will also improve the public perception of that building.
What Are the Benefits of LEED Certification?
It’s hard to understate the potential impact of LEED certification for a building, business, and the economy at large. As the USGBC explains, “LEED projects are responsible for diverting more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills.” But the environmental benefits don’t stop there. “Compared to the average commercial building, LEED Gold buildings in the General Services Administration’s portfolio consume a quarter less energy and generate 34% lower greenhouse gas emissions.”
Imagine the kind of differences that could be made if every major facility in the country strived to make LEED certification the standard instead of a luxury.
Investing in green building is as much about investing in the environment as it is about improving the longevity and sustainability of your facility. For example, a report published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that improving indoor environmental quality (IEQ) “contributed to reductions in perceived absenteeism and work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression, and stress and to self-reported improvements in productivity.”
There are a number of other benefits of LEED certification as well, such as:
- Lower operating costs;
- Reduction in risks and liability;
- More durable buildings;
- Better indoor air quality;
- Improved resale value; and
- Support for the local economy.
Develop a LEED Certification Checklist
Getting LEED-certified demonstrates that your company is committed to participating and prioritizing environmentally friendly practices in your building’s construction and continued operation. Receiving certification doesn’t happen automatically, though. To be certified, your company’s facility will need to obtain a specific set of “points” and meet green building standards that will be validated during the LEED certification process.
LEED projects are typically scored across nine areas that each speaks to a specific aspect of green building design:
- Integrative process;
- Location and transportation;
- Sustainable sites;
- Water efficiency;
- Energy and atmosphere;
- Materials and resources;
- Indoor environmental quality;
- Innovation; and
- Regional Priority.
As you develop your LEED certification checklist, you may benefit from looking at the LEED Credit Library offered on the USGBC website. This is a comprehensive list of all the various points you can earn, each of which will contribute to your overall score and dictate what kind of LEED certification your facility is given.
Ultimately, if your project qualifies for a LEED certificate, it will earn one of the following four ratings:
- Platinum: 80-plus points earned;
- Gold: 60-79 points earned;
- Silver: 50-59 points earned; or
- Certified: 40-49 points earned.
This rating system applies to new construction projects, existing buildings, neighborhood developments, and even cities and communities. The USGBC has a collection of resources and insights available on its website to determine which LEED certification you should register for. Regardless of the program, though, your LEED certification checklist should prioritize the nine sections listed above, as it’s those areas that will be primarily assessed during the LEED certification process.
Maintain Your LEED Certification
Achieving LEED certification is only the beginning of an ongoing journey toward better and more eco-friendly practices. According to the USGBC, “It is not enough to demonstrate leadership at a point in time. We want all LEED projects to continue to demonstrate leadership long after they are constructed and occupied.”
Each certification will be valid for three years, at the end of which the project will need to get recertified again. The recertification process is reasonably straightforward and involves the following steps:
- Sign in to your LEED Online account to access the project you want to recertify;
- Collect and submit 12 months of data that covers the performance of your facility’s energy, water, transportation, waste, and human experience;
- LEED Online will use the submitted data to calculate your facility’s performance and tell you the LEED points you’re likely to qualify for. If needed, you can continue to improve your project and update the data as many times as you need to get the points you want;
- Once you’re ready, you can submit the finalized performance data to the GBCI for review;
- The GBCI will perform a thorough recertification review and officially award you points for energy (1-33 points), water (1-15 points), waste (1-8 points), transportation (1-14 points), and indoor environmental quality (1-20 points). You will automatically receive 10 points for your prior certification; and
- You will be awarded one of the four certifications depending on how many points your project accrues.
LEED certification does involve fees, so be sure to budget ahead of time. The minimum charge is $2,900 and uses a sliding scale that uses each project’s size to determine how much certification costs.
The LEED certification requirements are thorough and involved, but prioritizing them will always pay off in the long run. Between the improvement of employee health and productivity, energy savings, or the better public perception that naturally occurs when anyone does their part to preserve the environment, LEED certification should be a crucial piece of your organization’s continued development and operation.