Several interesting CleanTechies articles on LEED have covered the topic from different angles — this one will add a new perspective by giving a commercial example (and make a strong case for going green).
What is LEED?
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The certification is given based on an exam facilitated by the Green Building Certification Institute on behalf of the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Multiple structures and projects are eligible for LEED certification and each is judged based on a set of criteria. LEED ratings are available for New Construction, Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors, Core and Shell (total building minus interior), Homes, Neighborhood Development, Schools and Retail. Points are given in six categories including: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation & Design Process. Based on the score a structure receives, it will receive a label which allows an easy understanding for just how many of the LEED features the project incorporates.
LEED scoring was recently updated from version 2.2 which scored projects out of a total 69 points to version 3.0 which scores based on a total of 100 points. The score required to achieve different LEED levels is shown below:
LEED v2.2 – Certified 26 – 32, Silver 33 – 38, Gold 39 – 51, Platinum 52 or more
LEED v3.0 – Certified 40 – 49, Silver 50 – 59, Gold 60 – 79, Platinum 80 or more
LEED Platinum is the highest score a project can achieve and hence the most costly to obtain.
The Need for LEED
The LEED standard was introduced in response to what many felt was a lack of sustainable planning in construction. With a lack of regulation in the construction industry and devoid of a standard to try to achieve, builders had no large motivation to create low-impact, sustainable buildings. LEED allows the features of construction to be quantified which gives builders, architects and ultimately decision makers the ability to say, “I want a structure that meets a certain sustainable requirement.” A great multimedia timeline for the history of LEED is available on the USGBC’s website and is titled, “15 Years 15 Stories.”
What can LEED do for you?
A long running debate has centered on the cost-benefit of achieving LEED certification and how much the different levels of LEED actually matter. Certainly, a simple review of the scoring system will show that the building owner can pay to install bicycle storage and changing rooms as this will result in 1 LEED point but how will that result in more revenue to the owner? Is even this minimal cost worth achieving LEED Gold over LEED Silver? Some say LEED certification and levels do not matter at all and only add to the cost of a building but others such as Chris and Amber Marie Bently who recently spent 3 years remodeling their Bently Reserve Building, a LEED certified structure, in downtown San Francisco disagree. Their remodel of floors using wood from old whiskey barrels, reuse of building materials and upgrade in HVAC’s which lowers tenant energy costs all combine to give what the Bentlys feel is a competitive advantage over nearby commercial space. This has led to a higher than average occupancy rate and a sense of pride in the Bentlys that they can promote environmental standards as a good business practice. But what type of tenants are they attracting?
Tenancy in a LEED certified building
As with every other commercial structure, The Bently Reserve Building (Core & Shell) and the tenants (Commercial Interior) are LEED rated separately. However, the Bently’s require that each tenant in the Bently Reserve Building outfits their office space at a minimum of LEED Certified. Current tenants fall along the LEED spectrum but one firm, The Energy Foundation, whose mission is to assist in the transition to a sustainable energy future by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, would not settle for less than LEED Platinum. In fact, The Energy Foundation is the first commercial space in San Francisco, and one of only thirteen worldwide, to receive LEED-CI Platinum Certification from the US Green Building Council. A walk through The Energy Foundation rewards the visitor with a naturally bright, open space where almost everything used from the furniture, flooring and ceiling panels to the fixtures is made of recycled or renewable materials and is meant to minimize energy use and easily recycle or biodegrade at the end of its useful life. The conference table built of alternating wood and retired solar panels was particularly striking.
Turning “Green” into Greenbacks
While the Bentlys feel strongly about the environment and enjoy a considerable level of satisfaction over their triple-bottom-line building. Does the reward outweigh the risk? According to Mrs. Bently, the answer is, yes. “We feel owning a LEED-Certified building gives us a competitive advantage in the market even during such an economically difficult time.” Not only does the building draw environmentally conscious tenants, the commitment to sustainability also entices many organizers of conferences, seminars and retreats to utilize the Bently Reserve meeting rooms. Time will tell if their competitive advantage remains strong or dissipates as more commercial owners seek LEED certification but in the mean time their determination to go green is helping these commercial owners to feel good about their building, their tenants and their future prospects.