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What is LEED Certification, and Why Should I Care for My Business?

Environmental Stewardship With Cost-Saving Benefits

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Making a commitment to environmentally conscious building practices is a meaningful way for commercial real estate owners to differentiate themselves in today's market. Showing your environmental stewardship by pursuing LEED certification is something that even small business and property owners may wish to consider.

Not only will LEED certification allow you to assume a green-friendly business posture, but it could potentially provide you with significant long-term savings in the form of lower energy bills and reduced maintenance costs that will ultimately benefit your bottom line.

A Global Standard

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a third-party green building certification program developed in the mid-1990s by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The standard recognizes best-in-class sustainable building strategies and practices around the world.

Owners can achieve LEED certification for their projects by pursuing credits that earn points based on the environmental merit of various components used in design, construction, operation, and maintenance.

Buildings that achieve a minimum point threshold are designated as “certified," but additional points can boost the certification to a more prestigious status: Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

LEED certification falls under five different rating systems:

  1. Building Design and Construction (includes residential design and construction)
  2. Interior Design and Construction
  3. Building Operations and Maintenance
  4. Neighborhood Development
  5. Home Design and Construction

There are different prerequisites and credits for each of these five rating systems, and project owners choose the rating system that best fits their development.

In all, there are six categories under which property owners can earn points: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, material and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation.

Points are given for a variety of building design and operational practices, such as using low-emitting paints and coatings, reducing water usage, using on-site renewable energy systems, improving indoor air quality through additional outdoor air ventilation, using more energy-efficient lighting, and locating a project within a half-mile of existing or planned public transportation.

Undertaking the LEED Process

Before you register your project for LEED certification , you must first make sure your project meets minimum program requirements, such as complying with environmental laws as well as meeting minimum floor area and occupancy requirements. In addition, the project must be a complete, permanent building, use a reasonable site boundary, make a commitment to sharing whole-building energy and water usage data, and comply with a minimum building-area-to-site ratio.

After registering your project, you apply for LEED certification by submitting a completed certification application, which is granted after a review to verify you have met the necessary requirements and achieved the point total required.

Achieving LEED certification requires a substantial monetary investment, including a registration fee, a certification review fee, and the cost associated with earning the required points. The registration and certification fees alone, depending upon the square footage of the project, can exceed several thousand dollars—sometimes substantially more for larger projects. You can learn more about the USGBC's fee structure here .

The Value of LEED

The value of LEED certification is realized in both measurable and immeasurable ways. USGBC cites statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy that show LEED-certified buildings reduce CO2 emissions by 34%, and consume 25% less energy and 11% less water. For green retrofit projects, achieving such energy efficiency pays for the improvements in just seven years. Additionally, property values for green buildings get a 4% boost when measured against comparable non-green buildings.

The immeasurable benefits come in the form of the goodwill that will accrue to your business based on your use of green-energy building practices. For a significant segment of the population, those environmental benefits alone make achieving LEED certification a positive for your business.

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