LEED The Charge

With all the talk about being “green,” it can be confusing trying to figure out exactly what that word really means. A “green” secret-decoder ring will definitely come in handy when attempting to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the “greenness” of buildings, including new and remodeled construction.

Luckily, there is an easier method. One internationally accepted way is through Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a third-party validation from the United States Green Building Council (USBGC). The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization is committed to a prosperous and sustainable future for the nation through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings.

Participation in becoming LEED-certified is completely voluntary. The system is designed on a 100-point scale, which includes categories such as sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, as well as indoor environmental quality. Points in each category are adjusted to scale with their environmental impact. The scope of the project--whether it is new construction or a renovation, commercial or retail, etc.--determines the criteria used for the review process. LEED-certification levels are Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

Green In Your Pocket

According to USGBC statistics, buildings in the United States are responsible for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emitted, 40 percent of energy consumed, 13 percent of water consumed, and 15 percent of the gross domestic product per year. By improving building energy and water efficiencies, building owners have the potential for significant long-term savings on operational and mechanical costs.

Bottom Of Form

“Becoming LEED-certified shows--in a measureable way--your commitment to the environment as well as to providing a high-quality building for the community,” says Chuck Lohre, president of Lohre & Associates, a Cincinnati-based marketing and communications consultancy serving engineers, architects and the building and materials trades. “LEED certification is popular with institutions and municipalities as they traditionally build a building to last. LEED is very appropriate to show your commitment to utilizing the taxpayers’ money the best way possible, and your commitment to the environment by having a building that has a small carbon footprint during and after construction.”

Before Jumping In

First, determine why you want the building LEED-certified. In the design and programming phase of the project, balance your desires with the available budget.

“There are a series of items that are required to meet a certain level of points in the LEED-certification system. Take a close look at your ideas and develop a list of achievable goals to meet the level of LEED certification you want to reach,” says Bill Wilson, president of KZF Design, an architectural and engineering firm. “The complexity of your goals has to be balanced with the funds available and the life-cycle costs for the building.”

“There are several components to consider when seeking LEED certification,” says Boyd Johnson, project designer and LEED-accredited professional with KZF. “The most important component is open communications between the client, designer, architects, landscape architect, engineers and contractor throughout the lifespan of the project. The key is integrated communication because a seemingly innocuous decision at the very beginning of the project might have a huge impact later when seeking LEED certification.”

Integrated communication includes getting feedback from potential users. When this was done for the University of Cincinnati Campus Recreation Center, project planners discovered that the students wanted more than a typical recreation center. They wanted a place that integrated different uses, such as housing, exercise, restaurants and classes under one roof. This insight led to the development of a LEED-certified campus recreation center that covers 350,000 square feet, and includes housing, an Olympic-size pool, leisure pool, basketball courts, exercise equipment, climbing wall, locker rooms, running track, convenience store, marché restaurant, classrooms and more.

What Makes A Building Green?

LEED-certified buildings take into account where the building is located and how it interacts with the site; how the storm water and waste water are managed; how efficient the building is at using energy for heating, cooling and lighting; what materials are used during construction; and how the waste from construction is disposed. By addressing these concerns and several more, LEED-certified buildings reduce operating costs, increase the value of the property, reduce energy and water consumption, and provide healthier indoor environments.

But it isn’t only about the building, amenities and energy and water conservation--it’s also about the end-user’s experience in the building. “Indoor environmental quality has to do with how the design and material chosen affect the end-user,” Johnson says. “Low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are just as important as daylighting, outdoor views, and if the users can open the windows to the outside.” Daylighting is the practice of maximizing the placement of windows and doors to improve the flow of natural light through a building while also reducing the need for heating or cooling.

Pieces Of Green

If you opt to obtain LEED certification, start by bringing in a LEED-accredited professional. “Without the correct road map and someone helping to guide you, trying to obtain LEED certification might not be money well-spent,” Johnson says. “But by having a LEED-accredited professional on your team at the beginning and leading you through the sometimes confusing LEED-certification process, you’ll be time and money ahead.”

When selecting a team for your building project, take the time to look at completed projects similar to the one you want to undertake, and investigate the architectural firms who worked on the projects. “Look at the firm’s past experience. Does it have a good track record with clients? Does the architect work on time and on budget? Call the company’s clients and ask about their experience with the firm,” says Wilson. “You can do research on firms and projects via The American Institute of Architects’ Web site. Build a good group of people to bring in to the project.”

Examples To Follow

If you are interested in having a building or new construction LEED-certified, take a look at the Department of Energy’s Fernald site north of Cincinnati. This site went from an EPA Superfund project to the new Fernald Preserve Visitors Center that opened in 2005 with LEED Platinum Certification from USGBC. Nearby, the Boy Scouts of America, Dan Beard Council’s Boy Scout Achievement Center, garnered a LEED Silver certification from USGBC.

For more information on projects similar to yours, the USGBC Web site has plenty of case studies. Additionally, you can find more support and information via your regional chapter of the USGBC.

Being green is most likely something you are already very familiar with; however, getting the recognition for your hard work likely isn’t. Take the next step and show your LEEDership by setting the green sustainable building example for your community.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC, which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at landsharkpr@yahoo.com.