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Build green by opting for LEED-certification—the green building standard of choice. These high performance buildings incorporate green principles such as sustainable building material selection and reduced energy consumption, green cleaning products and comprehensive recycling facilities. Whether you’re building new or retrofitting, corporations, schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and retail facilities alike can benefit from participation in the LEED program.

How to get your building LEED-certified

The US Green Building Council administers The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™. It works on a system of credits which determine the LEED certification level achieved—Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Here's what you'll need to know to get started:

  1. Get up to speed: Become familiar with the inner workings of the LEED certification system (see How LEED-certification works below) and determine which rating systems best suits your project.
  2. Seeing green: Even before you begin the design phase of your project, draw up a list of eco-goals you’d like to accomplish. To get an idea of where you can gain LEED credits, you may want to check out the LEED Sample Credit Templates for the rating type you’ve chosen.
  3. Get professional help: Make your job easier by hiring a LEED expert. Many engineers, architects, developers, and other industry professionals are well-versed in LEED systems, so take advantage of their knowledge. Start by consulting LEED’s searchable Member Directory, and then check Co-op America’s Green Pages for additional options.
  4. Get the go-ahead: The first formal stage in getting LEED-certification involves submitting a project registration (application), so get this in before ramping up.
  5. Set aside some green: Green buildings tend to cost about 2 percent more than conventional buildings (somewhat more for higher LEED levels) so be sure to adequately budget for these extra expenses.
  6. Look into your green future: Once you’ve embarked on your project, at some point you’ll likely question whether to stick to your green goals in light of budgetary considerations. Keep in mind that although eco-building improvements cost slightly more up-front, they’ll save you loads in the long run. So stick to your green guns as much as possible.
  7. Get reviewed: Once you’ve completed your project, you’ll need to undergo a third-party review. They’ll evaluate your building based on the rating system you’ve chosen.
  8. Wait, celebrate: Then, all you have to do is sit back and wait for your building to be awarded a LEED certification (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum). Next on the list: throw a party to celebrate your green work and tell all of your friends about your accomplishments!

How LEED-certification works

The rating systems are developed by volunteer Green Building Council members from every building industry sector and administered by a rigorous third-party commissioning process. Each rating system assesses a project’s performance in six major improvement areas:

  • Sustainable sites: Site selection, Brownfield redevelopment, alternative transportation, development density
  • Water efficiency: Innovative wastewater management, water-efficient landscaping and fixtures
  • Energy and atmosphere: Renewable energy technologies, green electricity, and ozone depletion prevention
  • Materials and resources: Construction waste management, recycled-content in construction materials, and building reuse
  • Indoor environmental quality: Low VOC-emitting materials, CO2 emissions monitoring, etc.
  • Innovation in design: Use of new technologies, fewer resources, and emerging design techniques

The areas noted above are then addressed in various interrelated LEED rating systems. Here's a few for you to consider:

  • From scratch: Building from the ground up? Then you’ll want to consult the LEED for New Construction rating system, which is suitable for new commercial and institutional projects.
  • Do over: Looking for a way to green-up your existing building? LEED for Existing Buildings addresses issues such as cleaning and maintenance, recycling systems, exterior upgrades, and so on.
  • Spice things up: Thinking of upgrading your insides? Then consider LEED for Commercial Interiors which aims to construct environmentally-sensitive workplaces that are healthy and productive, as well as less costly to operate.
  • It’s what’s outside that counts: Meant as a complementary system to the LEED for Commercial Interiors, the LEED for Core & Shell rating system exists to guide sustainable design for the structure, envelope, and HVAC systems of new core and shell construction projects.
  • Inspired learning: Create stimulating, productive K-12 learning spaces by going for the LEED for Schools certification. Dealing with special education-related issues such as classroom acoustics, mold prevention, and master planning, this system works best for early education and daycare, but can also be applied to higher educational facilities.
  • Green sellers: LEED for Retail combines two rating systems: LEED for New Construction and for Commercial Interiors to meet the specific needs of retail spaces.
  • Healing spaces: Want to create a holistic healing environment? LEED for Healthcare helps by providing environmentally-friendly designs that are also sensitive to the unique needs of hospitals and clinics (chemical sensitivity, need for natural spaces and close proximity to parking facilities, etc.).

Before you buy

It's estimated that building a green building will cost approximately 2 percent more than a conventional building, but these costs are recouped through energy and water savings, increased tenant productivity and health, lower operational and maintenance costs, and reduced waste and waste removal costs.[1][2]

Getting your building LEED-certified helps you go green because…

  • LEED buildings are more water- and energy-efficient
  • LEED buildings promote waste reduction and comprehensive recycling programs
  • LEED buildings encourage the use of nontoxic, recycled-content, and long-lasting materials
  • LEED buildings emphasize efficient land-use

Begun as a way to address the need for a consistent rating system for greening new commercial buildings, LEED first developed LEED-NC 1.0 (LEED for New Construction version 1.0). Today, it is a voluntary, consensus-based organization that works to develop rating systems for every building sector. As new green construction technologies emerge and interest in eco-friendly buildings increases, the LEED rating systems have expanded to included existing buildings, schools, hospitals, homes, and retail spaces.[3]

LEED buildings use water and energy more efficiently than conventional buildings, reduce waste and disposal costs, lower maintenance and operational expenses, and afford workspaces that encourage productivity and tenant health. The financial benefits of these improvements amount to savings of $50 to $70 per square foot, which covers the initial investment of building green tenfold.[4][5]

Tax breaks and subsidies

Many states now offer incentives for LEED-certified commercial and industrial, educational, and nonprofit buildings. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency by doing a sector-type search to see if your state has any incentives available to you.

Related health issues

Green buildings generally incorporate many features that reduce pollutants and stressors which would otherwise cause sickness and increase health care costs. Employee productivity has been shown to increase anywhere from 1 percent in Certified and Silver level LEED buildings to one and one half percent in Gold and Platinum buildings. Quantified, this is estimated as $600-700 per year per employee, or $3 per square foot per year.[6]

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