LEED Certification: The History, Value and How-To

November 13, 2020
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Green Construction and sustainability has been a growing trend in the industry over the past few years. The availability of sustainable building materials is constantly growing as innovators find new ways to build greenly. Within the umbrella of “green building” is a certification called LEED. LEED certification is a way for a building to announce proudly that it reaches a certain level of sustainability, both in the building management process as well as materials used to actually construct it. Learn all about LEED Certification below.

What Does LEED Stand For?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The certification is given after rating buildings on their design, construction process, maintenance and environmental responsibility. Condos, commercial buildings and hotels are just a few of the types of buildings that can be LEED Certified. 

LEED Certification today is the most widely-used standard across the world to highlight efficient, green and sustainable buildings. The standard is often used in new builds but can apply to existing buildings looking to become green.

The History of LEED

Robert K Watson was a senior scientist at the National Resources Defence Council in 1993 when he began to develop the LEED process. He paired with other people in the green industry to help put together guidelines for the certification process. He worked with a number of nonprofits, government agencies, architects, engineers, builders and other industry leaders to build up the rules around LEED. 

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) became invested in the certificate and between 1994 – 2015 LEED transformed into a totally integrated system of standards that covered a building from construction to daily management practises. It’s become an independent committee now with over 110,000 staff and volunteers working with projects to achieve LEED Certification.

As technologies evolved and developed around the sphere of green construction, the standards needed to achieve LEED Certification did as well. By being an independent standard and not run at a state or federal level, the committee maintains the power to adapt the expected standards as needed. 

LEED in Canada

The Canada Green Building Council was granted permission to create a LEED Canada committee in 2003. It’s interesting to note that rainwater harvesting is one of the biggest factors within LEED Certification for Canadian buildings. 

About 4,350 buildings in Canada are LEED certified with over 8,500 registered. In terms of project numbers, Canada is second to the US for the most LEED projects in the country. 

What is the Value in LEED Certification?

LEED Certification is valuable for a few reasons. There is value for the business who will own the building, those who will occupy it and for the environment.  

LEED Value for the Building Owner

Value for the building owner comes both in monetary value and in meeting new occupant expectations. People in general are becoming more concerned with the environment and being in a sustainable building is growing in importance. Having a green building can help with public perception and reputation.  

In terms of monetary value, people are willing to pay more to live and work in a green building. In fact, it’s said that green building leases can often be 20% higher when compared to buildings that do not have LEED Certification. Buildings can also receive a number of tax breaks and credits towards sustainable building processes. This helps to make the changes feasible for buildings of all sizes.  

LEED Certified buildings are also less costly to run long term. One study said that owners of green buildings see a return on investment of over 19% for existing buildings and over 9% on new builds. A hotel that became LEED Certified spent about $184,000 on the efficiency improvements and saved over $58,000 a year in building maintenance. The hotel broke even in less than 3.5 years.

Occupying a LEED Certified Building

Many of the standards of LEED Certified buildings end up creating a more comfortable and enjoyable environment within the building. Interior light, air quality and temperature control can make a big difference when you live or work somewhere for most of your day. 

In a survey done by the United States Green Building Council found that 79% of employees would choose a job in a LEED Certified building over one that is not. 85% related the access to natural light and better outdoor views to boosts in productivity in general happiness. 84% preferred working at a company with a strong mission and concrete values – both things which were manifested in the business having a LEED Certified building. 

It’s clear that employees and occupants value the difference a LEED Certification makes. 

LEED Certification and the Environment

When it comes to LEED Certification benefits for the environment, the numbers speak for themselves. 

LEED Certified buildings, according to the USGBC, have 34% less CO2 emissions, consume 25% less energy and 11% less water than non-certified buildings. Green construction uses fewer resources and minimizes waste. It’s expected that by 2030, LEED-lead construction projects will have diverted over 540 million tons of waste from landfills. 

What Does It Take to be LEED Certified? 

There are a number of ranking systems, levels of certification and different standards that must be met in order to qualify for certification. LEED is a ranking system that looks at an entire project and gives a level based on what initiatives are taken. Based on that ranking, you qualify for a certain level of certification. 

However, in order to even qualify, an application and registration must be completed with LEED committee in Canada, the US or wherever you live. Buildings must be registered for whatever category it fits in – residential or commercial, new build or existing building, etc. 

Once the forms and application process is completed all projects are reviewed by the council and certifications are either awarded or feedback given to help the project meet all the standards necessary.

How Hard is it to Get LEED Certified?

The difficulty of being LEED Certified is depending on many factors. For a new building who’s developers know right from the start that they want a LEED Certification, the planning and design process can start right from the beginning. Existing buildings that need to be retrofitted may have a more difficult time getting all the updates needed to achieve certification. 

Tax programs and incentives towards sustainable building development can help to ease the monetary burden of making these updates. The statistics on cost savings can also help to entice an existing building to make the changes for the long-term benefits. 

The process can be done. If it was that difficult, no one would have done it. There are currently over 96,000 LEED projects in over 167 countries and territories around the world. Of these, about 6,600 of them are Platinum buildings.

Top Countries for LEED Certification

The United States tops country rankings with LEED Certification with over 33,000 projects and 440.6 million square meters of LEED Certified space. In terms of space, Mainland China comes second with 68.83 million square meters with Canada, India, Brazil and Korea following after. 

The Role of Construction in LEED Certification

While LEED focuses on the buildings, there is a huge LEED market for construction contractors as well. Not only is there a huge market growing for contractors who are knowledgeable in LEED building and green construction practices, but building sustainably can lower environmental impacts from a construction perspective.

The Job Boom for LEED and Green Construction Companies

The demand for contractors who are knowledgeable about LEED and green construction practises are growing. Many private companies and public and government buildings are mandating that all future buildings meet LEED standards. A lot of these businesses look for LEED building experience when hiring a contractor. 

Being a support system for building owners and developers can set you apart from others when bidding on projects. Many companies are no longer only looking at budgets when selecting a contractor. Green buildings can cost more, but the savings often pay back these costs quickly. Therefore, being the lowest bid won’t necessarily get you the job. Having experience working with sustainable materials, recycling unused materials, having reduced waste on-site and integrating innovative materials into projects make a difference.

The Environmental Perspective of Green Construction

Reducing waste can save time and money for construction companies. 20 million tons of waste are produced every year by the construction industry alone. When you break this down to transportation and sorting costs, the monetary impact of spending money on unused materials, of maintaining landfills and the loss of nonrenewable resources, the impact is mind-boggling. 

If it’s expected that 540 million tons of waste will have been diverted from landfills by 2030 through the LEED Certification program, that’s a lot of money saved. 

Image borrowed from Green Badger.

LEEDing the Way

The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated the conversation around green living and sustainability. The focus on LEED Certification, sustainable construction and other related topics will only grow in the coming years. It’s clear that there is much value for the environment, building owners and construction companies in embracing the green wave.

Kevin Forestell

Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.

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