LEEDing the Way to Efficiency and Sustainability

Environmental Building and Design

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a system that rates the design, construction and maintenance of environmentally responsible buildings and neighbourhoods. LEED is intended to help building owners use resources more efficiently.

To remain competitive in ever-changing markets, companies need to focus on maintaining a sharp image while addressing environmental concerns.

The most successful companies have found a way for both their internal and external communities – their workers and their clientele – to buy into the products and the names that they sell. These economic sub-communities are comprised of members who feel they are a part of a team and they believe in what they do.

By investing in sustainable building and design, both economic and social value is increased by naturally improving the health and wellbeing of the business community, while simultaneously having a positive impact on industry standards which help the marketplace to evolve as well.

In North America, buildings are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (35 percent in Canada and 39 percent in the U.S.) partly due to waste from construction and demolition activities – and an astonishing 80 percent of water consumed is used in and around these buildings. Ethically minded businesses have come to understand the significant impact they are having on the environment, how important it is to change this and how it will ultimately reap social and economic benefits on both a short and long term basis.

By becoming Leaders in Energy and Environment Design (LEED Certified) and upholding green standards for building design and construction, many companies have vastly improved their overall economic and social values while simultaneously increasing profitability and creating a friendly and comfortable environment in which to conduct life and business.

The projects and places certified by LEED become spaces for people to work and to live sustainably. By improving the indoor and outdoor environment of homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces, there is a direct increase in happiness, thus increased productivity and decreasing absenteeism, while benefitting the corporate appearance and output. LEED features also result in lower overhead and maintenance costs.

The LEED certification is an internationally recognized standard in environmental and sustainable building and a scale by which these features can be measured. These standards have been developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC – a non-profit coalition of industry leaders, approved through a process of consensus), mirrored by the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) and adopted worldwide, although standards may vary to accommodate domestic conditions and legislation.

There are four levels of LEED Certification built upon a points based system with established minimum standards. Points are awarded to a maximum of one hundred points (+ 10 available as bonus), in five credit categories (+ 2 bonus categories).

To become LEED Certified, projects must achieve between forty and forty-nine points. LEED Silver is awarded to those who score between fifty and fifty-nine points; LEED Gold is achieved with a score between sixty and seventy-nine points; and Platinum certification is the highest a project can score with more than eighty points.

Points are awarded in the areas of sustainable site credits, water efficiency credits, energy efficiency and atmosphere credits, materials and resources credits and indoor environmental quality credits. The bonus categories are innovation in design or innovation in operations credits as well as regional priority credits.

LEED for Neighbourhood Development is an additional ratings system for neighbourhood design with credit categories in the areas of smart location and linkage credits, neighbourhood pattern and design credits and green infrastructure and buildings credits. LEED for Homes credit categories also include location and linkage credits as well as awareness and education credits.

In the U.S., LEED standards were established in the late 1990s and the first LEED rating tool was launched in 2000. In Canada, LEED standards have been present for over a decade with the first building certified in 2005. Together, the two countries have now registered over 32 000 projects and certified close to 8 000 and the numbers continue to increase.

LEED Certification has extended itself to 132 countries and counting. Since 2005, there have been 157 000 professionals certified who have helped builders and owners achieve significant energy savings, take measures to preserve water and encourage increased usage of recycled materials. Buildings have installed the equivalent of several acres of green roofs and have contributed to an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States alone, a strong commitment to green building and design has the potential to meet 85 percent of the nation’s future energy demand, reducing environmental footprints and generating new sources of employment and revenue, as well as countless educational opportunities.

LEED Certification can increase a company, home or neighbourhood’s environmental profile in three ways: as a design guide, as a measure or benchmark to ensure the environmental standards have been fulfilled and as a system of certification through the USGBC and CaGBC.

For all the benefits associated with LEED Certification, the costs are relatively low and pay for themselves quickly. LEED standards can be met for as low as $0.05/ft², well worth the savings in return.

LEED Rating Certified Silver Gold Platinum
Energy Savings 25-35% 35-50% 50-60% >60%
Annual Utility Savings $0.75/ ft² $1.00/ ft² $1.25/ ft² $1.50/ ft²
Typical Payback <3 years 3-5 years 5-10 years >10 years

LEED Certification has come under criticism from some developers, as it is costly to hire certified professionals and it is time consuming to achieve certification. As a response to this criticism, some alternatives have arisen to address the demand for more cost effective tools to certify environmentally conscious design and development.

Built Green Canada started in Alberta as a project of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) and is attributed as being different from LEED in that its target market are small multi-unit residences and single dwelling homes. Built Green Canada has certified over 15 000 homes and presents itself as a “non-regulatory market driven approach to optimize the use of innovative industry based solutions.”

Launched provincially in 2003 and nationally in 2004, Built Green made it simpler and more affordable to become certified as a builder. It has made the qualification process streamlined and online, readily available with clear instructions in order to receive an EnerGuide rating for new houses or a Built Green seal for retroactive projects.

The national average EnerGuide standard in 2005 was sixty-six out of one hundred possible points. In order to achieve the minimum Built Green standard, a home must score between seventy-two and seventy-four.

Alternatives like this are becoming more common and different organizations have origins from different predecessors. BOMA BESt (Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada Building Environmental Standards) and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) Canada for example, as well as the Green Building Initiative – the U.S. counterpart – rate commercial buildings and evolved out of BREEAM UK, the first to offer environmental assessments and certification for buildings.

Each alternative varies according to its delivery mechanisms, but all are committed to designing and building a more thoughtful, efficient and sustainably built environment for which their businesses and communities can operate, and their corporate profile, social and economic value may grow.

Moving forward, companies and organizations with the future in mind can easily achieve goals to become certified and begin to reap the many benefits. First set a clear environmental target with an accompanying budget – substantial enough to meet goals –and accommodating enough for any potential snags along the way and, in no time, value will be created and the positive outputs will be achieved.