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by onlinethymes

Environmental Update

Thu, Nov 20th 2008 05:20 am

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System as a tool to assist building professionals, owners and operators in measuring the impact of various sustainable building practices. As energy prices continue to escalate, the added value of green buildings has continued to gain popularity regardless of environmental affiliation, with LEED certification being recognized as the industry standard in the US.

The USGBC designed LEED as a dynamic system to be able to respond to both the various and changing needs of the building industry and continuously evolving building technologies. In doing so, they have developed different programs applicable to various construction projects. LEED rating systems currently exist for New Construction & Major Renovations, Existing Buildings: Operation & Maintenance, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell, Schools and Homes. Pilot programs are also underway for Retail (both New Construction and Commercial Interiors) and Neighborhood Development, and LEED for Healthcare is in the draft and public comment stages.

While some rating system titles are self explanatory, others are a bit more illusive. LEED for Core & Shell is designed for speculative development projects where the developer or building owner would not necessarily have control over the design and construction of individual tenant spaces, and only considers those portions of the building that are under their direct control. On the other side, LEED for Commercial Interiors is designed specifically for tenant improvements to leased commercial space and includes additional credits for tenants occupying a LEED Core & Shell certified building. In addition to developing new programs to reflect a variety of building uses, established programs are periodically updated to be sure they reflect changing needs and technologies in the industry.

Each LEED rating system individually addresses the areas of Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality for a whole-building approach to sustainability. Sustainable Sites deals with issues such as promoting alternative transportation options, protecting and restoring habitat, maximizing open space, stormwater design and heat island effect.

Water Efficiency not only refers to reducing water use, but also addresses water efficient landscaping and innovative wastewater technology. In addition to optimizing energy performance, Energy & Atmosphere involves enhanced commissioning and refrigerant management, production of on-site renewable energy and purchasing green power. Materials & Resources applies to both reused materials and building reuse, using materials that are rapidly renewable, have recycled content and are extracted, processed and manufactured regionally, and construction waste management. Indoor Environmental Quality addresses several issues related to indoor air quality such as low-emitting materials and increased ventilation whilealso accounting for daylight access and thermal comfort.

LEED certification is voluntary and interested parties must register their project for the appropriate program and complete the certification process. Points are assigned based on the successful application of various possible sustainable building practices in each category and after minimum requirements are met in that category, such as minimum energy performance and collection of recyclables. Each rating system has a different number of possible points available based on its individual application, and therefore a different minimum point level for certification and different point ranges for each certification level.

By offering multiple levels of LEED certification, the USGBC helps to motivate stakeholders to reach beyond the minimum requirements and have the most sustainable building project as possible. The idea is that the more sustainable practices employed on a given project, the more points the project receives, the higher the level of LEED certification attained, and the more environmentally sustainable the project is. This idea is reflected in the possible certification level titles; a project can simply be LEED Certified, or it can be certified LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum, the ultimate prize and the most sustainable of the four.

For those not impressed by environmental stewardship and flashy titles, the USGBC boasts that on average, green buildings save 30 percent of energy use (and yes, greenhouse gas emissions,) 40 percent of water use, and more than 50 percent of waste costs with the added benefits of increased employee productivity and reduced sick time. That's quite the bottom line! For more information visit

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