Capitalize on the LEED Green Building Movement

Oct. 1, 2004
by John M. Arfman and Robyn Seykora Over the last few years, you've probably heard a great deal about LEED ? (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)

by John M. Arfman and Robyn Seykora

Over the last few years, you've probably heard a great deal about LEED ? (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for green buildings. How does it work and how can it benefit your bottom line?

First, let's define a green building. Also known as sustainable buildings, these structures use valuable resources such as energy, water, materials, and land more efficiently than buildings that are simply built to code. Green buildings are kind to the environment, and provide healthy, comfortable, productive indoor spaces.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) launched the LEED program in 1999 to promote the green building movement and set high standards for it.LEED's mission is to:

  • Define green building by establishing a common standard of measurement

  • Promote integrated, whole-building design

  • Recognize environmental leadership

  • Stimulate green competition

  • Raise awareness of green building benefits

  • Transform the building market.

The LEED program offers contracting professionals some of the most significant opportunities they've seen in the last decade. The beauty of the LEED certification system is that, in general, it mandates performance over process.

For example, the energy saving initiative provides LEED credits for the percentage of energy saved by incorporating a specific improvement, versus what energy would have been used without it.

The guidelines do not restrict how the savings are accomplished. This methodology motivates and inspires designers, contractors, and building system manufacturers to creatively enhance their offerings. It also reintroduces the value of experience and engineering expertise, while devaluing initial bid price.

The Benefits of Green Buildings

The world of building design has been steadily going green. Designers, architects, builders, contractors, manufacturers, end users, and federal, state and local governments are all in on the act. However, resistance still remains.

Green buildings have a reputation for costing more up front. Concerns include unfamiliar materials and techniques, and additional risk. Owners generally hesitate at building green because they think it will cost more, and provide little or no payback.

In reality, green buildings can improve the bottom line for both owners and occupants. Payback comes from lower operating and maintenance costs, increased productivity, reduced operations and maintenance costs, and lower utility bills. In fact, the financial benefits of green design are estimated to be between $50 to $70/sq.ft., over 10 times the additional cost associated with building green.

How LEED Works

LEED awards points based on performance including sustainable site development, energy and atmosphere, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, and innovation in design. Designers can select the points that are most appropriate to their projects to achieve a LEED rating. A total of 69 points are possible. Depending on the points, Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Certified ratings are awarded.

LEED's certification program currently covers new construction (NC). Programs for existing buildings (EB), commercial interiors (CI), core and shell (CS), homes (H), and neighborhood development (ND) are planned. LEED-NC certification is awarded based on the project's compliance with 13 categories of building characteristics.

Steps Toward LEED Certification

LEED-registered projects represent nearly 5% of the total square footage in U.S. new construction. The ultimate target is 25% of the entire market. (Source: Environmental Design+Construction.)

Step 1: Project Registration

Upon registration, the project contact receives an orientation letter and access to resources that explain and facilitate the formal LEED application process.

Step 2: Documentation

Once a project is registered, the project team prepares the documentation to satisfy the LEED prerequisite and point requirements. Some contractors have a LEED Accredited Professional on staff to facilitate the process. If not, these professionals are available as consultants (see sidebar for more information).

Step 3: Certification

The USGBC reviews the project's documentation and assigns a rating level of Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Certified, based on the number of prerequisites attained and the points the project receives. Upon notification of certification, the project team has 30 days to accept or appeal. If accepted, the USGBC presents the team with an award letter, certificate, and LEED plaque indicating the certification level.

LEED is continually evolving. Its simple pointbased structure has set the green building standard and has made it the most widely accepted green program in the U.S.

Making the Case

There are two compelling-incentives for building owners and developers to invest in green buildings, and specifically the LEED certification program. The first is the financial benefit of operating a more efficient and less expensive facility. Adherence to LEED ensures that facilities are designed, constructed, and operated effectively. LEED focuses the design-and construction team on operating life cycle costs, not initial construction costs.

The second incentive involves tax benefits that some states are now offering for green building and LEED compliance. For example, in New York, Governor Pataki has established the New York State Green Building Tax Credit Program to help fund the concepts and ideas behind green building. Through this program, the Hearst Building project in New York City is eligible for tax credits of almost $5,000,000 if green building standards are achieved.

Other benefits include the politicaland marketing benefits of working-within the USGBC guidelines.

Getting Started

The benefits of building green do not come free. To take advantage of them, you must commit to the mission and process mandated by the USGBC and LEED. This requires education, involvement, and certification. A great place to start is to join your local USGBC chapter, which offers LEED workshops and training to become a LEED Accredited Professional. To learn more, go to

John M. Arfman is vice president of sales and marketing for T.E.C. Systems, a building automation and systems integration contractor serving the New York metropolitan area. The company is actively involved with green building, is a member of the USGBC, and employs a LEED Accredited Professional. For more information visit or call 718/784-7955.

Robyn Seykora is a market manager for Honeywell, Building Controls Solutions. She holds an M.B.A. and has 15 years experience in marketing.