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By Erica Sweeney
February 6, 2017
Sustainability, conservation, and efficiency aren’t just hype words or clickbait anymore. It’s 2017, and creating environmentally responsible buildings have become the new norm. What may have once been an arduous and expensive journey, green building today has declined in cost and continues to rack up energy saving benefits. And to make all of these benefits even closer to reach, there are now ways to easily test new and existing buildings for efficiency and sustainability.
Buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification have been proven to perform better in energy usage, water consumption, and overall resource efficiency, leading to cost savings for owners and operators. To help others take advantage of these benefits, Green Business Certification Inc. recently launched a new tool to make LEED certification more accessible, particularly for existing buildings.
In December 2016, GBCI launched Arc Skoru, a digital platform that allows any project, including individual buildings — commercial or residential — and whole communities, to benchmark its performance against its peers, including vetted green buildings. The tool is available at arcskoru.com.
Arc allows existing buildings not certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating system to efficiently take steps towards making sustainability improvements or, if they choose, eventual LEED certification. GBCI administers LEED and provides third-party technical reviews and verifications of LEED-registered projects.
Most new construction is built according to LEED framework, thanks to a solid voluntary market adoption of the program when it began in the mid 1990s, says Gautami Palanki, a director at USGBC. Building owners and contractors have seen that the green building practices not only help the planet, but also their bottom lines.
Existing buildings can reap these same rewards. They just need to understand how they measure up, and then make repairs and retrofits to meet the minimum standards. This all starts with gathering good data about the building.
“Our mission is to improve the performance of buildings worldwide,” Palanki says. “If you have building data — for example, how much energy are you consuming, how much water are you consuming — once you have that kind of information, you can first find out where you stand and then see what needs to be done to get LEED certification. If your building is operational and you have that information, you can get started.”
LEED certification is available to all building types, from large-scale commercial developments to homes. Projects are certified based on a rating system of 0 to 100, and four rating levels are available. Platinum is the highest level for buildings with a score of 80 to 100, followed by Gold, Silver and Certified, requiring a minimum score of 40.
The LEED framework focuses on five categories — energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience, Palanki explains. Building owners can input data about their building into Arc to find out their performance score. Knowing their score helps them identify areas that need to be repaired or retrofitted so that the overall building performs better and can possibly reach the minimum certification level or better.
Cost for LEED certification includes a $1,200 registration fee for USGBC members and $1,500 for nonmembers, which includes access to Arc, and a pre-certification fee. Certification fees are based on a project’s square footage and are valid for five years. This includes an annual review of data to ensure the building’s performance continues.
Worldwide, about 1.85 million square feet are LEED certified daily. Palanki estimates that about 40 percent of certifications are for existing buildings.
Currently, there are more than 82,000 commercial projects participating in LEED, totaling more than 1.4 billion gross square meters of space worldwide. An additional 112,000 residential properties are also certified.
The United States remains the leader in LEED-certified projects, with 336.8 million gross square meters of certified space, according to the World Green Building Trends 2016 SmartMarket Report. Last year, China moved into second place with 34.62 million gross square meters of LEED-certified projects.
“Our mission is to make sure buildings are not just doing the right thing from a planet perspective but also from an economic perspective,” Palanki explains.
Because LEED-certified buildings are built and operated optimally, she says numerous case studies have shown them to have much lower energy and water consumption, which translates to cost savings over a building’s lifetime. However, the exact savings is difficult to quantify and varies by type of building, size, and other factors.
However, to reach a minimum LEED score of 40, U.S. buildings must be in the top 25 percent in energy efficiency and demonstrate that they consume 15 percent less water than traditional buildings, Palanki explains.
Across the country, state and local governments offer tax benefits and other incentives to developers and homeowners for LEED-certified projects.
Along with sustainability improvements, cost savings and incentives, another benefit is the LEED accredited professional credential for individuals. Palanki says having extra knowledge of LEED standards can give construction professionals a leg up in the industry.
Palanki, who worked as an architect before joining USGBC, urges more regional LEED best-practice sharing among those in the construction community. She says this can better align contractors, building owners and others involved during the entire scope of building or retrofitting a project, ensuring that the desired outcome is achieved and costs are maintained.
In the past, Palanki says several misconceptions about LEED existed in the industry. For example, many once believed that building according to LEED frameworks was much more expensive than other building practices. But, she says that’s not the case.
“As we’ve seen in the last couple of years, it’s more of an economic driver,” she says. “It’s driven by a greater understanding of what it means to have a healthier building.”
However, she says there seems to be more familiarity with LEED certification for new construction. “Many people may not know as much about the retrofit of existing buildings,” she says.
The recent launch of the Arc platform will hopefully change that, she says, by streamlining the approach to making LEED more accessible to operational buildings.
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