To LEED or NOT to LEED? – Construction Questions Demand Consideration

Even in these challenging economic times, many business leaders are forced to make decisions regarding remodeling projects, expansion of an existing building or construction of a new facility. As they do so, they are likely to contemplate the many nuances of sustainable (green) planning, design and construction for the first time. Today’s corporate leaders often find themselves having to make ‘green’ decisions that are unprecedented in their corporate environment: Should their facility be certified as a sustainable project? And, if so, should the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System be utilized?

LEED and other certification programs should be considered to determine their viability. It is crucial to discuss whether or not to certify a sustainable building early in the project’s planning stages as this decision will have a bearing on design and construction options.

Why Certification?
When considering a construction project, ask this question, “How will a sustainable certification benefit our business today and in the future?” The additional expense and time for certification is worth it if there’s a solid, affirmative answer to that question. Two clients recently chose certification (LEED) because they believed they would receive strong recognition and validation-¦and they were right. One organization became a beacon of sustainability for their community and the other played a significant role in the overall story of the sustainable community.

However, there are also examples of projects that are highly sustainable, where pursuing certification would be a poor business decision. Our firm recently renovated a portion of a former, major retail department store that became our corporate headquarters. This is one of the most sustainable retrofits in the country. But, the best choice for us was to choose not to be certified. We, too, considered the question, “Is this the right business solution?” We realized it would have added $4 per square foot to our rent without adding any true benefit to the environment or our bottom line. If we had chosen to certify, we would have needed to invest in a $150,000 air handling unit and utilize a separate meter for its electrical power usage. Instead, we installed carbon dioxide (CO2) detectors (at approximately $200 each) in the conference rooms. If CO2 levels reach high, unhealthy levels, fresh air is delivered to the room. This alternative was inexpensive, creative, sustainable, and highly-effective. It did not meet the LEED certification criteria, but it did meet our requirement as a responsible, sustainable, smart business solution.

From the beginning of a construction project, corporate executives face a myriad of decisions regarding product selection in addition to systems selections that impact a facility’s level of sustainability. Consider flooring. In our case, we chose a nearby carpet supplier, who provided a highly sustainable product that fit our budget. There are more sustainable carpet products available on the market. But, our choice offered great durability, a similar product warranty, and was installed using no harmful chemical adhesives. Every decision regarding systems and materials should use such a holistic and systematic process, whether or not you choose to be certified and validated by a third party.

Certification Choices
LEED is prominently considered the standard for sustainable certification in the United States. The USGBC ( should be commended for the work they’ve done to create and update standards for green design and construction. But, Green Globes is also a viable option with a more affordable, online evaluation and offers a certification method that is more interactive. However, Green Globes lacks the reputation and recognition that LEED has built. Both programs offer solid guidance for any sustainable design and construction endeavor. If an organization decides to pursue a third party’s project validation, they must then decide what level of certification is obtainable and appropriate. While achieving the highest sustainable certification level would be admirable, it may not be the best business decision for your company or organization.

Beyond Certification
Certification provides a helping hand to those wanting to make principled sustainable decisions during the planning, design, and construction process. However, it’s important to realize that green is not synonymous with certification or vice versa. What’s truly important is that one’s planning process considers these critical components:

-¢ sustainable design and delivery,
-¢ life-cycle cost savings,
-¢ healthy productive environments,
-¢ and initial capital costs.

When all four of these elements are considered for every decision, you will minimize the negative impact on the natural environment while reaching a solution that provides a sustainable building solution that has a positive financial impact on your business as well-¦whether or not you choose to certify your project.

Paul J. Hoffman ([email protected]) is owner and CEO of Hoffman LLC in Appleton, WI. His firm integrates a single-source of responsibility for planning, architecture and construction management; and a commitment to holistic sustainable design and delivery