Do We Still Need LEED?

Think about the building you are sitting in right now. Do you know what’s in it? What materials were used to build it? What’s used to maintain and keep it clean? Would you be willing to wager that it was built exactly as it was designed?

Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about how LEED has changed the building industry. In many ways, it has. In particular I see it from materials suppliers. They have had to adjust to provide materials that contribute to LEED requirements, and they’ve had to learn how to quantify the environmental characteristics of their product.

This naturally leads to the question:

If LEED has been successful in transforming the way we design and construct buildings, so we still need it? If we know how to “build green,” why do we still need a rating system and certification?

To answer those questions, I’ll tell you about a recent experience I had.

I was visiting a construction site for a project not seeking LEED certification. As I walked into the building interior, what I smelled took my breath away. The smell of paint, adhesives, and other known carcinogens was unbearable. At this point in a LEED project, several credits for volatile organic compounds (VOC) would be threatened. As LEED facilitator, I would have the ability to require the offending materials be removed from the site and replaced with LEED-compliant materials. But this was not a LEED project. I had no power to do anything other than comment about the odor from the carcinogenic materials.

That’s why LEED is important. When you have someone looking over your shoulder and checking your work, you tend to do it right. That’s called third party verification, and that’s why LEED is as important as ever. As an industry, we know how to build incredibly sophisticated, high performing buildings, with or without LEED. The critical factor is that LEED holds the entire project team accountable for actually doing it right.

Contrary to popular belief, doing it right does not necessarily cost more. Some owners argue that their buildings are built to LEED standards, but don’t pay for the certification. If you truly build your building to LEED standards, then the cost of registering the project and certifying it are .05% of the budget.  So, for a new office building, the registration fees are typically less than $10,000.

And the premium for materials and equipment? Because of industry adaptation, that too is decreasing. Recent studies show that costs for designing and constructing a LEED building fall within the normal range of construction costs, meaning there is little to no premium. A summary of those studies can be found here.

At Wilmot, we’re experts in making the business case for green building. We work with owners to uncover financial incentives and benefits. We work with project teams to find the LEED points with lowest added cost. The end product is a more durable, high performing building for owners and building users. For example, Wilmot recently complete work for the Chattanooga Housing Authority where we were able to add 18 LEED points for no added cost.