Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

Over the last two decades, discussions on global warming and its impact have become more public. This has resulted in an increasing consensus on the need to acknowledge and take accountability for the environmental impact of our actions, be it on an individual level or collective.

Construction, one of the least digitalized sectors in an economy, used to be a significant contributor to environmental damage for the longest time. This, however, has changed in recent times. Nowadays, the industry actively pursues innovative techniques such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), drone technology, virtual reality, and wearables to ensure construction projects remain as environmentally responsible as possible throughout their lifecycle. This movement has also given rise to evaluation systems intended to ascertain the acquired level of resource efficiency. One such rating system is popularly known as LEED.  

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED is one of the most sought-after green building certification programs. It was developed in 1993 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization. Enlisted below are five ways how LEED certification can improve the quality of your building:

1. A Design Guide: LEED serves as a design mechanism as opposed to a performance measurement tool. It is a comprehensive procedure of interrelated standards, covering the broad stages of a project: the design phase (conceptualizing), the construction phase (construction planning and procurement), and the operation phase (facility maintenance).

2. Economic Appeal: Most LEED-certified buildings are located in major U.S. metropolises and cost less to operate. In fact, U.S. government agencies reward such buildings by granting them a host of incentives like tax rebates and zoning allowances. Furthermore, LEED certification increases property values. A report on the Los Angeles market noted that tenants were willing to pay $2.91/ft2 for LEED-certified space. This is higher than what the traditional (non-LEED certified) buildings receive on average, which is $2.16/ft2.

3. A Sustainability Advocate: It is worth noting that a LEED-certified building emits less carbon than a traditional (non-LEED certified) building. In fact, upon evaluation, 22 LEED-certified buildings, managed by the General Services Administration of the U.S., were identified to be consuming 25 percent less energy and 11 percent less water, while diverting more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills.

4. Health Optimization: By restricting harmful paints and gas emissions, green buildings create spaces that promote public wellbeing. A study conducted by the USGBC found that employees working in LEED-certified green buildings are happier than those in conventional buildings, provided the companies they represent uphold positive values and take a stance on important issues. Additionally, it was found that access to quality outdoor views and natural sunlight boosts their overall productivity.

5. International Recognition: LEED works with top building professionals around the world to deliver a flexible system that is applicable at the global, regional, and local levels. More than 79,000 projects have participated in LEED across 160 countries and territories, spanning over 15 billion square feet. The USGBC estimates that nearly 5 million people experience a LEED building every day. Many of the world’s most well-known buildings have earned LEED certification.

Chicago’s Willis Tower became the largest building in the U.S. to earn Platinum LEED certification in 2019. Among the enhancements made to the building were the installation of LED lighting; an energy-efficient update on the HVAC system; a replacement of hot water generators with natural gas hot-water boilers; and the installation of low-flow, high-efficiency sink faucets and toilets.

The Hearst Tower located in New York City stands as another worthy example of a Platinum LEED-certified building. It is the global headquarters of Hearst, one of the nation’s largest diversified media and information companies. The building boasts loads of attractions, chief among them being the ‘Icefall’ – an expansive water cascade in the towering atrium, bisected by an escalator. Besides its obvious beauty, the water feature also cools and humidifies the lobby air in a sustainable manner! The building’s exterior resembles a honeycomb, only that it is made of glass and steel. The design is also utilitarian in the sense that it keeps the interior work area uncluttered, thus offering breath-taking views of the city from most vantages.