Green Building Certifications

What is it?

Green building certifications provide a pathway for building owners to gain recognition of the emphasis on environmental management in their design. The development of Green Building Certifications began in the early 2000s with the launch of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system developed by the US Green Building Council. At the time, there were few practitioners focused purely on designing buildings that balanced resource utilization and the impact on the environment. 

The LEED rating system has seen exponential growth. While it had a slow start, by 2009, 2,200 commercial projects had been certified, a number that has grown to 32,500 in 2017, and 80,000 projects overall1. Over the past few years, new rating systems and certifications focusing on specific types of buildings and specialties have emerged, including those focused on health, school buildings, and the residential sector. 

For educational facilities, the two most common rating systems for schools are LEED and CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools). These certifications both provide a rubric for implementing practices into the building design and construction that is then verified by a third party review. Strategies are awarded a point value from a list of possible categories which could include: water, energy, transportation, operations & maintenance, and landscaping. Depending on the number of strategies implemented, the building can earn a certification and recognition for the team’s efforts.

How big an Investment is the certification?

The value in certification goes beyond the plaque or certificate received after construction is completed. Critics often cite the high cost of administering certificates, but the value proposition must be broadened to include the real changes in your building that have measurable impacts. The costs to certify a building up to 250,000 square feet to LEED standards are approximately $15,000 in administrative fees alone. The additional cost for design and construction can reach up to 10% of the project budget, but in many cases the cost is the same as a traditional building. CHPS has two levels of review:

  • CHPS designed-  registration valued at $900  
  • CHPS verified- $900 with an additional $4,000-$11,000 in certification costs (depending on size)

However, various studies have demonstrated that the additional costs bring value to the owners and occupants of the building. The most important factor is reduction in energy use which equates to reduced operations costs. New construction built according to the LEED standard has been shown to reduce energy by 15% on average with a 13% reduction for existing buildings over five years2. LEED buildings were determined to have increased asset value as much as 5% for new construction based on assessments3. Other studies indicate tenants were also willing to pay a higher price for LEED certified buildings. 

What are the sustainable benefits?

There are a multitude of benefits to pursuing certifications. The school district benefits from reduced operating costs because of the energy efficiency provisions. K-12 schools that are LEED certified for Existing Buildings claim energy savings that are 36% better than the average school4. Some projects are able to recover the additional costs of certification, recouping taxpayer money, by returning the savings in energy use year over year. The occupants also benefit from the greener space. The attributes of LEED which enhance learning include, removal of toxic materials, controlled exposure to dust and pollen, increased access to daylight and outdoor views, and access to thermal controls with higher levels of comfort. The school itself also serves as a teaching tool for students to learn about how the school was designed with the environment in mind and can be a catalyst for students to live their lives more sustainably by embodying the same principles. 

1 LEED by the Numbers: 16 Years of Steady Growth

2 World Green Building Trends: Business Benefits Driving New and Retrofit Market Opportunities in Over 60 Countries

3 The Business Case for Green Building4Green School Facts

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