LEED Green Construction: What Is It And Is It Right For Your District

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: May 02, 2023

As K-12 and community college districts plan for new construction or renovation projects on campus, or for upgrades to existing air, energy, water, or other systems in campus buildings, districts should consider whether LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification is right for them.  LEED, which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is the world’s most extensively used green building rating system.

To achieve LEED Certification, a district, in consultation with its project team, first needs to assess its energy, efficiency, and sustainability goals, and then develop and apply strategies to achieve those goals in the following LEED categories:

  • Integrative Process: Promotes reaching across disciplines to incorporate diverse team members during the pre-design period.
  • Energy: Focuses on reducing energy demand through efficiency, then rewards renewable energy.
  • Water: Addresses indoor use, outdoor use, specialized uses, and whole-building-level water metering.
  • Materials and Waste: Encourages using sustainable building materials and reducing waste and includes a special focus on usage, life-cycle, and transparency.
  • Location and Transportation: Includes an emphasis on advanced performance metrics to reward projects within relatively dense areas, near diverse uses, with access to a variety of transportation options, or on sites with development constraints.
  • Sustainable Sites: Rewards decisions about the environment surrounding the building, and emphasizes the vital relationships among buildings, ecosystems, and ecosystem services.
  • Health and Human Experience: Focuses on providing high-quality indoor environments that enhance productivity, decrease absenteeism and improve the building’s value.
  • Innovation: Recognizes innovative building features and sustainable building practices and strategies.
  • Regional Impacts: Encourages project teams to focus on their local environmental priorities.

Applying strategies in the above LEED categories earns the project points, and the number of points the project earns determines whether the project achieves LEED Certification and, if so, the LEED Certification rating level (i.e., Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Certified).

The USGBC and many other organizations and agencies promote the many benefits of being LEED Certified, including:

  • Reducing environmental impacts and associated costs;
  • Improving indoor air quality, including reducing allergens and respiratory irritants that can cause asthma and respiratory allergies;
  • Using fewer resources and minimizing waste;
  • Reducing energy and water use, which reduces utility costs;
  • Reducing operating costs;
  • Promoting environmental and sustainability education and literacy for students;
  • Obtaining third-party verification that a project will truly save the district energy, water, and other resources;
  • Increasing daylight in indoor spaces, which can lead to increased productivity among students and employees;
  • Eliminating the use of harmful chemicals in paints and other finishings;
  • Reducing pollution and harmful emissions and improving outdoor air quality;
  • Engaging in construction, renovation, and/or upgrades in a manner consistent with the district’s mission, philosophy, and core values;
  • Sending a message to the community that the district is dedicated to sustainability and reducing harmful environmental impacts, which can promote positive public relations; and
  • Potentially qualifying for tax or other incentives related to various green elements that may be included in the project.

Possible drawbacks of LEED Certification include that it may lengthen the planning stages and cost of the project, and the fees associated with just the LEED registration and certification process.

Another consideration for districts that are analyzing whether LEED is right for them is that California has its own green building standards code that applies to the construction of new buildings or portions of new buildings and additions and alterations to existing buildings in the state.  This green building standards code, commonly referred to as “CalGreen” (Part 11 of Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations), has similar goals and benefits to those of LEED, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, promoting environmentally responsible, cost-effective, and healthier places to live and work, and reducing energy and water consumption.  Districts, therefore, should consider whether their sustainability, environmental, energy, and other green building goals can be met through CalGreen alone, or whether the additional step of LEED Certification is right for them.

The benefits of being LEED Certified can be significant, and carefully considering whether this step is right for your district is recommended whenever construction, renovation, or system upgrades are on the horizon.

LCW Partner, Christopher Fallon, is a LEED Green Associate, meaning he has been accredited by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) as a professional with extensive knowledge of green building practices, construction, and operations.  Chris is available to provide advice and counsel to districts contemplating LEED Certification.

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