Why Go From LEED Gold to Platinum? 5 Lessons from Chicago’s 111 South Wacker


By William A. Truszkowski

What’s the payoff from taking a high-rise from green to greener? More than you might think.

When the 111 South Wacker building in downtown Chicago opened in 2005, it was one of the world’s greenest high-rise office buildings, earning LEED Gold certification for its core and shell, followed by LEED Gold certification for its operations and maintenance. But as the building approached its 10th year in business, its owners invested in upgrades needed to achieve LEED Platinum certification — the highest level available under the LEED system.

This investment begs the question: What is the ROI achieved?

As illustrated in this video, “24/7 LEED Platinum at 111 South Wacker: This is It,” the upgrades to the building have meant even more upgrades to the daily life of its tenants and their businesses.

Here are a few reasons to advance from LEED Gold certification to LEED Platinum:

  1. Differentiate the property to potential tenants. So many Class A high-rise office buildings have Gold certification today that the designation doesn’t really stand out in tenants’ minds anymore. For example, there are only a handful of LEED Platinum office buildings in downtown Chicago.
  2. Elevate the building’s prestige. 111 South Wacker is arguably the most desirable office destination in Chicago, given its “corner-of-Main-and-Main” location, striking façade and range of amenities. Anything less than the highest level of green certification would fail to capture the same essence.
  3. Save energy. According to a study sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED Platinum buildings use 40 percent less energy per square foot than the base building code requirement, while the average reduction for LEED Gold buildings is closer to 30 percent. Since energy costs are typically passed on to tenants, efficiency improvement translates into lower occupancy costs.
  4. Recognize continuous improvement. LEED certification works on a point system for a range of environmentally-friendly features and management practices. When 111 South Wacker was certified in 2010, the achievable points fell into the 60 to 79 range of Gold. By continuing to identify ways to operate more sustainably over the past five years, the building’s owners raised the achievable point score to more than 80 points, the range for Platinum certification.
  5. Contribute to corporate social responsibility commitments. Many tenants seeking trophy building space are the same corporations that have set ambitious environmental sustainability goals for achievement by the year 2020. By locating in a green building with LEED Platinum certification, tenants can make a stronger statement on their commitment to sustainability to their investors, employees and other key stakeholders.

It may be possible to earn LEED Platinum certification by simply checking the right boxes, without any underlying commitment to doing the right thing. But like anything, success is much easier when you believe in what you’re doing. The oft-cited financial gains of higher rent, occupancy and lease renewal rates are good reasons to operate a property at the highest green standards. But results will always be better with ownership and tenant alignment on the intrinsic value in reducing environmental impacts and fostering the well-being of the people with offices within it.

Learn more about 111 South Wacker’s transformation by clicking on the link here.

Image credit: Telos Group

William A. Truszkowski is Senior Vice President of the Telos Group.

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