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7 Strategies for Achieving LEED Certification

By Sarah Lozanova

Want to learn more about integrating LEED into a sustainability report? We're bringing our GRI certified sustainability reporting course to Las Vegas and including a special section on LEED. This course is hosted by ARIA- MGM Resorts International and will be complemented with information on LEED requirements, Energy Efficiency, and a tour of the Aria's efficiency measures! For more info or to sign up, click here.

Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design (LEED), the certification standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council, is transforming how many buildings are constructed, remodeled, maintained and operated. The program utilizes numerous categories: sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental quality, and materials and resources. Is the building close to public transportation? Does it use locally-sourced building materials? These are all important questions when seeking LEED certification.

Achieving LEED certification is a powerful tool for for companies undertaking Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability reporting, which measures an organization's economic, social and environmental impacts and communicates them to a diverse group of stakeholders. GRI reports identify ways to improve in these three areas, and the built environment significantly impacts all three. So, pursuing LEED certification can be an avenue for achieving goals established from GRI reporting.

Indoor environmental quality, for example, impacts employee well being by providing high indoor air quality and ample natural daylighting.  This can boost the bottom line by improving productivity, reducing absenteeism and lowering operating costs. If higher indoor air quality is achieved through the use of nontoxic finishes and less electricity is used to light the facility, then this also reduces the environmental impact of the facility.

With these things in mind, use these seven strategies if you want to achieve LEED certification and meet your GRI goals. 

1. Set LEED-certification targets that correlate with GRI goals

There are four levels of LEED certification: certified (40-49 points), silver (50 to 59 points), gold (60 to 79 points) and platinum (80+ points). The desired certification level and associated credits  may correlate with goals resulting from GRI reporting.

For example, if your organization wishes to boost energy efficiency, then you may want to maximize passive solar gains, use zoned HVAC controls for different areas of the building, and install daylight-responsive controls. This is an opportunity to optimize your organization's built environment as it relates to social, environmental and financial performance.

2. Use lifecycle value engineering

When designing the project, determine expenses over the lifecycle of the building and how they impact building performance. Lifecycle value engineering, instead of initial-cost value engineering, takes a longer view on features that may have a higher upfront cost -- but will rapidly pay for themselves. Some money-saving features may reduce energy or water use enough to pay for themselves in reduced operating costs within a matter of months, despite a greater upfront cost. This perspective also better enables the team to align with GRI tracking and the triple bottom line.

3. Ensure the project team is on board with goals

If all members of your team aren't working collectively toward common goals, it will be much more difficult to achieve the desired result. Share LEED and GRI goals and outcomes with everyone on the team, including architects, engineers, developers, subcontractors, project managers, landscape designers, etc., and be open to their ideas and feedback.

4. Set high goals to spur creativity

Some organizations set a higher stretch goal for the level of LEED certification in the planning phase to stimulate creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. This is especially helpful during early brainstorming sessions. If it turns out that some ideas are cost prohibitive or don't pass a cost/benefit analysis, plans can be tapered back.

5. Take a collaborative approach

"The earlier you think about building green, the less it costs," says Rob Smith, president of e2 Homes. "To pursue LEED certification, the first thing we did was have a design charrette.  It all starts with a brainstorming session to find better ways of doing things that will save money and improve efficiency. Let’s build better and let’s build smarter."

A design charrette is a great opportunity to bring various stakeholders together, including colleagues working on GRI goals and tracking, to ensure a seamless integration of this project with larger organizational goals impacting the triple bottom line.

6. Set an adequate budget

Higher levels of LEED certification typically involve higher expenditures, although some of these green features will pay off over time with lower operating expenses. Establish a realistic budget that can cover your project, along with some unexpected expenses. This ensures that you won't have to cut corners at the end in undesirable ways.

7. Hire LEED-accredited professionals

The USGBC has a process to determine a level of knowledge and familiarity with the LEED-certification process and demonstrated knowledge in green building principles and practices. Having LEED-accredited professionals (LEED APs) on your team will help streamline the design and LEED certification process, particularly if there is significant past experience.

Image credit: Flickr/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District

Sarah Lozanova headshot

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.

Read more stories by Sarah Lozanova