Since then, USGBC has grown to 76 chapters with 13,000 member companies and other stakeholders, along with a roster of more than 181,000 credentialed LEED professionals. According to USGBC, currently more than 4.5 billion square feet of construction space have gone through the LEED system.
Just by the numbers, LEED has clearly gone mainstream. Acceptance by leading global companies like Mariott is another mainstream marker. Even the U.S. Department of Defense has adopted LEED standards to help fulfill longstanding energy conservation mandates, despite opposition from the usual suspects (yes, Sen. Inhofe, we mean you).
This poses an interesting problem. If LEED certification is the new normal, how can it make your business stand out from the crowd?
Depending on the sector, property owners can seek LEED certification for work on existing structures as well as new construction.
The system was designed for accessibility, so instead of establishing one blanket level of certification there is a basic "certified" category and three successive levels of higher achievement, the now-familiar Silver, Gold and Platinum certifications.
The level of certification is awarded through a point system, which is broken down into six categories. The Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality categories are self-descriptive. The sixth category, Innovation in Design, serves as a catchall for measures that don't quite fit the other categories, which helps to keep the system flexible and open to new approaches.
...Businesses and organizations across the globe use LEED to increase the efficiency of their buildings, freeing up valuable resources that can be used to create new jobs, attract and retain top talent, expand operations and invest in emerging technologies.
LEED buildings have faster lease-up rates and may qualify for a host of incentives like tax rebates and zoning allowances. Not to mention they retain higher property values.
That's because while the LEED system sets goals, there is considerable flexibility in the strategies, products and materials that achieve those goals. Even if we're looking at a future where non-LEED is the exception and not the rule, there is still plenty of room for differentiation.
For example, just last month Triple Pundit profiled the family-owned Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, California, which is aiming for LEED Platinum certification. To earn LEED points, cement its cutting-edge image and satisfy growing customer demand for EV charging, the hotel features an advanced energy storage and EV charging platform from the company Green Charge Networks. To ice the cake, the storage system will cut the hotel's expensive utility "demand charge" usage by up to 50 percent.
Another example of a high-visibility LEED strategy is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's new billion-dollar LEED Gold office complex in Virginia. It includes a number of LEED-qualifying features designed to educate visitors and raise public awareness about sustainable design, such as a green-roofed visitors center as well as "green screens" for one of the parking lots, and landscaping designed for water conservation and natural stormwater management.
At the other end of the visibility spectrum, the iconic Empire State Building achieved LEED Gold certification through a series of energy efficiency upgrades that are all but invisible, in keeping with its historic status.
As for the Department of Defense, let's note for the record that it adopted LEED in 2010, only to see the Gold and Platinum aspects of the program restricted by Congress late in 2011. However, an independent 2013 LEED report provided substantial evidence of benefits to taxpayers for resuming Gold and Platinum. Unrestricted LEED goals were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2014, which President Barack Obama signed in January.
Image courtesy of UL Environment
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.