LEED logoBy Chris Rundall, PE, LEED AP & Jeremy Beard, PE, LEED AP O+M

Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) has been applied to more than 7,000 projects in the United States and 30 countries1).  From its simple beginnings in 1994, LEED has evolved into the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) comprehensive rating system.

Even with so much momentum, LEED certification takes a back seat to more popular energy concepts like solar, wind, and hybrid and electric vehicles.2)  According to Navigant Research’s 2013 “Energy and Environment Consumer Survey”, LEED certification received the lowest favorability rating—22%—out of 10 clean-energy concepts.

One reason may be its cost.  Achieving LEED certification is an additional capital expenditure during a project’s design phase. The USGBC charges money for reviewing project plans, specifications and credits.  This cost, combined with paying staff to manage LEED credits, can be significant.

Then, why should owners and developers pursue LEED certification?  From Baseline’s experience, there are numerous benefits.  Green buildings use less energy, consume fewer resources, lower operating and maintenance costs, lower greenhouse gas emissions and have higher occupant satisfaction.  Plus, it’s a certification that is a requirement of many U.S. federal agencies, as well as state and local governments.  These entities often provide incentives for sustainable construction.

NRC Cropped

Achieving LEED Silver Certification — U.S. Natural Resource Center

For example, LEED Silver Certification was awarded to the U.S. Natural Resource Center (NRC) in Salida, Colorado.  Baseline performed civil engineering services on this project.  NRC consolidates Salida’s six resource management agencies on a single campus to reduce operating costs.  Participating agencies include the Colorado State Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.   NRC is a national model for collating federal and state agencies.  Some of the features that contributed to LEED Silver Certification were:

  • Doubling vegetated open space
  • Reducing potable water use inside the building by over 45%
  • Achieving and energy cost savings of 30.5% over ASHRAE 90.1
  • Diverting over 95% of construction waste from the landfill
  • Sourcing and manufacturing over 26% of material cost within 500 miles of the site
  • Purchasing green power to offset 71% of the building’s estimated annual electricity use
Earning industry acclaim for LEED measures in design and construction -- Lowell Whiteman School (Photo courtesy of Ewers Architecture)

Earning industry acclaim for LEED measures in design and construction — Lowell Whiteman School (Photo courtesy of Ewers Architecture)

Not all projects achieve LEED certification.  Many developers and owners implement LEED design features to improve their buildings’ efficiencies and make a statement.  One example is the Lowell Whiteman School outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Lowell is an experiential learning school emphasizing nature and sustainability.  The school wanted to follow LEED guidelines on a new project to reflect its core values.

Baseline was the civil engineer on the design team for the boys’ dormitory.  The project was led by Ewers Architecture.   Some of the LEED design features conveying Lowell’s mission and values were:

  • Passive solar design
  • Building north wall into hill for earth berming
  • Radiant floor heating
  • Low-flow, water fixtures (including 1/8 gallon flush urinals)
  • On-site water collection and filtration
  • Design for integrating future photovoltaic panels
  • Low-VOC finishes
  • Fiber cement exterior siding at first floor
  • Use of beetle-kill pine

These features earned Lowell industry acclaim for success in sustainable design and construction.

Owners and developers can implement LEED design features to gain building efficiencies, or they can take their buildings all the way through to LEED certification.  To determine appropriate strategies for either option, contact chris@baselinecorp.com or jeremy@baselinecorp.com.

1Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”  (Wikipedia)

2”Americans’ view of clean energy rebounds” (Denver Business Journal, Mark Harden 1-2-14)