Mike Opitz PE, LEED AP
Certification Manager, LEED for Existing Buildings
U.S. Green Building Council
Facility managers are increasingly being exposed to phrases like “high performance building operations” and “green building operations”. Those who explore further are likely to encounter “LEED” and “LEED-EB” as well. What are these terms all about, and why are they worthy of attention from building operators?
This month introduces a new, recurring feature in the FM Link Sustainability series: frequently asked questions about LEED-EB. We start the series with the fundamentals, explaining what LEED-EB is and what it can do for you. In future installments we’ll dive into the details of how to efficiently work through the LEED-EB certification process.
What is USGBC?
USGBC is the U.S. Green Building Council, and since all LEED programs in the United States are developed and implemented by USGBC, if you’re considering using LEED you should understand what this organization is and what it does. From the USGBC Web site.
- The U.S. Green Building Council is the nation’s foremost coalition of leaders from across the building industry working to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.
- The U.S. Green Building Council is leading a national consensus for producing a new generation of buildings that deliver high performance inside and out.
- Council members work together to develop LEED products and resources, the Greenbuild annual International Conference and Expo, policy guidance, and educational and marketing tools that support the adoption of sustainable building.
- Members also forge strategic alliances with key industry and research organizations and federal, state and local government agencies to transform the built environment.
The USGBC represents the entire buildings industry on environmental building matters, with member organizations ranging from architects, engineers, and builders to owners, real estate firms, and technical consultants.
What is LEED?
LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” and is shorthand for the USGBC’s LEED Green Building Rating System family of standards. The LEED standards are national, voluntary, consensus-based guidelines for developing and operating high-performance, environmentally sustainable buildings. LEED was created in order to:
- define “green building” by establishing a common standard of measurement
- promote integrated, whole-building design and operational practices
- recognize environmental leadership in the building industry
- stimulate green competition
- raise consumer awareness of green building benefits
- transform the building market
According to USGBC and LEED, “green building” is not just about making a building more nature-friendly (though that’s certainly a key part). Green buildings have systems that work reliably and properly, meeting the occupants’ needs and accomplishing the organization’s mission while consuming a minimum amount of resources. In other words, a green building is also a high-performance building, which means it has lower operational costs and more satisfied, productive occupants.
What is LEED-EB?
The LEED family includes several products targeted at specific sectors of the buildings market. The original LEED product was LEED-NC, LEED for New Construction, intended to address the design and construction phases of commercial buildings. Its main users are building owners, architects, engineers, and builders. A LEED-NC certified building has incorporated sustainability into its design and construction, and thus can potentially perform more sustainably than typical buildings in the marketplace. Addressing this phase of a building’s life is important because many irreversible decisions with impacts on sustainability are made during the design and construction processes.
More recently the USGBC released LEED-EB, LEED for Existing Buildings, which targets the operations & maintenance phase of commercial buildings. LEED-EB aims to maximize operational efficiency while minimizing environmental impacts. Its main users are building owners and facilities managers. Since LEED-EB is based on actual building O&M practices, a LEED-EB certified building is actually performing more sustainably than its peers. Addressing the operations phase of a building’s life is critical because on a life-cycle basis that’s typically when most of the environmental impacts occur. Moreover, improvements in this phase lead to actual, concrete, measurable benefits.
For a more detailed overview of the LEED-EB program, you can download free brochures, an introductory slide show, and case studies here.
What issues does LEED-EB address?
LEED-EB embraces all the main aspects of ongoing building operations and maintenance that have significant impact on building occupants or the environment. Examples include:
- energy efficiency
- water efficiency
- mechanical systems performance
- whole-building cleaning and maintenance issues including chemical use
- ongoing indoor air quality
- alternative transportation programs for building occupants
- recycling programs and facilities
- exterior maintenance programs
- green purchasing practices
- management of toxic substances
- systems upgrades to meet green building energy, water, IAQ, and lighting performance standards
The LEED-EB rating system defines all LEED-EB requirements in detail. You can download a free copy of that document here.
What’s the difference between a “green” building and a “high performance” building?
Very little. In fact, many people in the green building movement consider a green building and a high-performance building to be the same thing. This is because most of the building operational strategies that are good for the environment are really about ensuring the building is working properly. Overall, this means having a building that:
- provides a safe, comfortable, and pleasant environment for its occupants
- does not needlessly waste energy, water, or other materials and supplies, and uses the resources it does need efficiently
- has mechanical systems that are installed and operated according to their design intent and are well-maintained
- is equipped for measurement of performance over time to allow feedback and continuous improvement
In short, many of the things that make a building green are really about making the building good. Viewed this way, LEED-EB is largely about combining best practices from all the main building operational areas and implementing them in your building.
Why should I green my building?
Because buildings that are good for the environment are good for the owners and occupants too. As explained above, having a green building means having a high-performance building, and high performance is good for the bottom line in any organization. In this sense you can think of LEED-EB as a road map for delivering economically profitable, environmentally responsible, healthy, productive places to live and work.
Detailed studies of some of the benefits of green building are available; you can download some of them here.
Even if I green my building, why should I certify it with LEED-EB?
Although greening a building’s operations can improve virtually any building, different strategies are available, and they can be done in different ways and to varying degrees. LEED-EB provides a set of uniform, consistent standards that enable you to know exactly how well you’re performing. This allows private building owners to increase the market value of their buildings and distinguish them from competitors. Getting certified means the building’s performance has been reviewed by an independent third party.
More generally, LEED-EB certification provides a performance benchmark that allows you to track how well you’re doing over time and take corrective action when necessary. Since LEED-EB certification has several performance tiers (certified, silver, gold, and platinum), getting certified also allows you to easily set concrete goals for improvement over time.
In the next FAQ
This FAQ has provided an introduction to what LEED-EB is, why it is helpful to building owners and managers, and why you should explore greening and certifying your building. Next time we’ll focus on how to get started in the LEED-EB certification process itself.