A Cost-Effective Strategy for Achieving LEED® Certification
August 01, 2004

By Staff
Appeared in Real Estate Journal

Sustainable design conserves natural resources and offers financial and quality-of-life benefits associated with a high-performance building. The true mark of a “green building” is certification under the LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™, which was developed by the members of the U.S. Green Building Council ( as a voluntary national standard for sustainable, high-performance buildings.

Many owners believe that a green building is too costly to consider. Yet a well-designed building can easily meet all prerequisites and achieve LEED® certification. In fact, a number of strategies are particularly cost-effective because they not only meet LEED® requirements, they are also required by local building codes or provide other benefits, such as enhanced tenant and occupant appeal, reduced owner liability or improved aesthetics.

The LEED® System awards up to 69 points under Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation & Design Process. There are four certification levels, with basic certification requiring a minimum of 26 points.

First the project must fulfill seven prerequisites. Construction methods must prevent soil erosion and sedimentation, which otherwise occur in stormwater runoff; usually this is also required by local municipalities. A minimum level of commissioning is required, which can be included in the base building specifications and, hence, the bid price, if testing specs are properly written. The building must meet minimum energy performance criteria, which is also required in New York per the New York State Energy Conservation Code.

Meeting the prerequisite for CFC reduction in HVAC equipment is the best design choice because CFC-based refrigerants will be phased out by 2010 and it doesn’t cost more to specify the alternative refrigerants.. The project must meet the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) voluntary Standard for indoor air quality; meeting this standard also reduces owner liability. A space must be allotted in the building for storage and collection of recyclables. Finally, smoking should be prohibited indoors.

Having met the prerequisites, it is relatively easy to rack up the minimum 26 points. Following are some examples.

Sustainable Sites & Water…Do not develop on prime farmland, land that is lower than five feet below the 100-year flood line, an endangered species habitat, within 100 feet of wetlands or parkland. Provide facilities for alternative transportation, such as bike racks and a shower facility, parking for alternative fuel vehicles, and preferred parking for carpools, or locate near public transportation. Reduce site disturbance using plantings or permeable surfaces.

Employ rooftop gardens and permeable paving systems to manage stormwater. Select a highly reflective, light-colored roof to reduce the heat-island effect. Select exterior lighting fixtures with zero direct beam shields to reduce light pollution. Use indigenous plants in the landscape to eliminate irrigation requirements.

Energy & Atmosphere…Using minimum energy performance as a baseline, improve efficiency by at least 10% using time-of-day or temperature controls. Employ third-party commissioning, which ensures that the building operates as intended; moreover, added commissioning cost yields a payback in lower operating costs over the building’s lifecycle. Use alternatives to HCFC-based refrigerants or fire suppression systems. Select renewable energy from service providers offering this option.

Materials & Resources…Increase the recycled content of the building, for example, using steel, carpets, drywall and other general construction materials with recycled content. In renovation projects, maintain 75% of the existing shell.
Indoor Environmental Quality…A prudent design will enable a building to provide a thermally comfortable workplace. . Most LEED® certified projects find the use of local or regional materials another easy point to comply with. In the bid specifications, require the contractor to incorporate a construction management plan to maintain indoor air quality during construction- this is often already performed to protect the construction materials.

Finally, select a consultant with a LEED® accredited professional on the project team to achieve a point under innovation and design.

Many owners believe that a green building is more costly. Yet, a high-performance building reduces operating costs over the building’s lifecycle and yields further quality of life benefits, which are attractive to owners and tenants alike. And there are many more ways to gain LEED® points. Through cost-effective design and bid specification strategies, it is possible to achieve the mark of excellence—LEED® certification.


Susan Kessler P.E. , an associate partner of Syska Hennessy Group, New York City, is a LEED® accredited professional.