LEED-certified buildings reach record

| by Melissa Rappaport Schifman
LEED-certified buildings reach record

As a LEED AP and one who works with a firm that certifies existing buildings under LEED-EBOM (EBOM = Existing Buildings, Operations, and Maintenance), I am particularly excited about a green building trend that may have gone unnoticed.

According to a USGBC announcement:

As of this month, cumulative square footage of LEED-certified existing buildings surpassed LEED-certified new construction for the first time. As the U.S. is home to more than 60 billion square feet of existing commercial buildings, most of which are energy guzzlers and water sieves, this trend serves as a promising indicator of our progress.

This is very encouraging news! It is one thing to embark on a new construction project and decide to go ahead with LEED certification. The incremental costs, if there are any, are pretty easy to justify. For example, a dual-flush toilet does not cost more than an inefficient toilet, so it's an easy decision to reduce water usage. For an existing building, however, there is an incremental cost to upgrading to efficient water fixtures, because the building already has toilets.

For this very reason, when LEED for Existing Buildings was first introduced, I was a little skeptical that it would be easily adopted in the marketplace. I thought it would be a tough sell to commercial property owners to make the required investment.

I am thrilled to see that this is not the case, because I believe retrofitting existing biggest is one of the biggest opportunities to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. While renewable energy is on a great growth streak, it is still a very small piece of the pie, and it will not get big enough soon enough. We have to reduce our energy and water consumption and improve the health of our buildings. Conservation, while not that sexy or interesting, really is one of the most important keys to both improving our environment and jump-starting the economy. And the growth of LEED-EB certified buildings goes a long way toward that vision.

I also believe that investing in LEED-EBOM does pay back financially; indeed, several buildings in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that were recently certified have seen significant reductions in their utility, maintenance, grounds, and cleaning expenses. Enough, I have found, to show an impressive return on their investment.

The other huge benefit of LEED-EBOM is on the operations and maintenance side of the equation. While LEED for New Construction is laudable, how people occupy and use the building can have a much bigger and longer-lasting impact on the environment. So, as a person who cares about the long-term, I think LEED-EBOM is by far the best rating system to come out of the USGBC. Let's keep that trend going!

Melissa Rappaport Schifman
Melissa provides sustainability consulting services for businesses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Melissa is also the founder of Green Intention LLC, where she writes and blogs about her experience in getting her own home LEED Gold certified--and then trying to live more sustainably in the home. She chairs her congregation’s Task Force for Sustainability, has her MBA, Master's in Public Policy, and is a LEED AP for Homes. www

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