State of the Green Building Industry
Above: Pharmavite headquarters, maker of dietary supplements MegaFood and Nature Made; LEED v4 Certified and reflect the company’s mission of promoting better health worldwide. © Eric Laignel
There’s renewed commitment from companies and organizations to run their business and operations in more sustainable ways. As communities and consumers begin to demand more from organizations to do more to support their communities, many are not only including sustainability in corporate social responsibility plans but are also are setting ambitious goals to reduce their impacts on the environment. And they’re making real strides in achieving these goals.
For over 25 years, The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has supported its members – which include corporations, small businesses, government entities and nonprofits – to achieve their green building goals through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. LEED is the world’s most widely used green building rating system and promotes the use of strategies that reduce environmental impact, enhance human health and support economic development. Currently, there are over 102,000 LEED certified projects across nearly 180 countries and territories.
USGBC continues to evolve LEED, adapting the program based on public feedback and the latest in green building innovation. Today’s version, LEED v4.1, raises the bar on building standards to address energy efficiency, water conservation, site selection, material selection, day lighting and waste reduction. LEED prioritizes sustainable materials, helping manufacturers to design, produce and deliver building materials that reduce a building’s environmental impact.
Companies and organizations are seeing the benefits of adopting LEED certification into their sustainability plans. With LEED, certified buildings are consuming fewer resources, reducing operating costs, increasing value and creating safer and healthier environments for its occupants.
But the newest version of LEED goes beyond design and construction of the building and takes into consideration the building’s most important asset – the people living, working and using these buildings. In fact, LEED v4.1 supports projects to implement sustainable and healthy building practices to realize environmental, economic, social and community benefits for decades to come. The specific focus on social equity ensures that buildings are not considered in isolation of their communities but prioritize access and inclusiveness for all and ensures buildings are resilient from natural and unnatural disturbances.
Rethinking our Environments
Over the last year, we all had to rethink the environments in which we live and work. USGBC also reflected on the events of 2020 and in response launched its Healthy Economy Strategy, a path for how healthy places and LEED will support recovery efforts as businesses, governments and communities prepare for a post-pandemic world.
To support its members as business and workplaces reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, USGBC released the six LEED Safety First Pilot Credits. These credits outline sustainable best practices related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace reoccupancy, HVAC and plumbing operations, social equity as well as pandemic preparedness and response and support project teams working toward reentry and safe operation.
More than 150 projects have started using the LEED Safety First pilot credits, such as Miron Construction, a century-old private company. It is using the credits in its Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay offices, for which it is pursuing LEED Silver certification, and is also implementing them in its LEED-certified offices in Neenah, Wisconsin and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The credits will continue to evolve as more communities re-open and as science and information are updated. The LEED Safety First Pilot Credits were designed to be agile so USGBC can update them as we learn more about the virus that causes COVID-19, while also incorporating membership feedback and best practices.
The Race to Net Zero
We’re also seeing companies make commitments to become carbon neutral as the threat of climate change continues to become more prevalent in our everyday lives. Building and construction account for 39 percent of the carbon emissions in the world, according to the World Green Building Council, and the use of energy and water in buildings emits 28 percent of emissions.
The wider green building community is taking notice and setting its sights squarely on zero. Industry groups like Architecture 2030 created the 2030 Challenge back in 2006, and the engineering arm of the building industry issued its own call to zero in the Structural Engineers 2050 Commitment Program (“SE2050”).
USGBC developed LEED Zero, a complement to LEED that verifies the achievement of net zero goals. LEED Zero Carbon recognizes buildings or spaces operating with net zero carbon emissions from energy consumption and occupant transportation to carbon emissions avoided or offset over a period of 12 months. Projects can earn certification in LEED Zero Carbon, LEED Zero Energy, LEED Zero Water and LEED Zero Waste.
And we’re seeing more and more decision-makers ranging from state governments to major corporations pledging to go net zero or net positive. Some of the first LEED Zero certified projects include Entegrity Partners in Arkansas, Discovery Elementary School in Virginia, and even the Curitiba headquarters of Brazilian engineering and green building consulting firm Petinelli.
Corporations are also being recognized for their efforts in taking these pledges and turning them into action. During the 2021 USGBC Live conference in June, Colgate-Palmolive’s Burlington, N.J., facility was recognized for becoming the first site in the world to achieve LEED Zero certification in all four LEED Zero categories.
For decades, the green building industry has demonstrated how sustainable practices are not just beneficial for the environment but also shown how adopting these measures can improve the efficiency and costs effectiveness of an organization’s operations. It’s an exciting time for the building sector. As more groups adopt these measures, the industry will continue to push the envelope, creating innovative ways to build in a smarter and more sustainable way. USGBC will continue to evolve LEED and provide tools to support the industry.
Article by Deisy Verdinez, who supports the US Green Building Council’s communications efforts, working with media and partners to amplify USGBC’s message. Deisy have more than a decade of media and communications experience and has worked with prominent international organizations, nonprofits and federal government agencies.