Reasons for LEED

Earlier this year, I was part of a design panel where my colleagues, consultants, and our client presented to the public the new joint venture between the municipality and the board of education for a new municipal complex and site development. I am particularly passionate about this project because the building is not only in the same town that I work in, but it’s also the town I live in. It is also targeted to achieve a LEED Silver certification and there is a possibility that it could achieve LEED Gold. The pursuit of LEED certification for this project is especially exciting for me for several reasons. I am currently pursuing my Master of Architecture degree with a concentration in sustainable design, I helped organize a formal sustainability committee at Spiezle to harness the talents and interests of our capable staff, and am now chair of the committee. I also chair the AIA NJ Committee on the Environment and have been an active member since 2022.

On the presentation panel, my role was to speak about the sustainable design initiatives for the project and the process for LEED registration and certification, as well as answer questions about the credits this project was pursuing. I felt prepared until a simple question caught me off guard:

“Why should the community care about LEED? Why does it matter? How does it benefit us?”

Surprisingly, I somewhat stammered through an answer, even though I have years of experience, data and education to readily draw upon.  Looking back on what I said and how I responded, I felt compelled to revisit this exchange after the meeting and write down my thoughts in hopes that next time, when I am faced with a similar question, I can more articulately share my excitement and understanding about what it means to work on a LEED certified building.

The first question asked about publicly supported projects is always about cost, which is a fair and appropriate place to start.  There is a lot of differing information out there, but what people should know is that sustainable planning, design, and construction pays for itself! Publicly funded projects may raise concerns about tax impacts, and while people may think a green building might be more expensive, the upfront cost isn’t much. The average cost for LEED implementation is only 1-3% of a project’s total budget and the typical payback is 12-36 months.1 LEED certification and status is also independently verified, which ensures credibility and encourages fiscal responsibility.

Beyond the savings related to construction and maintenance, there are also embodied cost savings associate with improvements in operations. LEED buildings that pursue the enhanced indoor air quality credit reduce absenteeism by an average of 1.6 days a year for every full time occupant2. While that might not seem like much for an individual, in a building with over 200 employees, it equates to one person’s entire year of work! It has also been shown that people in sustainably designed buildings, which typically include more connectivity to nature, better lighting and acoustic controls, are generally more comfortable, and employees are notably more productive and more satisfied.  This improves both recruitment and retention, which is critical since people are the most important and most valuable asset of any organization.  In addition to saving money through employee attendance, LEED buildings can also reduce utility costs. Energy consumption in a building with a LEED certification is reduced by 25% annually and water consumption is reduced by 11%.3

LEED buildings also reduce carbon emissions. The built environment is estimated to be responsible for 40% of carbon emissions globally ever year. LEED certified projects have reduced over 80 million tons of carbon over the past 25 years. This stems partly from the reduced operating expenditure but also from using recycled materials. The specification for our new municipal project dictates that at least 30% of the materials selected will be recycled, salvaged, or considered ethically sourced by a third-party verification.

In addition to using recycled materials, in the case of our particular project, the site itself is being recycled. The new municipal building will be earning another LEED credit by rejuvenating a blighted site that once housed a bustling strip mall but has now been abandoned for years. A once giant expanse of impermeable cement and asphalt will soon be replaced with rain gardens filled with native plants that offer four seasons of blooming vegetation and far less impervious surfaces. The native plants will not only help storm water management but also provide habitat for birds and other pollinators.

Investing in LEED-certified buildings not only demonstrates our commitment to sustainability but it also offers tangible benefits to our community. From cost savings and improved occupant comfort to significant reductions in carbon emissions, LEED projects pave the way for a greener, healthier future. I’ll have these answers at the ready the next time I’m asked about the impacts of our sustainable design initiatives, and I invite everyone to continue the conversation about how we can create a more sustainable tomorrow.


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