LEED: The Green Path to Silver, Gold or Platinum

When someone says “LEED building,” does it conjure up images of sleek, ultra-modern, uber-efficient and eco-groovy? Or maybe you wonder “lead…what?” You wouldn’t be alone. Like most people, unless you have some affiliation with a LEED building, you may not be aware if one exists in your community, or even what it means to be LEED-certified.

Walk along the Eureka Waterfront, past the busy activity of shopping and restaurants, toward the quieter end of rustic-looking docks and industrial operations. There’s a sprawling plaza and freshly planted landscaping surrounding the new Fishermen’s Terminal Building, the City’s coda of waterfront redevelopment activities. Greenway coordinated the LEED process, working to make it a LEED-Gold certified building, and if it achieves that certification level, it will be one of only a few in the region.

Gold-certified? LEED? What does that mean?

LEED, that’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is meant to encourage adoption of green technologies and green building practices. Here are a few highlights:

  • Used internationally, but developed and overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council
  • Buildings become “LEED-certified” through a bureaucratic process of analysis and documentation
  • Certification is divided into tiers: “Certified,” “Silver,” “Gold,” and “Platinum”
  • Tiers are based on points awarded for meeting specific criteria determined by the LEED program
  • Several different LEED programs exist, each geared to different types of construction (for instance, New Construction, Schools, Existing Developments, Neighborhoods, Core and Shell, Commercial Interiors, etc.)
  • LEED buildings must be certified through a specific, documented process and overseen by a LEED “accredited professional” (AP)

So what makes a building like the Fishermen’s Terminal achieve a Gold rating under LEED, and why is that so noteworthy?

The building’s design and construction is intended to efficiently use energy and resources, create a healthier work environment, provide alternative transportation options, and more. Many materials used were locally harvested and manufactured, recycled, or reused. Over 95% of the wood used was certified sustainable lumber by the Forest Stewardship Council, and a large part came from local forests. Interior materials such as paint and tile adhesive were selected for their low toxicity. Energy and water efficient fixtures were used, and a large (60KW) array of photovoltaic panels will soon be installed. The building’s mechanical and electrical systems were also tested (a process called “commissioning”) to ensure proper installation and effective operation.

Exemplary for this region, its (pending) certification will help to highlight the benefits of LEED certification in our community. With benefits, though, there are also costs and challenges. For someone wishing to develop a LEED building, the main constraint is budgetary – costly green building materials, added transaction costs to source materials, outside experts needed to perform certain analyses and other work. An added downside is the common response to cut costs elsewhere (buying cheaper, poor quality materials or hiring under-bidding contractors).

But, some of these challenges we can address locally. We can support local contractors who have or want to gain specialized expertise in green building. We can encourage local distributors to source or supply LEED-qualified materials. And we can publicly appreciate the additional effort that goes in to making a building LEED and the benefits it brings to our community.