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October 11, 2007

Green Design and LEED

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) seems to be the coming trend for quite a few businesses. Some companies seem to just be jumping on the bandwagon so they don't get left behind, some are using it as a marketing play and then some see it as their part toward being environmentally friendly. The LEED Certification process is a valuable tool to gaining recognition of your achievement. Fundamentally it is a marketing tool though. Why worry about meeting a LEED standard if the marketing bonus has no value to your business. The important question you must ask yourself as a company is why you are looking for a LEED build-out.

It is easy to find reports and research saying that the cost of building LEED is no more expensive than traditional construction. This is true for ground up buildings. For Interior fit-outs or renovations (the vast majority of projects) this is far from the truth. Due to the overall scale and budget of these projects it is near impossible for the added certification and validation costs to blend into the budget background or be factored out by other design changes. Putting the extra cost down as a marketing expense is the easiest way to justify a LEED project. Almost all other methods lead to the extra expense being non-justified.

The popular environmental news magazines and stories have companies believing that cannot be green without being LEED. This is the farthest thing from the truth. Utility companies and large manufacturers are the clearest example of this. These companies are constantly striving to do their part for the environment through small and big initiatives. Whether it is capturing vent stack CO2 for oil recovery or offering green electricity generation or discounts for cutting your power consumption they are making an impact without the LEED program.

If you decide like most companies to not go LEED, now you must ask yourself: what can I do to help the environment while helping my business? The answers to that question are much easier than most people think. Some solutions are as simple as changing out all the light fixtures in your building to be more energy efficient (the payback is quicker than you would think at 1 1/2 to 4 years). Some solutions are more complicated involving grey water capture for irrigation systems and low flush toilets. It all depends on the payback period that your company requires for investments of this type and taking the time to look at all the costs.

One of the easiest ways to evaluate green systems for your building is to work with a consulting company. Our company is currently applying green systems to every project that we're involved in including environmentally friendly carpet, low VOC paints, energy efficient lighting, and wall systems instead of drywall. Every project and geographic area will have different variations on what is allowed by code, but there is a lot of room to be environmentally sensitive without blowing the budget and actually securing on going cost savings.

Being environmentally aware as a business is a critical challenge for every company large and small. Over both short and long term it can have significant impact on your business. Companies that are not environmentally friendly are going to have a hard time growing in many markets and will be spending more on their infrastructure and operating costs than competitors. LEED is a good way to go about achieving the green goal, but it is definitely not the only way and usually not the best way.

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