Build profits with LEED certification

Nov. 11, 2008
Knowing about LEED certification can lead to higher profits.

No doubt, you’ve heard of a concept called the “tragedy of the commons.” It originally saw the light of day in Garrett Hardin’s essay of the same name in the Dec. 13, 1968 issue of Science magazine. The characters in this story are “the commons,” a parcel of land — a shared community resource — where farm animals are permitted to graze freely, and the farmers who send their animals to graze there. Being rational, the farmers realize that it’s in their best economic interest to send as many animals as possible to the commons. The outcome is an overgrazed, worthless piece of land that’s no longer suitable for its intended purpose.

The moral of the story is that unfettered freedom to act can destroy that which permits freedom to be exercised. Some would argue that the terrestrial environment upon which life here depends is a form of “commons” and that our freedom to do as we please is already starting to make a mess of things. Exploring, with any significant credence, every facet of that belief system here in this monthly column is a monumental task. Thank goodness there’s not enough space available to do it all. Let’s tackle only one aspect of the environmental issue — the building in which you work — as we search for practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that can help you prove to the community that your plant isn’t taking part in environmental destruction. Remember, we search the Web so you don’t have to.

Go to the source

In 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council, a not-for-profit organization, was formed for the purpose of developing standards that, if applied universally, are intended to minimize human impact on the environment. Those standards are the centerpiece of a certification initiative called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). How well your plant’s design and operation meets the standards determines how many points of partial credit it earns toward the 85-point maximum. An aggregate of 34 points is merely the ante needed for an existing building to be minimally recognized as a LEED-certified facility. Earning your way into the silver category requires 43 points, gold needs 51 and platinum calls for 68 points.

Applied to a building or project, the standards address site sustainability (14 points), efficiency of water use (5 points), energy consumption and its effect on the atmosphere (23 points), the materials and resources used in the construction (16 points), indoor air quality (22 points), and innovative operation and maintenance (5 points).

Green your building

Any existing building is eligible for LEED certification. Just because the program typically is applied to offices, retail outlets, service shops, libraries, schools, museums, churches, hotels and multifamily dwellings doesn’t mean that a manufacturing plant is out of the running. The same rules and guidelines apply, and they’re outlined in a document titled “Green Building Rating System for Existing Buildings - Upgrades, Operations and Maintenance.” It’s a PDF of 84 pages that explains the intent, the requirements and potential technologies and strategies that can help you collect the credits needed to certify. Pay a visit to the U.S. Green Building Council at and enter the number 221 in the search box at the upper right. After that, the link you should select is called “USGBC: LEED for Existing Buildings.” You can find your way from that point on your own.

Beyond the Land of Enchantment

The great state of New Mexico regards going green as a priority, as evidenced by the fact that the state commissioned the publication of a LEED guide designed to help building owners in that state achieve LEED Certification and to explain the certification process to other interested parties. Because the LEED program is national in scope, I’d be surprised if a significant fraction of the 114-page document is so state-specific that you couldn’t use it at home. Developed by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the “How-To Guide to LEED Certification for New Mexico Buildings” is available at, where you enter the word “villagra” in the search box at the upper right side. Then, hit the link to something called the “Villagra Building Case Study.”

Something industrial

So much of the LEED material you’ll find is aimed at new construction or the commercial/office/residential markets. Strictly speaking, that material isn’t relevant to our daily lives. It’s a bit more difficult to find material about industrial plants that can claim the certification that contributes to profitable manufacturing operations. However, digging and mucking about in that chaos we call the Web turned up a few noteworthy examples you might be able to emulate. Start with the a case study about General Motors that was posted by the Environmental Sciences and Services Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The GM Delta Township Assembly Plant claims to be the largest, most complex manufacturing site to earn the gold LEED certification. This four-page PDF details what the facility did to garner credits in each of the LEED categories. There are too many innovations to detail here, though. You’ll need to read it on your own at, where you’re going to enter the words “leed delta” in the search box.

A case on hazardous waste

If your plant used 170,000 MW per year, 3 million gallons of water per day and paid utility bills of between $20 million and $25 million, you’d be interested in reducing your carbon footprint, improving your sustainability and adding a few bucks to the bottom line in the bargain. That’s already happening at semiconductor plants. The next article is a bit light on specifics, but if your plant generates a lot of hazardous waste, you should read the brief case studies at the extreme bottom, which show how one chip maker is recycling quite a bit of those wet nasties needed to make integrated circuits. Point your micromouse at and enter the word greening in the search box. Look for the article titled “The Greening of the Semiconductor Industry.”

Cleaner energy pushes plastics

Clean Air/Cool Planet, Portsmouth, N.H., is a science-based, nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit that develops and promotes solutions to global warming. Part of the LEED program involves energy conservation and CA/CP knows something about the topic. One of the case studies on the organization’s Web site is about Harbec Plastics Inc., an injection-molding company in Ottawa, N.Y. The company revamped its electrical system to incorporate LEED principles, including wind power and a combined heat/power plant, as a way to become more competitive while enjoying a reasonable payback period. You can get the details by going to and clicking the link near the top — just below the logo - that reads “For corporations.” Near the bottom of the resulting page are links to several case studies. Look under the green energy category to learn what Harbec did. There’s also contact information so you can call the company for more information.

A higher shade of green

The current LEED standards address sustainability as it applies to many of the components used in building construction, operation and maintenance. For some reason, though, The LEED standards apparently fail to apply the sustainability requirement to the largest single surface on many buildings — the roof. This situation didn’t escape the notice of an academic at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. In her May 2007 master’s thesis, “Promoting Sustainable Green Roofs through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED),” Aubrey Hake takes a critical look at the issue of green roof sustainability. The current approach of simply planting some greenery on top of a building isn’t the best way to achieve a green roof [no pun intended]. Many of those installations require regular irrigation, whereas a truly green roof sustains itself by recycling precipitation for irrigation purposes. The standard approach also can require applications of various chemicals if the plants are to survive. Those chemicals ultimately end up somewhere else, which isn’t a truly sustainable way to grow greens. You can read Ms. Hake’s recommendations for enhancing the LEED standards for roofs by enrolling at and entering “Hake” in the search feature. Then you can enjoy the 158-page document she wrote.

Claim your credentials

Buildings, if they have any practical value, consume energy, a commodity for which someone must pay prices that, I’m sure, you realize aren’t ever going to see a long-term decrease. But life must go on, and buildings are an integral part of our standard of living. There will be a future demand for experts and consultants who know how to maximize a building’s energy efficiency. But monetizing that knowledge requires a certain street cred in the form of a third-party endorsement. In this case, that means it could be profitable to pass the test to become a LEED Accredited Professional. One online resource that might prove useful to the ambitious among us is the NEXUS Green Building Resource Center in Boston. That organization can walk you through the steps necessary to gain the credential, offer information about the prep classes available, reveal sources for study guides, as well as provide a LEED exam FAQ. These and more are available at Merely click “act” at the upper left, then click on “LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP)” to access a guide that could increase your worth in a soft job market.

Moral support

Make no mistake about it, earning the LEED AP credentials isn’t a romp in the park. Just ask Patrick Flynn, who already went through the effort. He spent a lot of time studying and needed an easy way to access his study materials without having to tote a lot of paper. So, he posted his material on his Web site, producing a personal online study guide that he could access from anywhere. After passing the exam in late March 2008, he opened up the site to any aspiring LEED AP candidate. The site claims to have logged more than 50,000 visitors who have used the material Flynn collected. What ices the cake is the sense of community that he fosters through the interactive discussion feature you’ll find on the site. If you’re going to take a whack at the exam, you can learn and share the misery at, which is billed as “your FREE online LEED AP exam resource.”

Test your smarts

Environmental Building News in Brattleboro, Vt., is an independent publication that carries no advertising and isn’t sponsored by any industry or related corporation. Like other worthy maintenance pubs you might be able to name off the top of your head, EBN has a Web site, And, in keeping with the theme of this column, it holds one piece of LEED-related material that might prove useful. If you perform a site search on the three-word phrase LEED sample test, you’ll find a link to 80 test questions and an answer key. Beyond that, accessing other material on the site, such as the details of the “green” products or projects that are mentioned, requires you to reveal your identity.

Apples and oranges

With the cost of energy unlikely to revert to comfortable levels any time soon, plant professionals should be measuring actual energy consumption on a real-time basis. You already do that with temperature, flow, pressure and other process variables. You should capture your energy consumption as a function of time, floor area, seasonality and other variables to justify bragging about your degree of greenness. Consider for a moment Henry Gifford, a mechanical systems designer in N.Y.C. Nadav Malin, vice president of BuildingGreen LLC in Newtown, Conn., says that Gifford knows exactly how much energy his projects consume, which builds credibility for a paper Gifford wrote in which he argues that playing fast and lose with such measurements explains why LEED-certified buildings are permitted to claim unrealized energy savings. Grifford concludes that LEED buildings are, on average, 29% less efficient than average U.S. buildings. Access Malin’s take on the controversy by visiting and searching on the phrase “damn lies.” There is a link to Gifford’s original paper and comments from Malin’s audience. This is a must-read for LEED fanatics, as well as skeptics.

Without comment

E-mail Executive Editor Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, at [email protected].

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