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  • Todd Graves

What is LEED and how can it affect my project?

Some people interested in developing a project (new or renovation) with an eye towards sustainability may have heard of the term “LEED”, or “LEED Certification”, but may not necessarily know what it means. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and the certification part is a program developed by the United States Green Buildings Council (USGBC) to measure or rate a project’s performance with respect LEED.

To certify or not to certify.

The simple answer is; it depends. Projects with design and construction materials and methods that practice LEED can save money, improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions, and create a heathier environment. And, they are seen by many as a critical part of addressing climate change and building a greener, more sustainable community. For many project owners, this is enough. It is quite feasible to design and build your project using LEED practices with virtually all of the benefits of certifying it as LEED, without the additional steps and cost.

One such example of a Graves Design Group project is the Green Roof at Fifth Avenue Place. It was the largest green roof project in Pittsburgh, when completed. This large green roof in the heart of downtown absorbs rainwater, thus reducing water run-off to protect and restore local water sources. In addition, the change from traditional roof material to green vegetation reduces heat absorption, which not only reduces heating costs for the building but also reduces the city’s urban heat island effect, to reduce contribution to global climate change. The project, viewable from surrounding buildings continues to offer onlookers a green respite from their office cubicles enhancing their human health and community quality of life. Here, it’s easy for the design to speak for itself; green roofs are inherently sustainable architecture. Projects like this are perceived as being LEED or Green in nature by the viewing public without being officially certified.

LEED certified buildings are required to go through additional steps to receive a certification rating by USGBC. To achieve LEED certification, a project earns points by adhering to prerequisites and credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. LEED Certification can also enhance or fit with a company’s branding, which makes the certification process even more valuable and thusly an effort worth pursuing. Projects go through a verification and review process by GBCI and are awarded points that correspond to a level of LEED certification: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points) and Platinum (80+ points). This process requires additional time by the architect/engineer team and contractor, which adds to the overall development cost. Certain grants, tax credits, or other special funding is sometimes available for LEED Certification, which can offset the cost to certify. Graves Design Group’s office fit out project for Pittsburgh’s Sports and Exhibition Authority’s (SEA) Executive offices in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is an example of how LEED Certification can enhance an organization’s branding. The SEA builds some of the signature buildings in the city of Pittsburgh and its offices were going to be designed in a LEED Certified building. Therefore, it made perfect sense to strive for maximum LEED Certification. We were able to exceed expectations on this project by achieving the highest Platinum LEED Certification on this interior space.

If you would like a project to be LEED Certified or simply include sustainable design and materials without the certification process, Graves Design Group can help. Please, contact us for more information and to have a discussion on what may be best for your project.

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