LEED Certification

The LEED rating system encourages energy conservation.

DEFINITION: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings have demonstrated energy conservation and addressed concerns for site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Certification comes after compliance with the requirements of the LEED Green Building Rating System, a nationally accepted benchmark established by the U.S. Green Building Council.

For many years, the environmental movement has urged the development of buildings that are not only more energy efficient, but also use recycled materials, conserve water, have a reduced impact on the local environment and provide a healthy indoor environment for employees.

This effort was formalized in 1993 with the formation of the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization in Washington. The USGBC embodied efforts begun by Robert K. Watson, senior scientist and director of the international energy and green building programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council from 1985 to 2006. He was active in international sustainable building, utility and transportation efforts in many countries, including China, the U.S. and Russia.

LEED was intended to define green building by establishing common, measurable standards; promoting integrated, whole-building design practices; recognizing environmental leadership inside the building industry; and raising consumer awareness, among other goals.

Becoming Certified

To receive LEED certification, a developer applies to the USGBC, documenting the buildings compliance with LEED goals. Depending on the nature and use of the building, it must meet a basic set of prerequisites; to that, numerous credits are added, depending on the buildings specific design and construction. Innovation is encouraged. The application process uses a series of online, active PDF documents that largely automate the LEED Green Building Rating System.

A building can qualify for one of four levels: Certified (scores 40% to 50% of non-innovation points), Silver (50% to 60%), Gold (60% to 80%) or Platinum (over 80%). Project teams are required to pay certification review fees upfront. The fees are refunded for buildings that achieve Platinum certification.

Although the USGBC doesnt support a specific rating for them, data centers are vying for the green label. LEED certification is focused largely on building infrastructure, so data centers are handled as new construction and major renovations, or as commercial interior remodeling.

The first two data centers to receive LEED certification were mortgage company Fannie Maes Urbana Technology Center in Maryland, and a data center for Highmark Inc., an insurer in Pittsburgh, earlier this year. In addition, IBM has announced that it will apply for LEED certification for a data center in Boulder, Colo., and hosting company 365 Main Inc. has pledged to build all future data centers in accordance with LEED guidelines. Although it made no specific reference to LEED or the USGBC, Google Inc. has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2008 by emphasizing energy conservation, using renewable energy sources, offsetting carbon emissions and investing in eco-friendly new technologies.

Although the LEED rating system tries to be sensitive to specific local environmental conditions and requirements, its checklist-based approach tends to bury some important differences. For example, a building in Maine could receive the same credit for water conservation as one in Arizona, where water use is obviously a more important consideration.

Finally, successful LEED certification usually entails working with an architect, a builder and a consultant already well versed in the requirements of the USGBC.

Kay is a Computerworld contributing writer in Worcester, Mass. You can contact him at russkay@charter.net.

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