As long as you haven’t been living in a cave this past year, you’ve probably noticed that America’s new favorite color is green. Even the “big, scary corporations,” like Walmart and McDonalds, have re-worked their ad campaigns to reflect a more-green, environmentally friendly corporate image. Seemingly everyone is going green. The term “greenwashing” has come to describe businesses that project a green corporate image (through ad campaigns, marketing, and so on) but take little action to reduce their own carbon footprint or energy consumption. They are “green” in name only. At the same time, some organizations are embracing a new paradigm of green business practices and sustainability. So, who’s really “green” and who’s just “greenwashing?”
Enter the U.S. Green Building Council. The non-profit USGBC has developed the “LEED” rating system to quantify the sustainability, or “greenness”, of buildings. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating SystemTM is a voluntary standard against which facilities are judged for their sustainability, or, in a word, their “greenness.” It’s one way to tell if a company is putting their money where their mouth is.
Getting LEED Certified starts by registering a project on the USGBC website, be it an existing facility or new construction. Buildings are judged on a points-based system and can earn several levels of certification including: LEED Certified, LEED Certified Silver, LEED Certified Gold, and LEED Certified Platinum. LEED buildings tend to have a higher initial cost than traditionally built facilities, but the consensus is that the costs come back in energy savings over the course of the building’s lifespan.
Most projects that earn any level of certification are designed by LEED Accredited Professionals, architects and engineers who have passed the USGBC’s stringent examination process. With the right team in place, LEED Certification can be achieved, and the benefits of a green-built facility can be experienced firsthand.
For building owners, it means they will end up with lower utility bills in their left hand and a LEED plaque in their right, certifying that their commitment to environment is worth its weight in gold, or maybe even platinum. For the greenwashers, however, I suggest a whole new LEED category… they could call it “LEED Certified Aluminum!”