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Making a Slice of a Building Green

When Kraft was looking for a new distribution center, the company wanted to make sure it'd be as green as possible, even though it would only be leasing the building. Kraft made LEED certification a necessary part of its search, a result of its six-part sustainability initiative, and found a like-minded company in ProLogis, a distribution facility owner and developer.

ProLogis has committed to design all its new buildings in compliance with LEED standards. Working together, Kraft and ProLogis made enough improvements to the facility that it earned Gold LEED-Commercial Interiors certification.

Commercial Interiors certification was developed with cases like Kraft's in mind. The certification is aimed at companies or groups that are tenants -- not owners -- and want their space to be greener.

"What's really unique about it is it gives control to the tenant," said Ashley Katz, communications coordinator for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). "It really allows tenants to have that flexibility when it comes to modifying their space."

In recent years, the USGBC's LEED program has added numerous certification types for different situations. Commercial Interiors, launched at the end of 2004, was developed for building tenants that want to make their own space more resource- and energy-efficient. In addition to with the Commercial Interiors certification, the USGBC has developed a pilot program for Retail Commercial Interiors.

The certification takes into account things that tenants do not have control over, and provides enough options that most spaces can earn at least the minimum certification.

"There are so many different options and ways to get the points. There are not only prescriptive paths," Katz said. If a tenant runs into a conflict in one area, there are plenty of other areas they can make improvements. Some of the biggest conflicts, Katz said, are renewable energy and water use in shared facilities.

Where you Start Makes All the Difference

Tenants can't do much in terms of renewable energy if the building doesn't have onsite generation or if the local utility doesn't have a green power purchasing program. And if tenants share bathroom facilities, they might not have control over water-reducing improvements.

Commercial Interiors has no prerequisites in the site selection category since many tenants don't have flexibility in choosing their spaces and can't make changes associated with heat island reduction, stormwater management or onsite renewable energy.

"[Location] shouldn't be a problem," Katz said. "Lots of sites in lots of situations have gone through LEED certification."

The 281 certified Commercial Interiors projects worldwide include a mix of both companies that are already in a tenant space as well as companies planning to move into such spaces, Katz said. If a company is looking for a site with Commercial Interiors in mind, one element that will make the process easier is to look for buildings that are already LEED-certified. Other environmental characteristics buildings can have that will make earning the points needed for LEED-CI certification include water efficient irrigation and light pollution reduction, is part of a walkable community, within dense development, is close to public transportation or is bicycle-friendly.

Along with checking out these characteristics of a site from the get-go, a tenant should see what other environmental considerations are out of their reach, such as if the building has a facility-wide recycling program or if there are local recycling paths, for either day-to-day or construction waste recycling.

Site selection made all the difference between two Timberland mall stores that recently LEED certification. received different certification levels. The store in the Peabody, Mass., North Shore Mall earned Gold certification, while a store in the Rockingham Mall in Salem, N.H., received Silver certification under the Retail Commercial Interiors program.

"We were able to get more points for recycling our demo in Peabody due to the simple fact that there was a lot to demo and most of the demo was recyclable," said Cara Vanderbeck, a corporate communications specialist with Timberland.

The Peabody store recycled 90 percent of its construction waste, but the Salem store had very little demolition waste, and of that, only about half was recyclable. Public transportation also played a factor since there's a bus stop at the Peabody mall, but not at the Salem mall.

"These few site-specific differences were the sole reason why Peabody was gold and Salem is Silver," Vanderbeck said.

One thing that tenants do not control, but which is part of certification is building commissioning. Tenants aiming for Commercial Interiors certification should work with their building owner and operator, Katz said, and ensure all of the building's systems are operating efficiently and the way they were designed and intended.

Another useful tool in helping a company earn certification, Katz said, is bringing on a LEED Accredited Professional (AP). There are about 54,000 LEED APs worldwide, she said, and having an AP on hand during the certification process would help a tenant quickly identify what they can and cannot accomplish.

Taking Your Site's Score

Out of a total of 57 possible points, applicants need to earn at 21-26 points to earn the minimum Commercial Interiors certification, 27-31 points gets silver, 32-41 points earns gold and 42-57 gets platinum.

"Essentially, it's very feasible to reach the certified level," Katz said. "Platinum might be more difficult."

Like other LEED programs, the points system includes a wide range of green building practices: reduce water use, improve the energy use of lighting and HVAC, use Energy Star equipment, adopt an indoor air quality management plan, maximize use of daylight and have improved lighting and energy controls.

Tenants have a variety of options with renovating or building out their space. Points can be earned for reusing tenant space materials, diverting construction waste from landfills, reusing building materials and furnishings, using products with recycled content, using locally-sources materials, using products made from rapidly renewable sources like bamboo, using Forest Stewardship Council certified products, and using low-emitting paints, carpets and other products.

The two Timberland stores, despite their site differences, did many of the same things to earn certification. Both stores used 100 percent reclaimed wood, reduced their water use by half, repurposed all existing stockroom shelving and chose Energy Star equipment.

The two mall shops worked toward certification after Timberland challenged its stores -- it operates 10 specialty and 59 outlet stores in the United States -- to develop designs that could earn LEED certification. During the certification process, most of the interaction between the stores and mall operators was just asking questions about the sites, Vanderbeck said. "Their interest has grown now that we're certified," she said. "In fact, one of the malls expressed interest in developing preferred hybrid parking spaces."

Perkins + Will, an architectural and design firm, had extra support from the building owner of its Seattle office when it received Commercial Interiors certification in 2006. The building owner, Samis Land Co., helped pay for new windows and glazing.

The company was able to earn the highest certification, Platinum, with an extensive office overhaul, which included disconnecting from the building's HVAC system, installing perimeter heating, adding windows that can open, removing the suspended ceiling and installing external shades to reduce heat and glare.

The most important factors for the Kraft/ProLogis distribution center was energy and construction waste. ProLogis Senior Vice President Greg Bauer said the key components of certification were improving energy use, using high efficiency lighting and ventilation, and recycling waste. ProLogis was able to work with a contractor and local recyclers to dispose of construction debris and waste.

From a store in a mall to a huge distribution center, businesses that operate in buildings they don't own can be just as or even more environmentally friendly than a business that owns its own facility.

Jonathan Bardelline is an editor at GreenerBuildings.

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