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Sustainable Buildings Put Tenants within Reach of LEED-CI

Companies seeking U.S. Green Building Council LEED Commercial Interiors (CI) certification for their leased office spaces should make sustainability a fundamental part of their site selection process. The USGBC recognizes the importance of site selection and defines Sustainable Sites as a major category. LEED-CI Sustainable Sites criteria (under current guidelines) can deliver up to seven points — a significant portion of the total.

There will be changes in the weightings in the 2009 Version, due to go live in March, but site-based criteria will remain pivotal to any successful LEED-CI program. Landlord-controlled credits have the potential to deliver, or at least support, several other energy, water, lighting and environmental points.

Selecting a LEED-certified building is the easiest way to go since it delivers three points towards CI certification. Short of building certification, various subsystems and design factors and policies can also support the process. Credit 1 includes roof design, water efficiency, storm water and waste water management, lighting design and energy management. Credits 2 & 3 are concerned with community and transportation issues.

Pre-selection research

Many non-LEED buildings have systems that meet credit requirements even though the building itself does not qualify or the landlord has chosen not to go through the formal LEED certification process. The challenge for potential tenants in non-compliant buildings is to examine, quantify and, in some cases, negotiate each of these criteria in order to understand how many and what points will be delivered through site selection.

A LEED Accredited Professional (AP) (1 point) can help with the pre-qualification process. If you are pursuing LEED-CI certification, it makes sense to engage a LEED-AP before the site selection process begins. It is the best way to understand the benefits and limits of prospective buildings in regards to certification, and can offer valuable guidance that will save time and money during the space design and build out phases.

For certified and non-certified buildings, every credit that is under the control of the landlord should be addressed during the lease/space research process. This is the only way to know the basis from which you will be able to launch the rest of your LEED-CI program. The process also presents the opportunity to influence the building owner/manager to consider changes. The landlord may discover that minor upgrades, such as bicycle storage and changing rooms, can be made to bring the building closer to overall certification.

The upfront process should examine not only the LEED Sustainable Sites category, but also the credits in other categories that are part of the building's systems and/or controlled by the landlord. For instance, the Energy & Atmosphere and Indoor Environmental Quality categories include Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) measures that are controlled by building systems and policies. Also, check to see if the property has a program for the collection and storage of recyclables.

Essentially, each LEED-CI credit should be part of the upfront evaluation process in order to assess the fundamental capabilities of the building.

The next step is to carefully evaluate the proposed lease space in anticipation of the build out. How much of the interior non-structural components can be reused? USGBC awards up to two points for reusing existing components. Also, take a look to see if restroom facilities are located within your space and if they can be retrofitted for reduced water usage. Determine if lighting, HVAC&R (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration) and other systems can be controlled for the space, and how much flexibility you have to retrofit the systems serving the space.

Once the building data and information have been collected, evaluated and applied to the LEED-CI criteria, you will be in a better position to objectively compare each of the locations you are considering. The data then becomes a basis for negotiations among different properties and acts as a tool to gauge landlords' commitment to sustainability.

The final benefit of a comprehensive LEED pre-evaluation is that you are able to include LEED-related upgrades as part of the terms & conditions or tenant improvements in the lease document. Clearly, larger tenants have more leverage. But every prospective tenant can influence the landlord's LEED compliance, and every tenant is in a position to request tenant incentives that support their LEED objectives - especially in this market.

Guidance for the build out

Another advantage of upfront research is that it lends guidance into the build out stage. Based on the findings, you can begin the design phase within the envelope of your space with a comprehensive understanding of the services being delivered by the building. You will also know the flexibility that you have in designing complementary systems (lighting, etc.) and the potential for reusing existing structures.

The build out, of course, is key to success. Taken together, tenant controlled credits in Indoor Environmental Quality, Materials & Resources, and Innovation & Design Process categories total 36 points, with additional credits available for improvements in the Water Efficiency and Energy & Atmosphere categories.

Here again, a LEED Accredited Professional can be a helpful guide, administrator and expeditor throughout the build out. A successful LEED-CI construction project reuses non-structural components and uses regional materials, recycled content and certified wood. Credits also require low-emitting materials, such as low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints, coatings, carpets, wood laminates, adhesives and furniture.

Yet, the most challenging aspect of many build outs is project management. Materials & Resources, as well as IAQ management plans for both construction and occupancy, must be developed and implemented. This, coupled with construction waste management, which diverts materials from landfills, must be closely monitored and reported. LEED-CI compliance requires careful vendor selection to ensure proper manufacturing, handling and disposal of materials and the underlying documentation to satisfy USGBC requirements.

LEED-CI certification projects start well before the lease is signed, and continue through build out and occupancy. They require a commitment on the part of the tenant and the cooperation, at least, of the landlord. Careful site selection is a major first step.

There is no question that the tenant improvements that you and/or your landlord make to the space represent the majority of the qualification points. Yet, due to the several required credits that are most often delivered by the building through its design, infrastructure, location and management, it is virtually impossible to achieve LEED-CI status if the building and its management do not support your objective.

Michael Merritt, LEED-AP, is vice president of workplace integration at UGL Equis ( With more than 17 years of workplace and design experience, he is responsible for developing client-driven workplace strategies, needs assessments and alternative occupancy solutions for clients. He can be reached at 312-424-8090 or [email protected].

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