Explaining LEED-Certified Buildings – and Why You Should Consider Leasing Space in One

There are an infinite number of factors to consider when looking for office space. First and foremost, you’ll want a space that properly serves your employees and clients or customers now and into the future, but the secondary factors (parking, access, available utilities, etc.) can be incredibly important. But what most business owners don’t always place at the top of their “must-have” list is environmental factors – namely, LEED certification. 

LEED-certified buildings provide numerous benefits to building owners, tenants, and the communities they occupy. Here’s why you should consider seeking out a LEED-certified building for your next office space.

What LEED Certification Means – and Why It Matters

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is one of the most prominent green building rating systems in the world. Established in 1994 under the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is the industry standard for sustainability in materials, design, and construction, helping engineers, architects, landscapers, construction managers, and building owners establish a baseline for eco-friendly buildings and demonstrate progressive improvements beyond the bare minimum.

According to the USGBC, LEED-certified commercial buildings have returned over 80 million tons of waste from landfills across nearly 80,000 LEED-certified constructions around the world. 

Explaining the Differences Between LEED Certifications and Accreditations

There are four designations for LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These certification levels differ depending on a scoring metric that rates construction materials, design, utility capabilities, and renewable/reusable energy. Without getting too deep into the details, LEED buildings should be healthy for occupants and the environment in which they occupy. 

As for accreditation, LEED offers two different tiers for individuals seeking to build or design LEED-certified buildings: LEED Green Associates and LEED AP Credentials. LEED Green Associates hold professional expertise in environmentally-sound building practices, whereas LEED AP Credential holders have specialized knowledge of LEED principles across residential, commercial healthcare, education, interior design, and community planning. 

What Types of Buildings Can be LEED-Certified?

Any building owner can apply for LEED certification across five different categories: Building Design and Construction (BD+C), Interior Design and Construction (ID+C), Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M), Neighborhood Development (ND), and Homes (H). 

Building Design and Construction (BD+C)

Within BD+C, certified building designations contain an additional 10 LEED rating systems, which serve as guidelines for both new constructions and major remodels and renovations. Any type of building can apply for this designation, but due to the large scale of requirements across a broad spectrum of criteria, these certifications are among the most difficult to attain. 

Interior Design and Construction (ID+C)

Designed for tenants who occupy a certain portion of a commercial building, this certification is meant to encourage tenants to consider sustainable, non-infrastructure features during the buildout phase. These can include insulation, energy-efficient windows and doors, low-flow sinks and toilets, energy-friendly appliances, and reused or reclaimed building materials.

Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)

Used by building owners and landlords to monitor and analyze maintenance, utility, and operations costs compared to LEED standards for environmental performance. Large-scale buildings and properties with multiple buildings on a campus (such as hospitals, schools, retail malls, and warehouses) fall into this category. 

Neighborhood Development (ND)

LEED-certified neighborhoods combine smart and sustainable growth, eco-friendly urban design, and green building principles for entire communities with a focus on the future. 

Homes (H)

Designed with single and multi-family homes in mind, but are limited to structures with three stories or fewer, LEED for Homes is based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star for Homes initiative. LEED-certified homes have energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, modern insulation and building materials, and incorporate energy-saving techniques like recycled rainwater, solar energy systems, and energy-saving solutions like smart lighting and thermostats. 

The Benefits of Leasing LEED Certified Buildings

There are clear benefits for building owners to build or renovate their properties to LEED certifications. From long-term savings in building materials, potential for tax rebates, lower utility costs, and less frequent maintenance requirements, there’s a lot to like in a LEED certified space. But what about the benefits for tenants? Why should a business seek space in a LEED building over the alternative?

1. Healthier, Cleaner, and More Productive

LEED buildings are designed to allow outdoor air into the building, improving indoor air quality and lowering dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in office spaces. This limits allergens, dust, and pollutants from entering your workspace – which means healthier, happier employees. 

An EPA study has shown that Americans tend to spend about 90% of their time indoors, which has shown to make a significant impact on the health, productivity, and performance of an individual. Certain features in LEED-certified buildings can boost employee productivity, such as mindful lighting designs, fitness centers, relaxation and meditation rooms, natural lighting and features, and improved access to outdoor spaces and views. In fact, a recent study by the USGBC shows that 85% of employees say that access to sunlight and outdoor spaces boosts their workplace happiness

2. Reduced Utility Costs

LEED buildings are much more energy efficient than buildings without these standards. Designed to utilize less electricity and water, LEED buildings offer tenants significant savings in operational and utility costs over the lifespan of your commercial real estate lease, but some can even provide immediate savings on utility costs thanks to renewable and smart utility systems. 

3. Potential for Tax Benefits

Depending on your location, LEED-certified buildings can provide occupants tax rebates in addition to zoning allowances. Meant to promote green activities, governments on the local, state, and federal level sometimes offer tax incentives for those companies who choose a LEED building over a non-certified property. 

4. Eco-Friendly Brand Recognition

There’s a definite bragging right to occupying, building, or owning a LEED-certified building. From the government to investors, customers to clients, and media to passersby, showing the world that your company is mindful of its environmental footprint is an easy PR win that will save you money. 

Not only are LEED-certified buildings environmentally-friendly and offer companies cost-saving opportunities, but they’re becoming more and more sought after in commercial real estate. For property owners, the process to become certified is costly and time-consuming, but offer significant upside after the initial investment. For tenants, it’s a sign to the world that your company has taken steps to minimize its environmental footprint. Over the life of the building or the commercial lease agreement, it’s good for everyone’s pocketbooks, too.

John is the VP of Sales at OfficeSpace.com where he leads broker relations and sales. Prior to being VP of Sales, he was the Regional  Director for the company. John has over 25 years of experience working in the commercial real estate industry. Before OfficeSpace.com, John was a commercial real estate broker for the Norman Company in Seattle, WA.