What is to be gained by certifying your project as “Green”?  Setting aside any discussion of whether or not to build a green project, I’d like to look at the decision to certify a project as sustainable.

As I mentioned in a previous post, LEED certification and GreenPoint Rating are examples of voluntary programs through which scrutinize a project and give a score of how “green” it is.  Points are earned in a variety of categories from selection of an appropriate site to the toxicity of the materials used for interior finishes.  Although there are prerequisites in each category, theoretically, you could certify a building that is nowhere near green in some categories as long as it is exceedingly green in others.

These certification systems are imperfect and controversial, especially with dyed-in-the-wool environmental advocates, but they do provide a starting point.  The certification process is very thorough.  It starts in the design process but appropriately most of the review is during construction phase to verify that the green specifications are actually being met as the project is built.

However, the certification process is not cheap.  It starts at about $20,000 and can be much higher.  Therefore, it is rarely seen in the residential industry outside of large housing or apartment projects.  We have begun to discuss LEED certification at the point of large office build outs of 20,000 square feet or more.

The decision to get the certification is almost always one of appearance and has little if anything to do with the desire to build a greener building.  After all, a design and construction team can include all of the sustainable features on a project without needing the certification process to do so.  However, like “Certified Organic”, the certificate shows that the sustainable features have been verified by a third-party.  The certificate expresses to potential tenants, buyers, future clients, or the general public that the design and construction teams are going to extra lengths for reasons of social responsibility.

So, the decision to get a project certified generally comes down to a business decision for the company; whether a certification get more or better customers, attract more talented staff, or somehow position the company at a higher level.  It is looked at with the same metrics as any marketing campaign. At the upper levels of the industry, a LEED certification can often be a prerequisite for a project.  Anything less would be considered lacking.

One of my favorite stories really makes one wonder about the usefulness of the certification process:  Facing a $27,000 certification cost on a new ice arena, the Mayor of Park City, Utah decided to not pursue LEED certification but instead took the money set aside for certification and purchased three wind turbines to power the arenas Zamboni.  Now if everybody considering certification would take this approach, we might get somewhere!