LEED Buildings Becoming Big Business

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The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standard – short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - has become the primary measure of “green buildings.” That holds true in the data center industry, where a growing number of providers are building new facilities with the intent of qualifying for LEED certification, despite the fact that the standard wasn’t designed with data centers in mind. Several early LEED data centers – including the Highmark data center in Pennsylvania and an FNMA project in Maryland – included office components that made it easier to become LEED certified.

LEED has its critics, but has nonetheless built tremendous momentum in recent years, as noted in Fast Company this week. Fees for awarding silver, gold and platinum certifications have enabled the Green Building Council (USGBC) to grow from seven paid employees to 116, and earn 95 percent of its $50 million annual budget. That growth is driven by the market acceptance of LEED, the magazine notes:

LEED certification sells buildings to high-end clients and governments, gets architects and builders sparkling free publicity, and creates a hook for selling new products, materials, and systems to builders. It’s a whole new commercial ecosystem. “Here in DC,” says architect Russell Perry, who’s active in the Green Building Council, “for a speculative developer to go out and advertise their property as being Class A [the highest-quality commercial building], they’ve got to have a LEED rating. The brokers need that as part of their pitch. People who would have been ambivalent about that as a moral issue are finding that it’s a commercial necessity.”

Fast Company suggests that the USGBC has benefitted from being in the right place at the right time.


Other approaches, such as guidelines from Architecture 2030, have produced greater energy savings than LEED, according to critics. But in 2004 the USGBC shifted its focus in talking about LEED. “We realized we were getting the messaging wrong, leading with the environmental story,” says Richard Fedrizzi, the CEO of the council. “We had to lead with the business case.”

There are now 6,500 LEED-certified projects, and more than 42,000 professionals who have been certified through LEED training. Being able to tout a “green building” has often been a publicity bonanza for corporations, according to author and consultant Jerry Yudelson.

“Nothing beats publicity like having your project, with its green roof, PV (photovoltaic) system, and LEED Gold plaque highlighted as a lead story on the 6 o’clock or 10 o’clock network news station in your city,” he told FC. “You’ll get on camera; dozens, possibly hundreds of clients, prospective employees, and others in your industry will see it, almost guaranteed.”

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.