Green Guide


LEED® - Is it a Must for Construction?

Green Space Today
Paul Hoffman

As so much of our country has discovered, green is not a fad and it’s not going away. As this movement has become a mainstream practice by individuals, companies, non-profits and more, many have become at least vaguely familiar with practices and terms that are considered green. When it comes to construction, some astute advocates have recognized that sustainable steps, initiated from the very beginning of concept planning, deliver cost savings during the project and on an ongoing, long-term basis. As well, the masses have recognized the positive impact sustainable building practices can have on both the health of the building occupants and the overall environment. But, in so many of my conversations with both newbies and those with a reasonable scope of knowledge, too many believe that LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) equals green and vice versa. However, that’s just not true.

As leaders are faced with the prospect of a new facility, an addition to an existing building, or simply a remodeling project, many investigate the rationale of sustainable planning, design, and construction. The benefits are likely to include a healthier staff, a stronger bond with the surrounding community, a positive impact on the environment and ongoing costs savings related to operating the building. But, even seasoned leaders are often faced with a decision they’re likely to have never faced before: Should the facility be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED green building rating system? Many are trying to make sense of LEED and other certification programs and determine if any of them are right for their next project. Whether to pursue a sustainable building certification–and if so, at what level–are considerations that need careful research, processing, and discussion early in the project’s planning stages.

Contemplating Certification
LEED provides a great tool to aid and guide building owners in making wise, disciplined, verifiable, and principled sustainable decisions during the planning, design, and construction process. But, LEED is a guide, not the destination. The USGBC ( deserves accolades for the work they have done to create, and continuously upgrade, standards that encourage and motivate building owners to make sustainable choices utilizing objective criteria. However, it’s important to grasp that green and LEED are not interchangeable terms. There are certainly times when choosing certification is important to the project and is clearly the best decision. But, even if certification is the right path to choose, LEED is not the only possibility available. While LEED has become the most recognized standard for sustainable certification in the United States, another viable option is the Green Globes program. Green Globes offers a less expensive and more interactive, online evaluation and certification method, but currently lacks the recognition and reputation that LEED has garnered. Both certification programs provide solid guidance and direction for sustainable design and construction. An additional consideration that building owners must wrestle with, if they decide to pursue a third party validation of their project, is what level of certification is appropriate and obtainable. A common misconception is that designing and building a highly-sustainable LEED certified building will cost more than a conventional building. We have on several occasions achieved a LEED Gold certified building at a total project cost below non-sustainable buildings. ‘Green’ does not need to cost more!

LEED is a guide, not the destination.

While there are benefits to aiming for a high sustainable certification level, it may not be the right decision for your organization. Owners should carefully consider the impact of certification on the project budget, staff time, and the perceived benefit in relation to the cost.

Green Space Today
Northland Pines High School in Eagle River Wisconsin is the only LEED Gold certified public high school in the country.

To Certify or Not to Certify – That’s the Question
Do not fall prey to the lure of certification unless you can affirmatively answer the question, “Will certification benefit our organization today and in the future?” LEED or Green Globes certification is worth the additional expense and time if it strengthens the organization’s story and improves your ability to achieve your goals. For example, choosing to be certified would be valuable if your community placed a high value on sustainable issues and practices, and local governments, schools, churches, non-profit organizations, and businesses have fully embraced utilizing sustainable principles. Or, if the clients you serve have a great affinity toward those who are good stewards of the environment, and certification would be a tangible way of demonstrating your commitment, then it would be a logical choice. Being an organization that contributes to the overall sustainable message would produce real value, resulting in tours, mention in published articles, and an overall greater connectivity with your region or within your niche. Three clients recently chose LEED certification because of the strong recognition and third-party validation they knew they would receive. It served to communicate the value-driven, responsible sustainable principles that they value in their corporate missions. In these instances, they became green role models for their communities and great partners in enhancing the overall education and sustainable story of their regions.

Do not fall prey to the lure of certification unless you can affirmatively answer the question, “Will certification benefit our organization today and in the future?”

However, there are other times when a project is highly sustainable, and yet pursuing LEED certification is not the right choice. Our firm knows this first hand. We recently moved our offices into a former, major, retail department store that we renovated in downtown Appleton, WI. This office space is an extremely sustainable retrofit. But, after much reflection, we decided that LEED certification was not the right choice. As we asked the same question we ask of our clients, “Is this the right business solution?,” we discovered it would have added $4 per square foot to our rent without producing any true benefit to the environment or our bottom line. For us to achieve LEED certification, we would have been required to purchase a $150,000 air handling unit for the 550,000-square-foot, multi-tenant building and also utilize a separate meter for electrical power usage. Instead, we installed carbon dioxide (CO2) detectors (approximately $200 each) which determine the levels of CO2 in the conference rooms. If the monitored CO2 levels become high, fresh air is brought into the room. This provided a creative, sustainable, inexpensive, and highly-effective alternative. It did not meet the criteria for LEED certification; however it did meet our criteria for a responsible business solution.

Green Space Today
The office of Hoffman, LLC includes many highly sustainable features without being certified.

Leaders are also faced with a wide array of decisions regarding product selection throughout a design and construction project. These are decisions that must be made whether you choose to have your construction project be certified and validated by a third party or not. A prime example is the selection of carpet for our retrofitted office. We chose a product that was highly sustainable, available from a nearby supplier and within our budget. It was NOT the most sustainable carpet product available on the market. But it had impressive durability, a similar product warranty, and was able to be installed without harmful chemical adhesives. Our decision was based on the best green product that fit within the parameters of our project. Every decision regarding materials and systems can benefit from this same type of holistic criteria.

A Framework to Guide Every Decision
As you embark on a new construction project or remodel an existing facility, be certain that your planning approach considers four critical components:

• Initial capital costs,

• Healthy productive environments,

• Life-cycle cost savings, and

• Sustainable design and delivery.

When every decision considers balancing all four of these elements—a holistic approach to true sustainabilitySM called the POWER of g®—superior solutions are reached that provide a positive, sustainable and financial impact on your organization, while minimizing the negative impact on the surrounding natural environment.

Green Space Today
River Crest Elementary in Hudson, Wisconsin is a catalyst for green principles in its community.

Making the Right Choices
As you consider your next project, strongly consider making responsible, sustainable choices. This approach can ultimately improve the health of your team, positively impact the environment, add to your bottom line and strengthen your connection to your community…whether you certify your building or not. It’s not about certification. It’s not about LEED. It is about making the right choices…for your people, your organization, your community and your world.

Paul J. Hoffman ( is owner and president of Hoffman LLC (, a Wisconsin-based planning, architecture, and construction management firm. Paul, a frequent author and speaker, is currently Vice-Chairman of the Associated General Contractors of America Building Division.