The effects of climate change are already apparent in today’s business landscape, leading entrepreneurs to prioritize environmental stewardship. Small business owners can support eco-friendly practices by earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
LEED certification can be a significant achievement for a company by demonstrating it cares about the environment — but how easy is it for small businesses? Here’s a guide on LEED certification for small business owners.
How Easily Can Small Business Owners Achieve LEED Certification?
LEED certification has short- and long-term benefits, but getting there may have some obstacles. Here are three questions small business owners should ask themselves before starting the LEED certification process.
What’s the Budget?
Inflation and supply chain disruptions have tightened budgets, forcing some entrepreneurs to search for every dollar to make ends meet. LEED certification is a financial investment, so it’s essential for small business owners to determine how the process fits within their budget.
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) runs LEED certification, requiring various fees along the way. For example, small business owners must pay fees for registration, precertification and certification. Entrepreneurs seeking advice may need to hire consultants to complete the process. Small business owners can reduce LEED certification costs by joining the USGBC or hiring a USGBC member as the project administrator.
How Old Is the Building?
The USGBC determines LEED certification based on individual projects, so each building must follow specific criteria. Entrepreneurs should know the structure’s age because the process depends if it’s new construction or a retrofit.
New construction means entrepreneurs will follow the New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED NC) rating system. For this criteria, the USGBC looks at water efficiency, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and more.
Small business owners can still achieve LEED certification for existing buildings by retrofitting. They’ll have to follow the LEED rating system for Operations and Maintenance (O+M). The requirements are slightly different but don’t require significant renovations. Retrofitting an existing building may make more sense for small business owners on a budget.
How Flexible Is the Timeline?
LEED certification can take a long time — between six months and two years. The timeline depends on a few factors, such as the size of the building and how much work it needs. Entrepreneurs also must rely on the leadership team in charge of their projects. Experienced professionals in green building can ensure the process runs smoothly.
Small business owners should ask themselves how flexible their timeline is. LEED certification is a much smoother process when applicants file paperwork early. The USGBC recommends registering during the design phase for LEED NC projects and the facility assessment phase for LEED O+M projects.
How Can Small Business Owners Achieve Certification?
The LEED certification process can be complex for small business owners, but it can be a big step up for the company. Here are a few steps to keep in mind when considering applications.
Researching the Rating System
Luckily, there are multiple tiers of LEED certification, so small business owners can select the level best for their budget. Project managers will submit their buildings to the USGBC and receive a score between 0 and 100. The USGBC tiers currently follow these ranges:
- Certified: 40-49 points
- Silver: 50-59 points
- Gold: 60-79 points
- Platinum: 80+ points
Some of the most famous buildings in the world have undergone renovations to achieve LEED certification. For example, Chicago’s famous Willis Tower installed LED lights and improved the HVAC system, among other changes, to earn LEED gold certification. Small business owners might not have $500 million to spend like the Willis Tower, but they can tailor their projects to their needs.
Determining Current Conditions
Another critical step in the planning stage is determining the building’s current conditions. Building owners should assess the structure from top to bottom, investigating the electrical systems, water units and air quality. This baseline gives small business owners an idea of where to start and what they can do to increase their LEED score.
Assembling Sustainability Teams
Business leaders don’t have to take on the task alone — they can assemble sustainability teams to make the process easier. Entrepreneurs should form a task force consisting of those with experience in the green building sector.
The team should have a mix of people who can contribute different ideas. For example, the committee could consist of contractors, consultants, architects, engineers and more.
Implementing Green Building Practices
The last step is implementing the green building practices necessary for the predetermined goals. Every aspect of the building matters, so small business owners should look for any boost they can get for their LEED score.
Project administrators on a budget should look for inexpensive ways to help their ratings without breaking the bank. Some ideas include using recycled materials and water-saving fixtures in the building. For example, WaterSense toilets reduce water use by up to 60% and save nearly $140 annually.
What Are the Benefits of LEED Certification?
Small business owners should view LEED certification as an investment because the returns benefit the company for a long time. Here are a few benefits of LEED certification to consider.
Reduced Carbon Footprint
Buildings require a lot of power to run, especially considering HVAC units, heavy machinery and other necessary equipment. The consumed energy adds up in the form of greenhouse gases (GHGs). However, green buildings mitigate this issue. Research shows LEED-certified buildings emit 50% fewer GHGs than conventional structures.
Increased Building Value
Nowadays, sustainability is a desire for investors, consumers, business partners and more. LEED certification can become a valuable asset for small business owners because of its positive effect on property value. The USGBC says LEED buildings have higher resale value, leading to bright financial outcomes for entrepreneurs if they plan to sell.
LEED buildings may present upfront costs for renovations, but they reduce operational costs over time due to their energy-efficient fixtures. A 2020 study shows LEED certification lowered operational expenses by $2.53 per square foot compared to older, non-LEED buildings.
Costs have become a sticking point among supply chain disruptions and inflation hitting businesses hard. Lowering operational expenses through green buildings could be what entrepreneurs need to keep their companies thriving.
LEED certification boosts environmental health and provides financial incentives, but one crucial aspect to consider is reputation. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores are integral to many businesses today because consumers say it’s a priority. Over 90% of business leaders say acting on ESG issues is essential.
Achieving LEED certification boosts ESG scores because environmental health is a significant factor. The USGBC is an independent organization, so its verification of green building practices goes a long way toward showing consumers and shareholders that a business cares about the environment.
Achieving LEED Certification for Small Businesses
Environmental health is on the minds of many in the 2020s. Sustainability is more important than ever because of climate change and society’s changing standards.
Achieving LEED certification can significantly boost a company, so small business owners should consider the application process and find what’s best for their immediate and long-term future.