Written by Alex Spilger, LEED AP, Senior Vice President
Project and Development Services, Sustainability
‘To go green or not to go green?’ That is the question. And within that seemingly simple question there is the underlying unknown of “how much will it cost?” While there is no simple answer, there have been hundreds of case studies over the past several years which suggest that the additional cost to build a green building can be kept to under a 1-2% premium and even these costs continue to come down.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards has transformed the marketplace over the past decade and continues to set the bar for high performance buildings. As the LEED Rating System is adopted by a growing number of local and state governments, it’s important for the building community to be aware of the costs and benefits involved with sustainable construction. While the overall costs to pursue LEED Certification are quite competitive in most cases, a recent trend in the green building marketplace has begun to reduce the ‘soft’ costs even further.
When attempting to quantify these costs, it’s helpful to distinguish between what’s referred to as ‘hard’ costs and ‘soft’ costs. Simply put, hard costs refer to the nuts and bolts of what goes into the building: the price premium for a dual flush toilet, a high efficiency HVAC system, or for daylighting controls. These costs may fluctuate slightly with market demand, but for the most part they remain constant. The best approach to reducing the hard costs associated with building green is then to evaluate which strategies will provide the most ‘bang for your buck’ so to speak. For example, the price for installing flow restrictors on lavatory faucets pales in comparison to installing high efficiency toilets or waterless urinals, yet flow restrictors alone can contribute to over a 20% reduction in water usage.
Soft costs refer to the time and intellectual energy spent evaluating, designing, calculating and documenting all of the green elements that go into a project. These soft costs are a little more tricky to quantify, but can offer opportunities for significant savings if the project team knows what they are doing when it comes to designing and constructing a green building.
In the case of LEED projects in particular, one of the variable line item soft costs often listed in the budget relates to the time and effort involved with managing the LEED documentation process. Over the past decade an entire ‘LEED consulting’ industry has grown out of this need for LEED expertise and guidance. In fact, there are now hundreds of organizations around the globe that offer some form of LEED management services.
In the past, LEED support was commonly provided by specialized LEED consulting firms that charged fees occasionally upwards of $75,000 to help teams navigate the LEED process. More recently however, many architects, engineers and even a few forward thinking real estate services firms have begun offering full scale LEED management services in-house on their respective projects, providing a valuable service to their clients at a fraction of the cost of hiring a specialized consultant. This industry shift was subtle, yet inevitable, as more and more brokers and project managers gain experience with the LEED certification process. Considering the fact that fees for outside LEED consultants occasionally represent a substantial portion of the added cost for Certification, this industry shift has resulted in a significant decrease in the soft costs involved with pursuing LEED.
So just how much does it cost to pursue LEED? While the exact answer may depend on many factors, with the right team on the project, going green can be a lot less expensive than you think.
To learn more about “greening” your space contact Alex at: Alex.Spilger@cassidyturley.com
Alex is Senior Vice President and leads our team’s West Coast Sustainability Practice. Alex supports our clients in achieving their sustainability goals including creating healthier workplaces, increasing return on investment through energy efficiency and differentiating their real estate portfolios through LEED Certification. Alex has consulted on over 100 diverse green building projects with high profile clients such as Google, Salesforce, Skype, Square, Mozilla, Comcast, GAP, and the Wharton School of Business among others.
In addition to his project work, Alex is Founder of GreenStep Education and has taught over 250 green building workshops across the globe through organizations such as the US Green Building Council (USGBC), American Institute of Architects (AIA), Sustainable Building Advisors Program and the Stanford Graduate School of Business to name a few. Alex is a LEED Accredited Professional.