The Next Generation in LEED
LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI) now gives tenants the ability to make sustainable choices when they do not have control over an entire building's operations.
David Birdwell, Executive Vice President and Chief Operation Officer, IDI (Oct/Nov 09)
As LEED continues to evolve as the standard against which all new construction is measured for environmental sustainability, there is a new wave in LEED certification that is gaining momentum. LEED for Commercial Interiors (or LEED CI) is the logical next step for commercial developers and tenants as we collectively seek to innovate and lessen our impact on the earth and natural resources.

LEED CI is a benchmark established in 2005 for certifying green interiors that are healthy, productive places to work. They are also less costly to operate and maintain, and have a reduced environmental footprint. LEED CI is unique in that it gives tenants the power to make sustainable choices when they may not have control over whole building operations.

From its conception, IDI has embraced the practice of sustainable development for core and shell in our industrial facilities. However, it was often too costly and impractical for our tenants to build out interiors to LEED specifications. With recent developments in cost-responsible yet environmentally friendly building materials, furniture, fixtures and equipment, and new technologies, it is now almost insensitive to not consider the environmentally friendly route when renovating or building out new construction.

In fact, IDI recently moved its corporate headquarters to an office building in midtown Atlanta that was built in the early 1980s. While the building itself is not LEED certified, it was integral to our position as a leader in sustainable industrial development to create an environmentally friendly new headquarters within the existing structure. Many of the lessons learned during this process are now assisting us in providing expertise and guidance to our tenants who are increasingly interested in building green from the inside out.

Review the Rating System
The LEED rating system is complex and ever-changing, and should be reviewed at the outset of any project, as well as throughout construction. Industrial facilities are rated on the same criteria as commercial office space, though the two differ tremendously in terms of both form and function. In addition, the U.S. Green Building Council recently made changes to the LEED process to ensure there isn't a gap between design and construction and actual performance, and now requires that any buildings certified in 2009 and beyond collect and submit energy and water bills for the first five years of operation to validate their certification. Tenants may provide this information voluntarily, but if they fail to do so, they are at risk for having their certification rescinded.

Evaluate Operational Needs
When considering LEED CI for a new manufacturing or distribution facility, it is also important to evaluate the highest and best use of a space before simply going down the LEED checklist. It is not necessary to seek CI certification for an entire industrial facility. In fact, companies can concentrate on obtaining certification solely for the office portion of a building, often making certification more feasible and affordable.

Form a Strong Team
Once a facility's intended use is clear, the developer and tenant should select a project team that can easily work as a cohesive unit dedicated to meeting the project goals. Following a process of integrated design will ensure the team minimizes potential errors and creates a facility that is functional for the long term.

By selecting team members or firms with a LEED Accredited Professional (A.P.) designation, tenants can be assured the facility will be built and operational as designed. It is important to have a LEED A.P. on each part of the team - architect, engineer, landscape architect, construction, and developer.

Independent commissioning agents can also be hired to be part of the project team, though many large engineering and architectural firms have commissioning agents on staff. Commissioning is an important step designed to save on costs over the project lifecycle, while ensuring the building operates as designed.

Evaluate Costs Over the Long Term
Building to LEED specifications is not an inexpensive endeavor, though costs have come down considerably in recent years. However, what is unique about LEED specified materials and technology is that they do offer significant savings for tenants over the long term. In fact, some states with an eye to the future, like Washington, require that government and public agency buildings are built to LEED standards and certified.

When undertaking a new project, it is important to drive down overall project costs by ensuring that environmental performance features are incorporated in a building's design from the outset. Look to water-efficient fixtures to reduce your use of the municipal water supply and the burden placed on water treatment facilities. Evaluate energy efficiencies with a goal to use renewable and alternative energy sources. Ultimately, these technologies will pay off in reduced energy and water bills, more efficient operations, and reduced impact on the surrounding environment.

If you have an opportunity to be involved in site selection, evaluate locations with an eye toward access to mass transit or alternative transportation for employees that can reduce costs for parking facilities, and frequently facilitate access to local and state incentives and tax benefits. Fortunately, with the incentives currently available for green building projects, many developers and tenants are now the recipient of dollars that help offset the higher upfront costs incurred with building green.

Experience the Benefits
Within months of opening a new or renovated warehouse, distribution center, or manufacturing facility, many tenants experience tremendous benefits. Employee retention rates, productivity, and satisfaction increase, while absenteeism is reduced. Tenant liabilities and operations and maintenance costs are significantly reduced year-over-year. Facility marketability for the future is stronger. For these reasons, we encourage all tenants to build interiors to LEED CI specifications.

There was a time when focusing on sustainability was just the right thing to do. With the recent advancements in new technologies, materials, and equipment, today building green is also the smart thing to do.  

David Birdwell is executive vice president and chief operating officer of IDI, a leading, full-service commercial real estate property company based in Atlanta. To date, IDI has delivered 63 world-class business parks, and developed and acquired 134 million square feet of space in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for a growing roster of international clients.