With the 114th Congress newly underway, leaders from both political parties have said they want to work together. All they need are issues that both sides can agree on. Here's one — energy-efficient buildings.
Energy efficient green buildings are a model of bipartisan consensus. On the one hand, buildings that save energy help the environment by reducing carbon emissions that lead to global warming. On the other hand, energy efficiency also cuts costs and enhances the bottom line — and global competitiveness — for real estate developers and American companies. The increased bottom line, in turn, results in greater tax revenues without raising taxes.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the leading green building certification program in the U.S. and around the world. LEED is a consensus-based program overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Each day, 1.7 million square feet (the equivalent of 35 football fields) of building space in more than 150 countries and territories is certified. LEED-certified construction supports or creates 7.9 million jobs across all 50 states — construction and energy-retrofit jobs remain firmly planted on U.S. soil — and LEED contributes $554 billion to the U.S. economy annually with 88 of the Fortune 100 companies using the rating system.
The U.S. government also uses LEED as a tool to meet its goals. Certification of federal buildings saves U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars every year. That's another thing Republicans and Democrats alike can crow about. The federal government is the largest consumer of energy in the U.S., but as much as 30 percent of that energy, unfortunately, is wasted. LEED significantly reduces that waste.
For example, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that LEED-certified federal buildings reduced energy use by 25 percent compared to the national average and cost 19 percent less to operate. One notable success story is the LEED-certified U.S. Treasury Building, which is saving taxpayers $3.5 million each year. That makes the greening of the Treasury building, one of the oldest green buildings in the world, not only a big success, but an historic success.
Since 2006, LEED has been utilized by the federal government, and it has been extensively evaluated by General Services Administration. A national lab study found that LEED meets 96 percent of federal government performance requirements and concluded that LEED is the best system for retrofitting existing buildings and saving taxpayers' money in operations and maintenance. The National Academy of Sciences recommended that the U.S. Department of Defense should continue to design and construct its buildings to earn LEED's "silver" certification, showing that LEED provides long-term economic savings and positive returns on investment.
LEED's progressive standards are developed by the companies that use them. LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based, third-party program, traits which appeal to political conservatives. USGBC has nearly 13,000 member companies, including 1,300 product manufacturers, which makes up the third-largest segment of USGBC membership. Many of the building materials used in green buildings and retrofits are made in the U.S. and LEED's voluntary credits spur innovation and American technology.
The political left also has ample reason to embrace LEED. LEED "gold" buildings emit 34 percent less greenhouse gases than average commercial buildings. As reported in Forbes at the end of last year, "the documented benefits of 'green' buildings extend beyond lower power consumption." The research funded by California's Air Resources Board and analyzed by the Center for Resource Efficient Communities concluded that 100 LEED buildings were not only more energy-efficient, but achieved significant greenhouse gas reductions related to water conservation (50 percent), solid waste management strategies (48 percent) and sustainable transportation measures (5 percent).
As if that weren't enough to celebrate, cleaner airflow and more access to natural light help make LEED buildings healthier and happier places to work. Currently, 2.5 million American employees work in LEED buildings — a number that is expected to grow to 21 million by 2030. These employees receive many health benefits. Studies have shown that buildings meeting LEED requirements have seen 50 percent to 75 percent fewer reports of health problems than other buildings.
Tenants are more productive in LEED buildings. The buildings have cleaner air, better lighting, more daylight, better controlled temperature and fewer toxins. A variety of studies have shown that improved ventilation and better lighting support productivity gains, up to 11 percent and 23 percent respectively.
Embracing LEED goes beyond party lines, as it benefits people and the environment, drives innovation and the economy and saves money for building owners from corporations to federal government.
Platt is president of the U.S. Green Building Council.