LEED and BREEAM can generate ‘stories of leadership’ for businesses, says USGBC

EXCLUSIVE: The ongoing expansion of LEED certification opportunities in Europe can enable businesses to become leaders in the built environment, by obtaining duel, third-party certifications that highlight the business case for green buildings.

That is the view of the of the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) chief executive Mahesh Ramanujam, who urged European businesses to push for both BREEAM and LEED certification on new builds and retrofits, claiming that duel certificates would signify leadership and commitment to sustainability.

“I am a proponent that companies should do all certifications,” Ramanujam told edie. “If someone does BREEAM, we should be able to extract the minimum number of inputs from that project to give them the LEED certification, so that they could get doubly recognised.

“The opportunity is there to generate a story of leadership through duel, third-party certification. The market needs to understand that there is value in certification and it is important to pursue to generate validation from the external markets.”

LEED standards for buildings were developed by the USGBC and have branched-out internationally. The council’s sister organisation the Green Business Certification Inc (GBCI) has delivered more than 37,700 LEED certifications to green buildings and community projects across the globe, including more than 5,200 European projects.

Last week (27 April), GBCI opened a new base office in Munich to drive interest in the certification. Despite the 5,200 projects certified to LEED standards on the continent, BREEAM still holds an 80% market share in Europe.

However, Europe is at a crossroads regarding green buildings. USGBC data suggests that 60% of European residents expect their buildings to be green by 2018 and Member States have a 30 April deadline to publish updated strategies for building renovations, which account for around 36% of Europe’s emissions.

Ramanujam claimed that LEED and BREEAM would be “complimentary” rather than competitive, with both focusing on market transformation and sustainability in the building stock. Where the competitive nature should come in, Ramanujam suggested, was through businesses using both certifications as a “differentiator” to separate their projects from others as a “sign of excellence”.

Price tag

The uptake of LEED in Europe hasn’t come without its critics. Some argue that the system lacks adaptability, but the USGBC has taken steps to equip the system with mechanisms that will accelerate its uptake in Europe, namely through finance.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) has reported that $57trn in infrastructure investment is needed to transition cities to the low-carbon economy, and for green building renovations, finance is being hindered by unattractive political environments.

A €2.35m Build Upon programme was launched by Europe’s Green Building Councils to implement ‘renovation strategies’ on existing buildings, but USGBC has moved to deliver a global underwriting standard for energy efficiency projects.

GBCI partnered with the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) to deliver the Investor Confidence Project (ICP), which offers certification for Investor-Ready Energy Efficiency (IREE) projects in the built environment.

ICP has already trialled successful projects in Europe, such as the Liverpool NHS, and the US and seeks to boost investor confidence on the financial and environmental performance of building retrofits. A standardised roadmap assesses project risk to increase the reliability of projected energy savings through IREE. The certification can reduce overhead costs as a result, bringing more retrofit projects to the market.

The project has a clear focus on using data to remove any uncertainties that investors have in order to accelerate financial revenues into building projects. Ramanujam claimed that the next decade will place transparency at the heart of the built environment to stimulate the business case for green building projects.

“When you look at Europe’s existing building stock, the opportunities are not aligned,” Ramanujam added. “We needed to bring the right set of tools. ICP drives a very clear focus on our existing building stock so that investors have a set of protocols to have a standardised business case for developing projects and measure their financial return.

“We can now look at energy-efficiency projects through a clear financial lens and drive fundamental change within their assets. It delivers economic improvements alongside the desired environmental outcome. The future is about data and it is time to get to the bottom of the business case and integrate like the telecoms sector has to deliver larger value and accelerate market transformation.”

With the number of companies that have more than 60% of their building projects certified ‘green’ expected to double in the next two years, having both BREEAM and LEED certifications can not only act as a differentiator, but also unlock new financial streams in the process.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie