March 21, 2017 | Liz Austin

Small businesses and emerging cities alike can benefit from going green with LEED certification.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used system of rating green building practices. Developments can earn LEED certification points based on how they address several different sustainability issues, and are awarded one of four rating levels — certified, silver, gold or platinum. Small businesses take note: adhering to LEED standards has demonstrable economic and cultural benefits for companies and their communities.

LEED for Small Business

Small businesses may be wary of pursuing LEED certification due to the elevated cost of integrating sustainable materials and the stricter construction standards it requires. But green technology has been shown to lower overall operating costs — the New Building Institute found an average decrease in energy consumption (a frequent budgetary concern) by 24% for LEED-certified buildings. In New York, the LEED-certified Washington Square Park toilet facility is equipped with solar panels which offset 34% of the building’s electrical load.

The large windows, open spaces, and air quality that define LEED-certified buildings not only help with energy savings, but also make for a more positive office environment for employees. Considering that only 32.6% of employees in the United States are engaged in their work, this is certainly a benefit worth considering. According to Harvard Business Review, “Honest design, spaces that reflect employees’ needs and concerns…is something that employees notice, interpret, and value. It can boost engagement, when given a chance.”

Small businesses that demonstrate commitment to green technology also stand to gain considerable positive attention in the eyes of the public — 84% of consumers consider a company’s environmental and social commitments “very important” when determining which companies they’d prefer to see doing business in their community, and which ones they will personally patronize. And speaking of community benefit, LEED-certified construction projects can be a boon to a local economy, since LEED practices utilize local labor and materials.

LEED for Emerging Urban Centers

Considering these benefits, LEED-certified construction projects represent a viable path forward for cities and communities in Rust Belt cities, like St. Louis and Detroit, that are emerging from the economic shifts of the past several decades. The governing bodies of these cities may be reluctant to put projects into motion based on the initial cost, but as with small businesses, the return on such investments is considerable.

As mentioned above, the overwhelming majority of consumers prefer companies that have demonstrated a commitment to sustainability. The same applies to green cities, as attention to environmental issues has come to the forefront of our national consciousness. The UN has set out sustainable development goals to reach by 2030, and creating sustainable cities and communities is among their top priorities. According to them, “The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions.” In light of this, the UN proposes the need to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

As a growing portion of the population makes its way from the suburbs to cities, they’re bringing businesses with them — General Electric, for example, recently relocated its headquarters from suburban Connecticut into downtown Boston as part of the company’s effort “to attract the talented workers who prefer to live and work in cities.” With this in mind, emerging cities must make strides toward sustainability — not only to cut their energy consumption costs, but also to create a positive public image that will attract new talent and businesses. This is particularly important among younger demographics: almost half of Millennials have an awareness of green buildings, and are more likely to support green businesses.

For small businesses and emerging urban centers, the benefits of prioritizing LEED certification and sustainable structures may be well worth the initial cost and effort, now and for years to come.

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