“Green” Certifications LEEDing Facility Managers

With sustainability on the minds of designers, architects and facility managers, deciding whether the investment necessary to achieve “green” certifications is worth it may seem overwhelming. There are labels and certifications for the facilities themselves, and professional accreditations for industry professionals. Some are offered by government agencies; others are distributed through nonprofits and international organizations. Where do you begin? And why bother?

If you manage a facility, here are the green certifications and accreditations experts say you should pay attention to.


We all know what ENERGY STAR is. And we all know its goal is to–well, reduce energy consumption. But why should facility managers use its performance evaluation tools? For one thing: It’s a valuable, no-cost benchmarking tool. Why not take advantage of that? ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager gauges performance and offers benchmark comparisons between similar facilities that show facility managers where improvements can be made. And ranking higher than 75 percent of comparable buildings will earn a facility the ENERGY STAR label.

In a 2011 survey conducted by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), 85 percent of facility managers had a conservation plan in place. Unfortunately, only 47 percent were current participants in ENERGY STAR.

“ENERGY STAR is the simplest and best recognized of benchmarking tools, providing a uniform way for people to determine the efficiency of their facility,” says David Braslau, Vice President of Project Development at Constellation Energy.

A 2008 CoStar study showed that buildings with ENERGY STAR labels (as well as LEED certification–my next point) outperformed their “non-green peers” in areas like occupancy, sale price and rental rates–sometimes by wide margins. According to the study, “ENERGY STAR buildings are selling for an average of $61 per square foot more than their peers.”

An ENERGY STAR Summary of Financial Benefits claims, “Managers of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) with large ENERGY STAR portfolios confirm that both tenant comfort and occupancy are higher in their ENERGY STAR labeled buildings.”

Lastly, ENERGY STAR is a launching pad for LEED certification, helping to meet the energy criteria that facilities will be graded on. Overall, much value can be reaped from participating in ENERGY STAR’s no-cost program: benchmark comparisons, higher rent, higher occupancy and higher sale price. Why not participate?


Obtaining LEED certification is a costly investment, but is it worthwhile? It demonstrates corporate responsibility and a commitment to sustainability, and generates cost-savings through lower energy bills and tax abatements. In addition, Braslau suggests a less obvious reason to jump on the sustainability train:

“Prestige. LEED certification is viewed in the industry as much harder to obtain than a passing ENERGY STAR score–a much higher bar. For commercial owners, it’s a marketing tool. It attracts tenants who are environmentally conscious.”

LEED grades facilities on six major categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation in Upgrades, Operation and Maintenance. Braslau notes, “LEED is focused on the broad spectrum of sustainability. It’s a more holistic look.”

Chuck Lohre, President at Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy, gives Cincinnati-based Messer Construction kudos for recently achieving LEED-EBOM (Existing Building: Operations and Maintenance) certification. Its employees proposed a $60,000 sustainability investment to management, arguing that it could be repaid in four years with energy savings.

After tweaking behaviors and making a handful of improvements within Messer’s facility, “They’re now saving $3,000 each month. And they paid off the project in 15 months–less than half the time they expected,” explains Lohre.

Lohre also notes another incentive for certification in Cincinnati: “You get up to a 15-year tax abatement. That can be a savings of $8,000 each year, which adds up over 15 years.”


And that brings me to some of the professional accreditations that can be obtained through various organizations and associations. As a facility manager, is having an additional credential behind your name impactful?

Some of the common accreditations include LEED’s Accredited Professional, IFMA’s Sustainability Facility Professional, Association of Energy Engineers’ Certified Energy Manager and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers’ High-Performance Building Design Professional Certification. Wow, that’s a mouthful. What does any of that really mean and does it make a difference?

In short, yes (according to several industry professionals, that is).

LEED-AP seems to carry the most notoriety given its recognition in the green community. Obtaining LEED-AP accreditation signifies a holistic understanding of the operations and maintenance of a sustainable facility. Having an Accredited Professional on staff will also gain a facility a free point on its LEED scorecard.

Perhaps most important, though, is the need for a building to continue performing optimally once it’s met criteria for certification. Constellation Energy’s Senior Vice President of Demand Response, Peter Kelly-Detwiler, says, “Without staying on top of it, a building’s performance will wander over time.” Regular oversight by knowledgeable management is key to lasting efficiency.

Having a facility manager in-house who wholly understands the building’s functions is an incredible asset. Kelly-Detwiler goes on, “It’s an environment, an ecosystem–everything from the bike rack to the performance of the technology to the occupants’ behavior. If someone on staff can understand that and can hold true to that, it keeps the initial investment and achievement from wandering out of compliance.”

He finished our interview with, “Having a [credentialed] facility manager is kind of like having a doctor living in the building.”

Are you a facility manager whose building has earned an ENERGY STAR label or LEED certification? Or have you earned one of the professional certifications? If so, do you have stories of how these certifications have proven useful or valuable over time?

Special thanks to Steven Schillinger, President of GRC-Pirk Management, and Mark Vallianatos, Policy Director of Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, for their insight and expertise.

Image courtesy of John McStravick.



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