Regarding the article in Steamboat Today, “City of Steamboat reviews LEED certification requirements,” the efforts by the local development community to drop the LEED energy and environmental performance certification requirements on single-family and duplex construction in the mountain base area are at best ill-informed. At worst, they are a blatant and outright shameful attempt to shift costs on to the owners and tenants, and ultimately on to the city and its taxpayers.
LEED standards recognize that the largest costs of a building are in its operation, not in its design and construction. Allowing developers to skimp on investments in energy and water savings in the building design phase only serves to pass the resulting increased operating costs on to the building owners and tenants. Aggregated together, increases in building energy and water demands increase the burden on our energy, water and wastewater infrastructure. Ultimately, this will require an increase in taxes to fund the requisite infrastructure maintenance and expansion.
As the noted author Peter Senge pointed out in his book, “The Necessary Revolution, How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World,” LEED transformed the building industry, changing the approach to building development from a “race-to-the-bottom” to a “race-to-the-top.” Before LEED came on the scene, the developer focus was on first costs, i.e., set the budget as low as possible in order to maximize profit. That focus results in a race-to-the-bottom, with architects, engineers and contractors working to build what amounts to the worst performing building you can build and still meet code.
LEED shifted the focus from first costs to life cycle costs. In effect, the system alerted the owners and tenants to the high and hidden operations and maintenance costs due to, among other things, higher energy and water consumption. It showed how up-front investments in better and more resource-efficient designs can be recovered quickly through operational cost savings. With LEED, building development shifted to a race-to-the-top, as architects, engineers and contractors work to identify and implement new technologies to support the LEED brand.
LEED was always intended to be a marketing tool for building developers and owners. The U.S. Green Building Council, the organization that operates the LEED certification system, set out to brand LEED as a provider of tangible value to building owners. Buildings that have earned a LEED certification have significantly higher selling and leasing prices. In fact, upon earning a LEED certification, the first thing the building owner receives from the council is an eye-catching wall plaque for the building, along with guidance on how to advertise the achievement.
If the Steamboat Springs development community wants the city to drop the LEED certification requirement because third-party certification costs too much, then I submit that the development community either doesn’t understand or is incapable of capitalizing on the value that LEED certification offers. Moreover, a quick Internet search for LEED certification costs yielded results of $1 per square foot or less. Looking at housing prices at the Steamboat base area, that cost is well below 1 percent of the per square foot real estate prices.
I urge the City to take a broad view of LEED certification requirements, looking beyond what appears to be the miniscule cost of certification. Requiring LEED certification not only increases building value, but brands the city as a place that understands how to leverage that value in a resource and cost-conscious community.