Seeking LEED Certification for Schools

By Tommy Linstroth

With today’s greater emphasis on sustainability, energy efficiency and healthy environments for students, educational facilities can benefit from seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Indoor Air Quality Boost

The LEED standard is designed to encourage the construction of environmentally healthy and energy-efficient facilities. Incorporating the LEED guidelines and best practices related to indoor air quality can especially benefit students.

The IAQ requirements in LEED v4.1, which should become the official standard in early 2020, have been updated to comply with the 2017 version of the California Department of Health standards. It’s a more recent standard for environmentally acceptable products and materials that can be used in construction and furnishing schools.

Improving indoor air quality in schools is all about protecting students. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that poor indoor air quality causes student illnesses and increases absenteeism. The flip side of the equation is that finding ways to improve air quality in schools ends up boosting student performance, according to the EPA:

IAQ problems can cause increased absences due to respiratory infections, allergic diseases from biological contaminants, or adverse reactions to chemicals used in schools. … Studies demonstrate a connection between improvements in IAQ — either from increased outdoor air ventilation rates or from the removal of pollution sources — and improved performance of children and adults.

An important component of the LEED certification is the section designed to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions indoors. These emissions can damage air quality and human health, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

LEED Planning Logistics

With USGBC transitioning to LEED v4.1, facility planners and managers for school districts have a golden opportunity to pursue certification, as the updated standards make several environmental credits more accessible. Project managers will have an easier time actually finding materials and building products that are compliant.

LEED v4.1 will remain in a pilot phase through early 2020 at the least. Until then, ongoing projects can opt into being evaluated using the LEED v4.1 standards on a credit-by-credit basis. This gives project teams the flexibility to use the LEED version they find most beneficial.

Communication and Record-Keeping

Local governments can end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars building new educational facilities. Although the funding bodies might balk at the idea of going green on a project, fearing it will inflate the cost, using basic green construction techniques and materials can be done without drastically increasing the bottom line.

Even better, green building practices focus on energy efficiency and durability. This means long-term budget savings on energy and maintenance costs and a higher ROI over the life of the facility.

When pursuing LEED certification, project managers must have practices in place to help ensure proper communication and record-keeping or face the prospect of failure. This starts with an ongoing dialogue among all the stakeholders — project owners and managers, designers and contractors — to establish a clear plan for using the right materials and processes.

Detailed record-keeping is also a requirement. Not having an adequate system in place allowing day-to-day tracking and recording of materials and processes used is a recipe for failure. Given the scale of educational facility construction, attempting to reconstruct a record of materials and processes used during a project covering years is virtually impossible. Without this documentation, efforts to achieve any sort of third-party certification for the project will not be successful.

Summing It Up

Green building practices matter in educational facilities. The built environment of schools can affect student performance and health for better or worse, especially when it comes to indoor air quality issues.

Receiving LEED certification for a project means more than bragging rights. It’s a pathway to improved quality of life for students and teachers, helping provide them with healthy facilities where they can work and learn in safety. Green building practices can reduce lifetime operational costs for educational facilities, increasing the ROI on what is often the largest capital expenditure for local governments.

Tommy Linstroth is founder and CEO of Green Badger, a cloud-based solution for equipping project teams of all levels of experience with the tools they need to document LEED as efficiently as possible.