The Salinas (Calif.) Aquatic Center is the latest addition to the growing green movement in aquatics facility construction. Building green isn’t just a fad — it’s the direction in which our industry and so many others are heading. If you are considering LEED certification for your aquatic project, it’s a worthwhile undertaking, but not an easy one. So we’re offering you a quick overview of what it means, the benefits and drawbacks, the steps you need to take, and where you can go to find the information you need.

LEED is a term that’s used a lot these days — but what exactly does it mean? The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building System rates the sustainability of the design, construction and operation of new or renovated buildings. Every eco-friendly element of your structure — from the materials you use and where you get them to how much natural light there is and how you treat your wastewater — is assigned points. Your rating (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum) is based on the number of points you “score” overall.

Different rating systems exist based on the type of structure you’re building. So whether you’re starting a project such as a new construction, a core and shell update (base building elements including structure, envelope and HVAC), or adding onto an existing building, there’s a rating system for your type of project.

Points are awarded in the following categories:

  • Sustainable sites (pollution reduction, storm-water design, maximizing open space, public transit access)
  • Water efficiency (water-use reduction, innovative wastewater technologies, water- efficient landscaping)
  • Energy and atmosphere (energy performance, use of renewable energy, green power)
  • Materials and resources (reuse and recycling of building materials, construction waste management, regional materials)
  • Indoor environmental quality (increased ventilation, low-emitting materials, controllability of lighting and thermal comfort, daylight and views)
  • Innovation in design (innovative approaches, use of accredited professionals)
  • Regional priority (durability, credits that vary by region/climate).

LEED is an international organization with national chapters, and though other standards exist for environmental assessment of buildings, it is quickly becoming the worldwide green building standard.  

In addition to helping the environment, LEED certification has a number of benefits:

  • Tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives
  • Long-term savings through energy efficiency, lower operating costs and increased asset value
  • A healthier atmosphere for users and staffs in terms of indoor air quality and availability of natural light
  • Legitimacy — LEED certification shows that a building’s sustainable features have been verified by a recognized third party
  • It shows a genuine concern for the environment and the community
  • It’s a compelling story to share with patrons, media and the community — and a useful tool for promoting your facility

That all sounds great. But is it expensive? Yes … and no. Building to LEED standards is undoubtedly more expensive, but only initially. If you think long-term, the higher initial price tag is offset by lower operational costs. And once you consider potential subsidies and/or tax benefits, the economic argument gets even stronger. However, platinum certification has requirements with higher capital costs, so take that into consideration when choosing your certification level.

Here’s how to make sure your project gets LEED status:

  •   Plan green from the start. Identify which level of certification you want to go after, and ensure you and your vendors have all the right documents. The LEED process starts with a very detailed specification developed by the architect that shows everyone exactly what they have to do (including paperwork), and prices it accordingly.
  • Be prepared for hard work. With time-consuming paperwork and submittal requirements, a LEED project can run longer than you’d expect. Meeting all the requirements can be challenging, too. For that reason, it’s important to get buy-in from every person involved. Everyone from designers to contractors to engineers should be committed to sticking with LEED principles at every stage. In the Salinas project, the teams were brought together with the understanding that they would be designing, building and operating to LEED standards, so the process was streamlined from day one. 
  • Get a LEED-accredited professional on your team. Not only does their expertise ensure a smoother process, but having one earns your project a LEED point. This can be a designer, an architect, a project manager and the like.
  • Submit your application. It documents your compliance with the rating system and includes registration and certification fees. Certification is granted based on the number of points your project has earned.

Now you’re ready to “take the LEED” and start thinking green for your own aquatic project. It’s better for your users, your revenues — and for the planet.