Subcontractors Should Take the LEED

Caryn Tijsseling
July 1, 2009 — 1,423 views  

The trend towards “going green” in building and construction is here to stay.  With rising energy prices and wide spread climate awareness, residential and non-residential building is required to be more eco-friendly than ever.  The rise of green building and construction projects is becoming visible across the country. 

With this trend, the potential for subcontractors, individual building trades and suppliers to win critical bids on green projects is clear.  This is especially true for projects attempting to achieve a LEED certification.  In order to obtain work on these projects, it will be necessary for a subcontractor to show its “green” know how.  To this end, a working understanding of the LEED certification standards will better enable subcontractors, trades and suppliers to meet the needs of their individual clients and win bids on large construction and building projects.

At the outset, it is important to understand exactly what is meant by green building.  Green building promotes building practices that conserve energy and water resources, preserve open spaces and are accessible to public transportation.  The common definition of green building, sometimes referred to as “sustainable building”, is twofold.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Green building is defined as the practice of “increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use and harvest energy, water and materials.”   Green Building also includes the practice of “protecting and restoring human health and the environment, throughout the building life-cycle: citing, design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.”    

In 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders, launched the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) voluntary rating system.  LEED establishes criteria for green or sustainable buildings by evaluating the location, design, construction and operational aspects of buildings.  The LEED rating system allows for four potential categories of certification.  These categories are LEED Certified; LEED Silver; LEED Gold; and LEED Platinum. 
The LEED standards have become the most widely recognized measure for green design and building in the United States.  The USGBC has defined LEED as the nationally accepted standards for the design construction and operation of high performance green buildings.  LEED gives contractors and suppliers measurable standards to assess a building’s performance.  The LEED standards are also being adopted by federal agencies, states, city and local governments as the standard for construction for municipal facilities and other government projects. 

Further, many of the large non-governmental green building projects are using LEED.  In fact, the largest green building project to date is under construction in Las Vegas, Nevada.  In Las Vegas, the MGM Mirage is developing a 76 acre site on the Las Vegas strip between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo called City Center.  If the project is completed as planned, City Center will be the largest LEED project in the world. 

The LEED standards recognize five key areas of human and environmental health to be considered in building and construction:  1) sustainable site development; 2) water savings; 3) energy efficiency; 4) material selection and 5) indoor environmental quality. 

The first LEED standard, sustainable site issues, assesses the selection of the site for the project.  As a prerequisite for LEED certification in this area a developer must create an erosion control plan that conforms with general storm water discharge permit for construction activities under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System or local standards, whichever is more stringent.  Projects can also receive points for storm water management plans, development density, alternative transportation access, habited and open spaces issues, urban heat island effects and light pollution reduction.

The next standard applies to water savings. Within this category credits can be earned and points are awarded based upon the use of water in the building and management of wastewater produced by the building.  This includes possible points for use of water, efficient landscaping and innovative waste water technologies.

The next category awards points for overall energy efficiency.  This category looks to the overall energy performance of the building and rewards efforts to improve the electrical systems in order to conserve energy.  In addition to awarding points for energy efficiency optimization, points are awarded for the use of on-site renewable energy and the utilization of green power structures. 

Material selection also provides the opportunity to earn points.  Points are awarded for the reuse of existing structural elements as well as the reuse of removed or salvaged building materials.  Points can also be earned for the diversion of waste from landfills.  Further points are awarded when construction and demolition debris is recycled.  In addition, points are awarded for construction designs that incorporate recycled or salvaged materials, regionally produced materials, and rapidly renewable materials.

Finally, LEED awards points for indoor environmental issues.  The category addresses occupant health and safety.  It includes the consideration of such issues as air circulation and access to daylight.  This area may be of particular concern to project owners because poor indoor environmental quality can result in health issues to the individuals occupying the building.  The recent litigation trends regarding to mold and asbestos make the importance of indoor air quality for building owners obvious.
There is also the ability to earn extra points if for innovative design systems.  This is a catch all category that will award points above and beyond those available in the regular categories.

LEED standards are not mandatory. 
owever, several cities and states have implemented incentive programs and state and federal tax benefits and setoffs for environmental penalties are among the advantages of following LEED standards and adopting a green approach to building.  It is expected that LEED standards will eventually be written into building codes and are expected to become the industry standard.

It is these incentives that are causing large construction and building projects to strive for LEED certifications and market their building projects as “green projects”.  This provides a unique opportunity for subcontractors.  Large construction companies will look for subcontractors and suppliers familiar with green principals and the LEED certification requirements in order to approach their larger projects in an integrated way.  An integrated team of building professionals will result in time and cost savings for the entire project.  Such an integrated system approach will likely be preferred in order to avoid inconsistent and potentially disconnected work on a project. 

A subcontractor already familiar with LEED certification requirements and a plan for achieving such standards in their particular scope of work will be particularly attractive to general contractors and developers seeking to create a green building project.  As more and more projects seek LEED certification, a working knowledge of this system will be essential to winning bids on green projects.  For more information on LEED visit








Ms. Tijsseling is an associate in the firm's Construction and Commercial Litigation practice groups. She practices primarily in the areas of bankruptcy and commercial and business litigation. Ms. Tijsseling was previously with Beckley Singleton, which partnered with Lewis and Roca in 2007. Prior to joining the firm, she worked for the law firm of Beesley Matteoni, Ltd., where she gained extensive experience in the areas of commercial bankruptcy and business litigation. After graduating from law school, Ms. Tijsseling conducted a judicial clerkship with the Honorable Connie J. Steinheimer of the Second Judicial District Court in Washoe County, Nevada.

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Caryn Tijsseling

Lewis and Roca LLP