The environmental impact of building construction, design, and operation is significant to say the least. Buildings account for more than 30 percent of the total energy (electricity and fossil fuels) and more than 60 percent of the electricity used in the U.S. annually. They also require more than 5 billion gallons of potable water just to flush their toilets.

In 1999, the U.S. Green Building Council initiated Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a benchmarking system intended to sway companies away from environmentally irresponsible construction and to create a common standard of measurement for green buildings.

Using a holistic approach, LEED measures building performance as it relates to five key divisions:

  • Sustainable site development
  • Water savings
  • Energy efficiency
  • Materials selection
  • Indoor environmental quality

Over the past decade, LEED has become a household term within the real estate industry. And on a larger level, it’s represented a shift in environmental and economic perspective. Inefficiency was once an industry standard — far too easily accepted in most real estate circles.

LEED’s Impact on the HVAC Industry

Because HVAC professionals are essentially responsible for installing, maintaining, and in some cases designing systems for two of the five LEED tenets listed above (energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality), the HVAC industry has played a crucial role in this environmental construction movement.

The prestige of getting a high LEED rating (and the resulting PR benefits) has driven the market demand and encouraged engineering advances in HVAC equipment manufacturing over the past decade. As a result, industry professionals have continued to modify and adapt their standardized practices to meet growing market needs.

New Survey: Fewer Companies Seeking LEED Certification

Despite widespread popularity over the past several years, LEED certifications may soon start to dwindle. According to an annual Market Barometer survey conducted by Turner Construction company (the largest green builder in the U.S.), the desire for LEED certification is losing steam among real estate owners, developers, and corporate owner-occupants.

Though ninety percent of those surveyed voiced their continued commitment to environmentally-sustainable practices, only 48 percent said they were very likely to seek out LEED certification on upcoming construction projects. This figure is down from 53 percent in the 2010 survey and 61 percent in the 2008 survey.

Among those who said they were unlikely to seek LEED certification, the reasons cited were:

  • Cost of the certification process (82 percent)
  • Staff time required (79 percent)
  • Time required for the process (75 percent)
  • Overall perceived difficulty of the process (74 percent)

Despite declining enthusiasm for LEED, companies are still interested in building green. The results of this survey seem to indicate that companies are much more knowledgeable about the means and methods of green building design and construction, and as a result, have become less dependent on LEED as a checklist. Only time will tell if and how this shift in priorities will affect the building design and construction industry.