Certifying All Future Commercial Buildings in Charlotte LEED Gold


To:        Mayor Dan Clodfelter

From:    Christopher Johnson

Re:        Certifying All Future Commercial Buildings in Charlotte LEED Gold

Date:     February 6th, 2015

Many buildings in Charlotte are negatively impacting the environment, human health and the economic strength of the city. Most buildings built within the city limits of downtown Charlotte were built using traditional methods of building that focus on cutting costs during construction. This type of construction is economically beneficial only if looking at the construction phase of the building’s lifespan.1 Traditional construction of buildings often cut costs by using cheaper forms of insulation, focusing on short term functionality and relying on traditional building methods.2. These buildings, while slightly more cost effective in construction, will ultimately use huge quantities of energy, decrease the efficiency of workers, and pollute the atmosphere and water.3

                  All future commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet constructed within the city limits of downtown Charlotte should be LEED Certified Gold. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is a system for measuring the environmental impact of buildings and awarding those buildings that are constructed in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. There are four levels of LEED Certification: LEED Certified, LEED Certified Silver, LEED Certified Gold and LEED Certified Platinum. To be certified LEED, a building must promote environmental awareness, demonstrate social responsibility (through recycling, reusing, green cleaning, etc.), reduce environmental impact and improve occupants’ comfort through environmental means.4 Each level of LEED Certification has its own specific requirements, but the general principle is the same for each of them. After careful and extensive research, I recommend that you require all buildings constructed in the city limits of downtown Charlotte to be LEED Certified Gold.

LEED Certified buildings provide several major environmental, social and economic benefits in the long-term life of a building. Several studies, such as ones published in the Engineering Management Journal and the Journal of Facilities Management, explain the multitude of benefits gained by constructing buildings that are in compliance with LEED standards.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Minimizes use of non-recyclable resources2
  • Water and energy efficiency can improve by 20-35%2
  • Promotes responsible use of resources5
  • Decreases the amount of pollution that is released into the atmosphere by 30-45%6

Social Benefits:

  • Added environmental exposure improves morale6
  • Improves tenants and employees’ understanding of environmental issues2
  • Reduced stress levels lead to improved health3
  • Citizens approve of city’s dedication to the environment7

Economic Benefits:

  • Decreased cost of utilities by 25-40%2
  • Improved employee efficiency6
  • Decreased health costs from employees and decreased employee turnover3
  • Increased lifespan of building2

LEED Gold provides the most environmental, social and economic value for its cost, as compared to the other LEED Certifications.5 While being certified LEED Gold is a more expensive process that requires more upfront capital than simply being certified LEED or LEED Silver, it produces more benefits in the long run. A study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association finds that projects that aim at being certified gold or platinum are more likely to succeed in having a significant effect on the environment and the economy.5 San Francisco has mandated that all buildings built within city limits will be certified Gold.7 By mandating the certification rather than only suggesting it, it reduces the cost on companies because it gives them a set path and set rules to follow.7

Analysis (SWOT)

                  Strengths: In your inaugural statement, you stated that one of your priorities was to further explore the “Smart City” idea and be environmentally conscious.8 This proposal helps you achieve that goal and will show you support the idea of environmental sustainability, which is a high priority form many voters. Furthermore, it will improve Charlotte’s overall aesthetic appeal and will increase Charlotte’s economic strength by improving the cities working conditions.

Weaknesses: There will be a transition period that could prove frustrating if rules are not carefully laid out and followed. Since this a large change for a well-established industry, there will be resistance when this is first recommended. However, several other cities have implemented the LEED mandate and have had success.7 This will also require more capital in the short run and could marginally raise the price of rent by 2-4%.7 The benefits from the LEED Certification outweigh the costs within 10-15 years.2 Since the energy costs are kept so low and there is less wasted materials and energy, the LEED Certification ultimately pays for itself.2

Opportunity: The fact that other cities have seen the benefits of this mandate can have will work in your favor when presenting this proposal. Charlotte would not be the first city so it would not have to deal with figuring everything out without help or guidance. However, even though you would not be the first to mandate LEED Gold Certification, the trend globally is moving towards more energy efficient buildings and it is better to jump on this trend early. Finally, this will bring in lots of positive publicity on a national level.

Threats: Because this is a new trend, there is only preliminary data out there that is not fully supported. Many articles and studies base their findings on trends and likely outcomes due to the limited number of examples and the recent nature of these examples. However, the number of articles and studies supporting LEED certification is continuously increasing.

You have the opportunity to push Charlotte to the forefront of the environmental sustainability movement while also improving the city’s economy. By implementing the proposed mandate, you are making a strong effort to show that you support preserving the environment and that you care about the future. However, you are also making a decision that will benefit Charlotte’s economy for years to come. You are showing that you are willing to invest in the future of your city and your country.


  1. State Market Brief: North Carolina. (U.S. Green Buliding Council). at <http://www.usgbcnc.org/?LEEDSnapshot>
  2. Paul von Paumgartten. The business case for high-performance green buildings: Sustainability and its financial impact. J. Facil. Manag. 2, 26–34 (2003).
  3. Nyikos, D. M., Thal, A. E., Jr, Hicks, M. J. & Leach, S. E. To LEED or Not to LEED: Analysis of Cost Premiums Associated With Sustainable Facility Design. Eng. Manag. J. 24, 50–62 (2012).
  4. Edwards, T. J. & Kumphai, W., PhD. Sustainability in Multi-tenant Office Buildings: Anatomy of a LEED EBOM Program. Energy Eng. 109, 7–23 (2012).
  5. Garde, A. Sustainable by Design? Insights From U.S. LEED-ND Pilot Projects. Am. Plan. Assoc. J. Am. Plan. Assoc. 75, 424–440 (2009).
  6. Ofori-Boadu, A., De-Graft, O.-M., Edwards, D. & Holt, G. Exploration of management practices for LEED projects. Struct. Surv. 30, 145–162 (2012).
  7. Miller, N., Spivey, J. & Florance, A. Does Green Pay Off? J. Real Estate Portf. Manag. 14, 385–399 (2008).
  8. Harrison, S. Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter eases into new role. Charlotte Observer (2014). at <http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article9204896.html>

About Christopher Johnson

Chris is a sophomore environmental studies and political science major at Davidson College. He is interested in pursuing research in environmental policy and law.

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