The Intangible ROI on LEED Projects

The Intangible ROI on LEED Projects – Promotion & Education

By Allison Hudock

In 2022, I started traveling again after the COVID shutdown, and a goal of mine was to visit sustainability-friendly cities and see how many building plaques I could spot – sort of my version of “I spy a LEED/WELL building.” I made it back to NYC and Seattle, and new cities San Francisco, Boston, and Portland, OR.  I  had the opportunity to stay in my first green certified hotel, –a LEED Silver spot in San Francisco, and right at the check in station was their plaque. I strived to apply my same values when apartment hunting in Pasadena, CA recently. I toured a LEED Silver complex in town; and was excited to see their plaque hung in the leasing office.  As I took a picture of it, the leasing associate asked me what I was doing – so I explained what I do for a living and what the plaque represents. As I left the tour, it made me wonder why the leasing office wouldn’t be promoting the LEED certification on their website or materials to prospective tenants?  Why would the developer/management company not want to educate the leasing office to promote this attribute?  What is the intangible value that a LEED certification holds, and why is it important to communicate that to the public?

For those of us in the industry, it’s easy to spot buildings with LEED plaques or decals on their windows. But what comes after the shiny plaque gets hung on the wall and the sticker is prominently displayed at the front of the building?  What is the responsibility of the building owner, operator, leasing agent, and PR firm to promote the wonderful attributes of the building that gained them that prestigious certification? What intangible value does that certification hold to the general public and tenants that pass through the building space each day?

We are in the days of heightened social media and elaborate websites.  Most people have heard of green building, and many in professional circles know what LEED means, but there’s a whole host of the general public that isn’t versed in what it means to them. These days, there might be folks seeking out hotel accommodations or workspace situations where health and wellness are at top of mind; so a space with enhanced safety measures (i.e. touchless access points), or non-toxic furnishings might be preferable to them. Some may be focused on waste reduction and look for easy-to-access recycling and/or compost bins. Others may be more cognizant of energy usage, or whether buildings have EV charging stations, or if they are they powered by a solar array.

Typical return on investment (ROI) may be based on financials (i.e. at what price can a space be leased out at, or how many hotel guests are needed to fully book the hotel, how much money is being saved on utilities), but there is this hidden ROI as well that some projects capitalize on better than others. What is the responsibility of the building owner/developer/management company to promote these attributes?  How can they leverage the green building certification to entice new residential or commercial tenants, employees or hotel guests?  As part of LEED certification, points can be obtained for educational signage on the property pointing out sustainable features.

Leasing or other real estate agents would benefit from being educated on LEED and elements that contributed to the buildings’ certification; keeping in mind that they may or may not be visible to the naked eye (many improvements are unseen, including enhanced HVAC systems and window glazing). 

Detailed information about LEED on a website or pamphlets (printed with soy ink on recycled paper of course) to distribute highlighting the building’s contribution to a smaller environmental footprint are examples of promotion. LEED certifications can be advertised at the corporate level via social media, travel websites, local advertising, conventions, and other PR methods. 

The general public is entitled to have access to information on LEED certified buildings that can be digested it in an uncomplicated way. Particularly if the building is a hotel or congregation space, where folks may have a choice as to where they book their reservation, this information may help to inform their decision. While some folks may not be interested in this type of information, others may be pleasantly surprised or delighted. Just one takeaway from one person can have a trickledown effect.