By Katie Stanford and Stuart Kaplow

LEED Commercial Interiors projects present the best single opportunity for greening buildings.

The proof is in the numbers. There are more than 5.6 million existing commercial buildings in the United States today.

And despite the wildly successful U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (the ubiquitous acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most widely used green building rating system in the world, less than 1% of commercial buildings in the U.S. are LEED certified (.. the percentage worldwide is obviously far lower). There is a huge opportunity in that remaining over 99% of the more than 5.6 million existing commercial buildings.

Of the more than 28.8 businesses in the U.S. greater than 80% exist in rented space within those existing commercial buildings.

LEED for Commercial Interiors enables project teams who may not have control over the whole building to build out green tenant spaces. Simply stated, LEED CI is the green benchmark for tenant improvements.

New construction of green buildings cannot save the planet in the short or mid term. Less than 170,000 new commercial buildings were constructed in the U.S. last year and while, of course the vast majority of those were not green (LEED certified or otherwise), that number is all but insignificant given 5.6 million existing buildings, being over 87.4 billion square feet of floor space. But greening those millions of existing buildings, one commercial build out at a time, can have a huge impact.

And for projects registered since October 31, 2016 that means the LEED v4 ID+C: CI rating system.

But what do historical numbers presage? Of the more than 90,900 total registered LEED commercial projects as of August, 2017, few are LEED CI? Actually the numbers are surprisingly low when compared to other LEED rating systems

Today there are only 3,392 LEED CI 2009 projects. In the earlier version, there are only 1,328 LEED CI 2.0 projects. And in the initial pilot only 48 LEED CI 1.0 projects

However, the early v4 numbers foretell a Gold opportunity.

There are 34 certified LEED v4 ID+C: CI projects already certified comprising 1.8 million square feet. 22 of those projects are outside of U.S. 12% of those are certified Platinum, 34% certified Gold, 23% certified Silver, and 29% Certified. So the largest number are certified Gold, conjuring up a Gold rush.

That Gold opportunity is because LEED v4 is a significant upgrade to the LEED 2009 version of the rating systems. LEED v4 is not simply a step in the continuous improvement of the rating system. And while not a Neil Armstrong “giant leap for mankind” it is all but an entirely new third party verified green building rating system with the potential to boldly go where it has not gone before, including in the CI market.

Upon review, the 34 LEED v4 ID+C: CI projects already certified, inspire optimism not only for the green building industrial complex, but also the larger built environment. The projects are as varied as nearly 3 dozen buildings can be. We reviewed the Green Loop Headquarters, an office, awarded Gold v4 only 10 days ago that is only 846 square feet. We also studied the Bindery on Blake renovation of Suite 100, a Gold v4 certified office that is a much larger 22,000 square feet. There are some LEED credits that scream opportunity:

CI v4 project teams should view the new CI v4 IPc1: Integrative Process credit as an opportunity. This new credit is achieved with an initial analysis of energy and water systems to identify synergies within the project design that can optimize energy and water use.

The CI v4 WEc1: Indoor Water Use Reduction credit rewards tenant spaces that exceed the minimums specified in the CI v4 WEp1: Indoor Water Use Reduction prerequisite. Points are earned for every 5% of additional potable water savings over the prerequisite for reductions of 20%. Curiously the WaterSense label requirements for plumbing fixtures that were recommended in LEED 2009 are made mandatory; at a time that EPA has announced it intends to discontinue the program (possibly spinning off Watersense to a private owner?).

The CI v4 EAc1: Enhanced Commissioning credit goes farther than the fundamental commissioning incorporating changes from the v4 prerequisite that make this credit more advantageous and less first dollar cost intensive than in v 2009. Be aware that building envelope commissioning is now included in this credit.

Another new credit is CI v4 EAc3: Advanced Energy Metering, requiring tenant energy meters to provide tenants with data or installing advanced energy metering for all energy sources in the space. Smart meters including and wireless metering are making sub-metering realistic in most spaces.

There are 2 options to achieve the CI v4 MRc6: Construction and Demolition Waste Management credit, either diverting waste from landfills or now new and improved v4 provides a novel alternative for source reduction that is not generating more than 2.5 pounds of construction waste per square foot.

CI v4 MRc1: Long Term Commitment can be achieved simply by signing a 10 year or longer lease. The concept is that the longer the term of occupancy the less materials required for the move by an existing tenants and a new tenant occupying the space.

One of the new credits that is much talked about is CI v4 EQc9: Acoustic Performance. And while this does not really work with an open floorplan, building occupants report dramatic positive results from impacting HVAC background noise, sound isolation, reverberation time, and sound reinforcement and masking. An interesting quirk, this credit requires that local codes are used in place of national codes, to the extent that such exist. The noise level limit for schools is 35 dBA which can be difficult and expensive to comply with, but the limits are less strict for offices, conference rooms and the like.

Perusing the CI v4 checklist will no doubt suggest other credits that are efficacious for a particular project. And don’t forget to consider Innovation credits and Regional Priority credits that can quickly add points to your total.

But, of course a LEED CI v4 project is not the only answer. The LEED Existing Building rating systems present an alternative, but have to date failed to move the market. LEED EB has not been available to most commercial buildings because they cannot achieve an EnergyStar Portfolio Manager rating of at least 75. Additionally, LEED EB requires a whole building and when most commercial building are rented to more than one tenant, such is an issue.

Another very good option may be the USGBC’s relatively new Arc. According to USGBC, Arc is a “state of the art platform designed to help you collect, manage and benchmark your data so you can improve sustainability performance.” Arc is a benchmarking tool, requiring data inputs in 5 categories: energy, water, waste, human experience, and transportation. The bulk of this data is readily available through EnergyStar Portfolio Manager (that EPA has also announced it intends to discontinue or greatly scale back, possibly spinning off EnergyStar to a private owner).

The data tracked by Arc is measured by a ‘performance score.’ This score can be utilized as a benchmarking tool, in and of itself, and it can also be directly translated to a LEED certification. (The Arc pathway is ideal for many LEED EB buildings looking to recertify, as it allows a project to forgo costly prerequisites and many credits).

We are told, people in the U.S. spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. In the context of this article, making those commercial interior spaces better work places results in healthier and more productive workers that has a dramatic impact on the bottom line. LEED for Commercial Interiors and Arc enable project teams who may not have control over the whole building to build out indoor spaces that are better for people that occupy them while at the same time being better for the planet.

The hard fact is there are just not enough new buildings constructed each year, even if all of those were green (but the true number is less than 20% of those may be green) to significantly reduce the impact that the built environment is having on the natural environment. The sweet spot is greening the buildings that already exist.

Greening the millions of existing buildings, one commercial build out at a time, with LEED CI v4 certified or Arc scored space, can actually save the planet.


Katie Stanford LEED AP O+M, Fitwel Ambassador, is a project manager at Lorax Partnerships, LLC, a green building consulting firm in Baltimore where she specializes in existing buildings. She can be reached at Stuart Kaplow, Esquire is a sustainability and environmental attorney at Stuart D. Kaplow, P.A. in Baltimore with focused experience in green building. He can be reached at