The Lowdown On LEED-Silver Certification

Green Buildings are important to the County’s sustainability efforts.  They improve the county’s operational efficiency.  And they provide real life examples of energy efficiency and new green technologies to other governments and businesses.

In 2002, Cook County became the first government in Illinois to pass a green building ordinance, requiring all new County buildings to be LEED-certified.   The Domestic Violence Courthouse (555 W. Harrison, Chicago) was the first building to be constructed after the ordinance passed.  By going above and beyond the ordinance requirements, it was awarded a LEED-Silver status in 2006. The new courthouse features energy-saving enhancements like a solar-electric installation; which was the largest of its kind in the Midwest at the time.

The County just announced the LEED certification of its second Green building.  I’ve invited Kevin Dick (KD), Project Manager at the Delta Institute and John Cooke (JC), Director of Capital Planning for Cook County to answer some questions about LEED certification, what it means and why residents of Cook County should care about whether their governments achieve it.

Q:        What is LEED and who is seeking it?

A:         KD: LEED is a certification standard published by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

It encompasses the design and construction of new buildings or office spaces, and the operations and maintenance of existing buildings. A project pursuing LEED must demonstrate compliance with the standard through the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), and may achieve a level of Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum depending on the level of effort and resources put toward a project.

Illinois currently ranks third in the nation for square footage per capita of LEED certified space, behind Colorado and Washington D.C. There are 475 certified LEED projects in Illinois.  Close to 1,000 projects are currently registered to be certified. To date, the majority of projects have been New Construction (NC) or Commercial Interiors (CI) certified. A growing, and arguably more important, constituency of buildings is existing buildings. Only 39 existing buildings in Illinois have achieved Operations & Maintenance certification.

Q:        Why is it significant?

A:         KD: LEED forces a project team to take a deep look at all aspects of building construction and operations with an eye toward better design with materials with a lower environmental impact. A well designed new building, though having a higher up-front cost in some cases, will ultimately have a lower operating cost than a building designed to lower standards. In the case of existing buildings, operational savings from energy and water efficiency often far exceed the cost of pursuing LEED.

LEED projects are also market movers. A project achieving LEED certification creates demand for “green” products and services used in construction and in operations. Projects achieving LEED certification also set the bar for their peers. For existing buildings, this may mean that a building that no one ever thought could achieve LEED has shown other buildings that it is possible.

Q:        Describe the levels and categories.

A:         KD: LEED has created standards for several different sectors and uses, in order to allow different building types to pursue LEED. These include:

  • New Construction
  • Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance
  • Commercial Interiors
  • Core & Shell
  • Schools
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Homes
  • Neighborhood Development

The most commonly pursued standard is LEED for New Construction & Major Renovations, though other LEED standards have seen year over year growth over the past several years, and LEED continues to evolve as a standard. The levels of certification are point based, and generally follow seven different focus categories: 1) Sustainable Sites, 2) Water Efficiency, 3) Energy & Atmosphere, 4) Materials & Resources, 5) Indoor Environmental Quality, 6) Innovation in Operations, and 7) Regional Priority.

Q:        What are one or two new developments in the LEED program?

A:         KD: The USGBC is currently in its third public comment period for the 2012 update of all of its standards. This undertaking involves members of the USGBC and the voting bodies, including technical advisory groups, on which LEED relies for expertise, on-the-ground experience, and for consensus. The final voting for the standards will happen in June.

Additionally, LEED has seen the growth of both regional priority and pilot credits, which help make the LEED standard more of a living document. These credits continue to become an important part of the body of knowledge for buildings to push the envelope on their operations

Q:        Does the County have any more LEED-Certified buildings completed or planned?

A:            JC: Provident Hospital's pharmacy is the most recent LEED-Certified building we have completed.  Construction is currently underway on the Residential Treatment Unit, Cook County Department of Corrections.  Completion is targeted for May 2013 and it will be LEED certified. Cook County was the first governmental agency in Illinois to pass an energy initiative, with an ordinance requiring all new construction on County government buildings to be LEED-certified. As a result, all of our new construction or major rehabilitations projects for the upcoming Capital Improvement Program will be seeking LEED certification.

Q:        What did Cook County have to do at Provident Hospital in order to earn LEED Silver Certification?

A:            JC: We worked closely with a local firm (Sieben Energy Associates) who is experienced with constructing and retrofitting buildings to meet LEED certification. Noted below are the highlights:

  • White roofing was utilized.
  • Recycling procedures and recycling storage has been provided to adequately address the building’s needs.
  • Over 50% of all construction waste was diverted from landfill. A total of 4,444.37 cubic yards was diverted.
  • The building ventilation systems are designed to exceed ASHRAE standard 62.1‐2004 (ASRAE is a professional organization that develops a series of standards and guidelines relating to HVAC systems used for LEED certification) providing plenty of fresh air to the building.
  • During construction, indoor air quality measures were utilized to reduce the amount of indoor contaminants due to construction activity. Additionally, the mechanical systems were flushed with fresh air prior to occupancy.

Q:        How will achieving LEED benefit Cook County (patients, employees, taxpayers)?

A:         KD: LEED helps buildings think about their operations from the point of both efficiency and the health of its occupants. Green buildings are usually run with a lower energy and water footprint than a standard building, and are usually designed with the health of occupants as a primary concern. Green buildings can reduce energy use up to 50%, CO2 emissions up to 39%, water use up to 40%, and solid waste up to 70%.

Q:        Who should consider seeking LEED status?

A:         KD: All existing and new buildings, regardless of age, should at the very least use the LEED standard as a benchmark. Those that seek to be held to the standard and be recognized by their peers should seek certification.

Q:        Where can people get more information or assistance?

A:         KD: The USGBC has local chapters all over the country. The website of the local chapter of the USGBC is

All of the standards, including other resources, are available at

Project level help may be found at