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by Phil Yacuboski

Green building is growing in Pennsylvania and while there are already a number of completed projects throughout the region, those familiar with the industry believe more will follow.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified buildings are now found on the campus of East Stroudsburg University, The Commonwealth Medical College, schools and bank branches. In 2010, the governor’s residence in Harrisburg became LEED gold certified, the highest rating in the system.

“If the owner is interested in LEED certification, that is very scripted,” said Denise Luikart, associate principal of interior design at Highland Associates in Clarks Summit, who works with owners and contractors in the LEED certification process. “It’s a checklist and you can pursue different certifications under different rating systems. Not all projects have the same type of scope.”

LEED was established by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000. It looks to make projects sustainable – everything from energy to water to the materials that are used. It also includes how much natural air is inside and how wastewater is treated.

Fifteen commercial projects in the last five years have become LEED certified in northeastern Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. GBC. The sizes of those projects range from small – 3,000 square feet to more than one million square feet. MetLife’s South Abington Township was one of the latest projects to become LEED certified.

Luikart said you can certify your building for just the interior, operations and maintenance and there is even LEED for schools. Some certifications are based on water quality and closeness to public transportation.

“It’s based on your project type,” said Liukart of a points system that is used for projects. “Ideally, you would want to reach as many categories as possible. You can’t reach a total certification if you only do a few sustainable attributes. They want you to mimic what goes on in nature.”

Liukart said in most cases, LEED projects aren’t easier.

“It’s easier to throw stuff in the landfill than to recycle it,” she said, “but if you have an owner who is committed to sustainable attributes, then it’s very workable even if it’s less convenient.”

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have been leading Pennsylvania when it comes to green building, according to Heidi Kunka, Central Pennsylvania Director of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Then, the smaller markets follow,” she said. “It makes so much sense. It makes sense for the environment and it makes sense for your pocketbook.”

Kunka said while many projects typically focus on public buildings, like schools and governments, she has noticed a trend in distribution warehouses.

“Higher education is leading the way, however,” she said. “There are many college campuses who want LEED certified projects.

The myth that LEED and green building projects are more expensive, may no longer be a hard fact.

“I think the costs have come down,” said Liukart. “This movement in the building industry and the awareness has made a difference on the manufacturing side. And if you think about it, that’s what they want to do by affecting the industry at large.”

“As long as you have the right partner, it’s not what you think,” said Kunka, adding that the region has plenty of contractors and architects that are familiar with green building. “They know how to design and build and they know what points to pursue so as to not add cost. They know how navigate through the system to get that building for the same cost or a little more.”

Kunka said you can build a LEED certified or LEED Silver building for almost the same cost as a regular project, with gold and platinum adding more dollars to the project.

The process to become LEED is stringent, said Matt Holbert, director of engineering with NRG Controls, a subcontractor that brings technology and energy solutions to clients.

“They want you to be innovative,” said Holbert, who described using kiosks in the lobby of a commercial building to show visitors how much energy is being used. “It makes people think about it and think about turning off the lights when they leave a room. They can see it on a screen.”

Holbert even if a project doesn’t get the highest LEED certification, green portions of the process are popular.

“Reusing items and reducing and recycling and green leads to that,” he said. “It’s helping the environment and people are believing it more. They realize the environment needs help and they want to be a part of that process.”