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What Is The Best Green Property Certification For Commercial Owners?

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Green property certifications, aimed at verifying that properties are designed, built, or managed in accordance with energy efficiency and sustainability principles, have become increasingly important to property owners in recent years. This has been spurred by a range of factors: increasing concern over Environment, Social, and Government (ESG) factors from occupiers, business leaders, investors, and the general public, the emergence of a number of large investment funds specifically targeting green or ESG-related investments, and growing competition to stand out amongst properties particularly at the class A, trophy level. 

While property owners’ options for certifications have proliferated over the past half decade or so, it has also gotten harder for the average owner to determine which certifications work for their goals and property situation. There is a wide range of certification types out there, including sustainability, wellness, and technology, and even within the field of sustainability certifications alone the options present take a variety of approaches to verifying efficiency and green qualities.

In this report, we’ll provide the reader with a comprehensive overview of the sustainability certifications that are available today, share advice on which may be most appropriate given different owner scenarios, and discuss impacts to value of these certifications collectively. Property owners will take from this report an educated perspective on the universe of building certifications currently available, and which will deliver them the results they’re looking for. 

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Executive summary

Of all the certifications available today, sustainability certifications are the oldest, the most numerous, and arguably the most important given the number of investors that consider ESG criteria in their funding decisions. Different sustainability certifications approach measuring sustainability in different ways. Some take a design-first perspective, where plans and methodologies are the primary criteria for certification. Others focus on results, emphasizing measurables like energy consumption, water use, and trash generation. 

According to Ben Myers, Vice President, Sustainability at Boston Property Group, the biggest reason for why certifications matter is that they provide a neutral, trusted, third-party validation of the sustainability efforts a property has gone through. If you’re going to go through the effort of making your property highly efficient and deeply sustainable, why not go the extra mile and attain a certification that universally signals a certain standard of attainment?

Research indicates that green certifications have a positive impact on property values for both renting and sale, and often a negative impact on operating expenses. Of course, it is not the certification itself that confers these benefits but rather the underlying changes and adaptations that certified buildings must make. Regardless, cutting operating expenses, whether through the use of more energy efficient appliances and systems, or design that puts an emphasis on efficiency, is a good thing for all property stakeholders. It boosts NOI for owners, and reduces utility costs for occupiers on net leases. 

Additionally, most certifications require ongoing tracking of measurables like energy consumption. These figures are important for visibility into operations for investors, occupiers, many of whom will appreciate this transparency of ESG data, and employees alike.

Alongside these pricing and value impacts, the other big selling point of most certifications lies in marketing. There is value in the recognition that certifications have, beyond the weight of their operating and value impacts alone. For this reason, it can make sense to pursue the most recognizable certifications versus their upstart alternatives.

Understanding Certifications

In this section we will discuss the largest and most important sustainability certifications on the market today, and explore the reasons that some might be more or less appropriate than others for owners in a range of situations. 

LEED

LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is probably the most recognizable certification in the United States. Offered by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) worldwide since 1993 and currently on version 4.1, LEED provides certifications for new and existing buildings across a range of focus areas, from neighborhood development to building maintenance. Used for 80,000 properties as diverse as student housing to office buildings, the employees and guests of enterprise occupiers likely have a higher chance of being familiar with this certification than its competitors. 

LEED also benefits from USGBC offering more than just property certifications. In addition to certifying buildings and spaces, LEED also accredits professionals for a range of built environment certifications, denoting their knowledge and expertise in areas like sustainable development and neighborhood planning. In addition, USGBC members have access to a range of events, courses, and discounts for building LEED certifications. Finally, LEED certifications are performed by GBCI, Inc, which also handles the actual certification process for a number of other certifications on this list. This interconnectedness means that LEED credits often contribute to the attainment of other certifications, as well.

LEED, as the acronym implies, takes a design-first approach to certifying for sustainability. Ben Myers of Boston Property Group added that given this design-focused methodology, LEED is “strategically a good way to organize a design team. Everyone is getting their head around a LEED Scorecard early on,” which clears up communication and sets goals right from project inception.

Alongside the certifications explained below, LEED is moving forward with LEED Positive, an emphasis on structures and cities that actually provide restorative effects to the environment. Instead of simply eliminating waste, LEED Positive will require, most importantly, buildings that not only limit carbon emissions but actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, or not only don’t consume energy but actually generate it. LEED Positive is likely a long way off from becoming a core component of the certification system, but it represents the way of the future for LEED.

LEED certifications cover a range of different focus areas and apply to most property types, excluding mobile homes.

LEED BD+C: Building Design and Construction
This certification applies to the majority of new and renovated buildings, across property types, and aims to demonstrate the holistic green approaches of a given building. Also available under BD+C is a separate variation called Core and Shell Development, aimed at developers who don’t control tenant buildout.

LEED O+M: Operations and Maintenance
Available at the building scale as well as the discrete interior area scale, O+M reflects existing buildings, whether under improvement or finished, that reflect sustainable operations and management practices. As such, O+M might be appropriate for owners of properties that are too old or constructed in such a way as to make building-level sustainability certifications prohibitively difficult to attain. 

LEED ID+C: Interior Design and Construction
Meant for scenarios in which a team has control over the design and build out of an indoor space but not the building shell or ongoing operations, ID+C is applicable to all property types. For most commercial real estate professionals, O+M or ID+C will be the most relevant ones to their projects.

LEED ND: Neighborhood Development
LEED ND is different from the other certifications in that it does not reflect the qualities of specific buildings or interior spaces, but rather neighborhood-scale projects. Despite the name of this certification, LEED ND is available for both neighborhoods in the planning and design phase, and ones that were built up to three years previously.

LEED for Cities and Communities
Similar to LEED ND, LEED for Cities and Communities applies to larger scale projects. Developed to reflect the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, It is less relevant to real estate businesses and more relevant for planners and leaders within cities and towns themselves. 

LEED for Residential Design and Construction
This certification focuses on single family homes that demonstrate proper design and construction across the three spheres of health, savings, and value. It is appropriate only for developers of single family housing.

LEED Zero

LEED Zero is an additional certification framework that certifies buildings for attainment of net zero goals. Four categories are offered: LEED Zero Carbon, Zero Energy, Zero Water, each of which are awarded for zero net consumption of each resource over a 12-month period, and LEED Zero Waste, which has as a prerequisite attainment of the TRUE certification at the Platinum level (discussed below). For property owners and developers that truly go above and beyond to create exceptionally sustainable properties, LEED Zero is a fitting result.

LEED projects include several distinct elements. First, property hopefuls must meet a set list of prerequisites, like compliance with local environmental ordinances, certain density requirements, and willingness to share energy and water use data. Once these prerequisites are met, properties seeking LEED certification must attempt to gain credits, which measure specific targets and goals within each certification type. Attaining credits confers points, which are summed to provide an overall LEED rating from simply “Certified” to LEED Platinum.

The LEED program has several associated fees, in addition to the costs of actually implementing the required sustainability measures. Each certification barring Zero has a registration fee that does not guarantee certification, but rather serves as the first step toward certification. This fee is typically $1,500 for commercial properties, with discounts available for some member types. Registering to certify homes costs less and neighborhoods and cities costing more than the single property commercial figures above. After registration fees, sponsors seeking BD+C, O+M, neighborhood, campus, or city projects can opt to pursue LEED precertification, which provides a vision into how certification will actually be awarded. For most projects, precertification costs $5,000, with discounts available for members.

Actually certifying a project has additional costs beyond that. These range in amount and are typically based on project size. An example commercial project of 100,000 square feet, without member discount, would cost $6,800 to certify for BD+C. A range of additional fees are also present based on expedited processing or various types of appeals. A full pricing breakdown is available here

For their money, project sponsors exploring LEED get several additional outcomes alongside just certification. Each project receives an experienced LEED Coach, meant to answer questions and provide guidance through the certification process. Certification registrants also gain access to Arc, a digital platform meant to help owners track the progress of their LEED projects. Notably, LEED projects of all types require recertification every three years. In addition, LEED requests that data be tracked and added to the online review system yearly (to avoid paying repeat registration fees). Recertification typically costs substantially less than initial certification.

The following certifications are all assessed by GBCI, and are thus easier to attain for LEED-certified buildings. 

SITES

SITES is another GBCI assessment focused on landscape and grounds. It is designed to complement LEED, its building-focused alternative. This certification is oriented around sustainable landscapes, measurable performance, and value elevation, and is applicable for a range of spaces from national parks to corporate campuses to individual homes, with a minimum size of 200 square feet.

SITES follows the LEED-standard approach of ranking buildings from Certified to Platinum, and there is crossover in points between LEED and SITES. Points are gained by owners paying attention to the design, sustainability, and usability of their green or outdoor spaces. Specific measurables are as follows:

  • Context
  • Pre-design + planning
  • Water
  • Soil and vegetation
  • Materials
  • Human Health Well Being
  • Construction
  • Operations and Maintenance
  • Education + performance monitoring
  • Innovation

Registration for SITES costs $2500-$3000 and certification itself costs an additional $6500-$9500. While SITES is far less renowned than LEED, adding it could be a good strategy for sustainability-focused property owners hoping to stand out against the multitude of properties that solely achieved LEED certification.

TRUE

TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) is a certification focused on zero waste. Properties that attain TRUE certification take measures to eliminate landfill waste, or adopt other strategies to reduce and eliminate waste generation. 

There are several drivers for TRUE’s four levels of certification, from Certified to Platinum. Properties seeking to attain TRUE status must attain at least 31 points out of a total of 81 across these drivers. These revolve primarily around a 90 percent plus diversion from landfill, environment, or incinerated waste. 

To equip owners with the tools necessary to attain TRUE certification, the provider offers a precertification pathway and also provides a designated “TRUE Advisor” who can help guide applicants through the process. Registration for the certification costs $1200-$1500 and certification itself costs between $.010-.023 per square foot. Attaining the TRUE certification at a Platinum level is a prerequisite for receiving LEED Zero Waste certification.

RELi

RELi is a certification that focuses on an underrepresented area of emphasis: Resilience. A property that is RELi certified should be able to assess, mitigate, and outlast negative events like disasters. The certification uses the same ranking scale as LEED, from Certified to Platinum, and similarly requires a minimum $1200-$1500 registration fee plus other fees. 

RELi is presented to buildings that achieve particular gains in fields like hazard preparedness, onsite production of food and energy, and particularly resilient materials. Projects pursuing RELi certification must also pursue LEED certification, and there is 25 percentage point overlap between the two. 

The other GBCI certifications cover different areas than what the core LEED program focuses on, but because points are pooled between these certifications, they can be more convenient to achieve than pursuing completely new certifications run by different organizations. 

GRESB

GRESB, or the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, is a provider of ESG data and assessments. GRESB assessments are also performed by GBCI, and while LEED status is considered in GRESB, there is not a formal point-sharing system. GRESB benchmarks both infrastructure and real estate, and real estate will be the focus of this discussion. 

While LEED and BRREAM is directed at certifying the sustainability and green characteristics of buildings, GRESB real estate is primarily targeted toward investors, who use GRESB data to keep track of the ESG performance of their investments. Consequently, GRESB focuses not on individual properties, but rather the companies that own them. In whole, GRESB is applicable to companies, funds, separate accounts, and joint ventures. At the time of writing, GRESB counted over 1,200 property companies as participating in its benchmarking.

As assessments themselves are only a small component of what GRESB represents, its actual pathways to assessment are streamlined compared to the likes of LEED and BREEAM. GRESB bases its assessments on three components:

Management
This component focuses on the management practices, structures, and policies that underpin a real estate organization. 

Performance
The Performance component focuses on the measurables of portfolio operation: energy, greenhouse gas emission, water use, and waste generation.

Development
This component tracks how companies apply ESG principles to the design and construction of their assets. Renovation is also included within this component. 

These components come together to form two separate benchmarks. The GRESB Real Estate Benchmark judges companies on their performance across the Management and Performance components, while the GRESB Development Benchmark includes the Management and Development components.

While GRESB scores its participant organizations on a number of criteria like LEED and BREEAM the final step for GRESB is benchmarking against a competitive set of similar organizations, not assignment of a rating like Platinum or Gold. These benchmarks can be shared with GRESB’s investor members, who have ownership stakes in the companies and organizations themselves.

BREEAM

Alongside LEED, BREEAM is the other most widely used property sustainability certification. BREEAM, for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, is a UK-based property certification for new construction, existing, and refurbishment projects available since 1990 and more recently introduced in the United States. It is currently active in 86 countries and 2,313,475 properties. According to BRE, the parent organization, it is the first of all the property certifications ever available. 

With an emphasis on sustainability, BREEAM is different from LEED by offering a third party assessment scheme. While GBCI handles all the assessment needs for LEED projects, BREEAM certifications can be performed by a large number of independent assessors. 

Like LEED, several different unique standards are available under the overall BREEAM umbrella. 

Communities
BREEAM Communities focuses on larger developments, like district developments and neighborhoods. This program focuses on building sustainable practices into these communities from the master planning phase.

Infrastructure
CEEQUAL is BRE’s infrastructure certification, meant for large-scale engineering projects and infrastructure developments like highways, bridges, stadiums, and ports. CEEQUAL is unlikely to be relevant to most real estate professionals, except for developers of business parks.

New Construction
The New Construction standard is relevant to ground-up developers of various property types. Attaining this requires that developers make certain sustainability-focused allowances within their plans, and that those plans are followed through on during construction. Along with the following two standards, it is the most likely of all the BREEAM standards to be relevant to commercial real estate professionals.

In-Use
BREEAM In-Use focuses on offering benchmarking and improvements to the sustainability of operations in completed projects. The measurables for this standard focus on energy, waste, wellness, and land use metrics, but also include some less quantifiable aspects like management practices and resilience.

Refurbishment & Fit-Out
Finally, Refurbishment & Fit-Out targets construction work done after a property’s initial completion. This standard grades buildings on the extent to which sustainable practices were integrated into the initial project scope and design, and then, like BREEAM New Construction, how these plans were executed. Factors considered include the reuse as opposed to demolition of existing building components, interior design, performance, and beyond. 

BREEAM also provides an option for a Bespoke Process, targeted at properties similar to New Construction or Refurbishment & Fit-Out but that do not fit the requirements for standard projects under either of these schemes, as in the case of mixed use developments.

BREEAM measures each of its participating projects on a number of factors:

  • Energy
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Innovation
  • Land Use
  • Materials
  • Management
  • Pollution
  • Transport
  • Waste
  • Water

This is similar to LEED certification, but unlike LEED, BREEAM requires third party assessment. The process of attaining a BREEAM certification is relatively collaborative, with project sponsors required to identify a project assessor early on, and then complete a pre-assessment with this expert. The full cost structure is available here.

BREEAM is concentrated in the United Kingdom, and has a diverse presence around the world. Despite this, LEED remains the most recognizable standard for green building performance within the United States. 

ENERGY STAR

While ENERGY STAR might be best known for its product certifications for appliances and other devices, the certification is also offered to buildings. It has been provided by the U.S. government through the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency since 1992. Focusing on energy efficiency, ENERGY STAR building certifications are applicable for commercial and residential spaces either located within the United States or owned by the government. 

As part of the program, ENERGY STAR provides owners energy efficiency tools. The centerpiece tool is ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, which allows owners to view the energy performance of their properties in context. In order to attain the EnergyStar building certification, properties must be benchmarked within Portfolio Manager against peer group buildings. Properties that land in the top 25 percent of energy performance and complete third party assessment are conferred ENERGY STAR certification. Another certification is available for leased office spaces.

In comparison to LEED, which certifies buildings based largely on design, ENERGY STAR certifies buildings more specifically on actual energy performance. ENERGY STAR also requires an annual third-party verification for certification maintenance. While the program has no cost to apply, the required third-party assessment by an engineer or other expert will carry the associated professional fees.

IREM Certified Sustainable Property

IREM, the large professional association for real estate managers, offers the Certified Sustainable Property (CSP) designation for existing office, medical, multifamily, and retail properties. Applying for CSP costs $660 for members of IREM or holders of the Accredited Management Organization certification, and $1,100 for non-members. There is also an available volume program for portfolios. Properties must recertify every three years.

Attaining the certification requires properties to amass points across a number of categories. For offices, the relevant categories are Management, Energy, Water, Health, Recycling, and Purchasing. Each category has several goals that owners can pursue to gain points. It is important to note that none of the Office property categories require major efforts in terms of design, tech systems, or construction. Instead, they focus on leadership, practices, and policies, like establishing a water management policy or holding quarterly sustainability management meetings. 

IREM CSP is indeed positioned as a relatively easy to attain certification for properties that may not be able to qualify for other certification options. The homepage for the certification describes it as “attainable, affordable, and meaningful.” Consequently, owners who want to get their properties certified but are limited in terms of resources should strongly consider pursuing CSP.

RESET Standard

RESET is a newer certification, which despite being active since 2013 is only in place at 165 buildings. This certification focuses on using sensors and performance metrics to track building effectiveness for both Core & Shell and Commercial Interiors projects. There are five standards included within RESET. Air is already developed, and focuses on air quality monitoring for occupant health. The standard tracks five different factors: PM2.5 (particulate pollution), TOV (Total Organic Volatile compounds), CO2, temperature, and relative humidity. 

RESET plans to measure four other areas: Materials, Water, Energy, and Circularity. With the exception of Materials, which is in the pilot phase, the other areas are all in development. In addition to the standards themselves, RESET offers a wide range of services. It provides professionals certified in its methodology to projects, provides RESET-related data, delivers air quality sensors accredited in RESET measurements, audits properties, documentation, and data, and offers cloud-based analytics and benchmarking too.

RESET is noteworthy for its emphasis on sensor technology. It focuses on streaming data to the cloud during the operational phase of participating buildings to provide more accurate, timely information on building performance on an ongoing basis. Because sensor-driven data is the centerpiece of the certification, RESET allows for easier sharing of information between landlord and tenant, and also allows for easy separation of data, for instance if only the interior-focused certification is being pursued. Costs are based on project size, and include three components: the costs of the sensors, or monitors, the software, and the certification itself. 

While RESET is advanced in its functioning, it is one of the harder certifications to attain. This is in part because it requires teams to have additional knowledge on setting up and configuring its foundational sensors, and also because RESET only helps provide building data, and does not provide owners ideas on how to put that data to use. For this reason, RESET can be seen as a great certification option for more advanced owners seeking to take their certification efforts up a notch beyond the competition.

Green Globes

Green Globes is a sustainability-oriented certification offered through the Green Building Initiative since 2004. Like LEED, Green Globes offers certifications for new and existing buildings, but like BREEAM, it uses third-party assessors to verify achievement. In total, Green Globes is offered across several categories:

  • New construction
  • Core and shell
  • Existing buildings
  • Sustainable interiors
  • Multifamily new construction
  • Multifamily existing building 

The assessment process is custom-tailored to the situation but properties seeking certification must attain at least 35 percent of the total 1000 points available. Properties are awarded a number of globes based on their performance, with one globe for 35 percent of available points to four globes for 85 percent and above. The certification costs a $1500 registration fee, assessor travel costs, plus an assessment fee based on size and project type. 

GreenGuard

GreenGuard has been offered since 2001 but was bought by UL, formerly Underwriter Laboratories, in 2011. It provides a measure of materials, products, finishes and buildings, and it focuses primarily on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). 

The process of attaining GreenGuard certification requires a performance-based evaluation that reviews air quality and in particular property emissions (such as volatile organic compounds, which cause a range of health problems). GreenGuard is offered as a single-level certification, with GreenGuard Gold offered as a separate certification aimed at measuring emissions of chemicals that children are sensitive to, for schools, daycares, and healthcare facilities.

Investor Confidence Project

The Investor Confidence Project (ICP), another GBCI-administered standard, focuses on energy efficiency and larger projects. It was initially founded by the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit, and today provides a noteworthy certification despite its more limited scope. 

ICP serves as a standard for energy efficiency, with specific ICP Protocols that serve as a roadmap for energy efficiency. These standards can focus on either system energy efficiency, or smaller scale, more specific improvement areas within a project.

ICP’s main certification is called Investor Ready Energy Efficiency (IREE). IREE itself targets energy retrofits as opposed to new building construction, for both multifamily and commercial properties. The process of attaining this certification relies on project sponsors first completing 1.5 hours of training, for the cost of $199, and then developing and executing an energy efficiency retrofit project in accordance with the ICP Protocols. After project completion, sponsors must hire a Quality Assurance Assessor to review plan details and functions, prior to registering for and completing the certification process.

Registration and certification fees range from $325 to $2,500 depending on project size. These costs do not include fees to contract an independent Quality Assurance Assessor.

Edge

Centered around resource efficiency, EDGE is funded by the government of the United Kingdom. Buildings that seek to attain this certification must, at a minimum, reduce their expected energy and water consumption by 20 percent. The certification is applicable to a wide range of property types, including the standard home and office settings but also industrial properties, schools, and hospitals. 

To attain the certification, properties must make improvements across the spheres of energy efficiency, water efficiency, and materials efficiency. These include factors like limiting window to wall ratios, using high-efficiency fixtures, and choosing the right materials to promote energy conservation.

Edge costs applicants a $300 registration fee plus $.22-.27 per square meter of space. The certification provides its applications with a range of services in addition to simple property accreditation, including education courses, technical workshops, and expert advice. 

Impacts of Certifications

In most cases, getting a property certified for whatever reason takes time, money, and a fair amount of attention from a third party. So what are the main impacts derived from going through the process? 

Addressing ESG concerns

Environmental, Social, and Government (ESG) monitoring is becoming an increasingly important metric to watch for many stakeholders within commercial real estate. This includes both investors and occupiers. According to Andrew Weir, KPMG International’s Global Head of Asset Management and Global Chairman of Real Estate, “There is little doubt that demand for ESG-linked real estate investments is growing. Before the pandemic, about 25 percent of global assets under management were viewed through a sustainability lens. In the next three years, I suspect that proportion will rise to 75 percent or more. This is a top-down strategic priority for many investors, business owners, regulators and tenants and it is not going away.” For property owners, an uptick in investor interest in ESG means that ESG properties might sell better at the end of the holding period. 

In addition to capital markets factors, leasing is also often easier in properties that put ESG front and center. Many corporate occupiers treat ESG as a measurable factor in their space RFQ processes, meaning that properties that can provide evidence that they were built and are managed sustainably have a competitive advantage. 

It is the provision of evidence that certification systems have to offer in this context. Of all the buildings working on implementing ESG goals, not every single one has a certification, but those that do benefit from the visibility that these third-party accreditations provide. 

Validation

Another reason to pursue a certification is to validate work that has already been done onsite. For instance, perhaps a given property has solar panels, or energy-efficient lighting, or takes certain steps to increase occupier wellbeing. Owners can always simply advertise their properties as “sustainability-centered” or “built with green materials,” but big certification names like LEED show everyone is independently trusted as well as carrying with them a large degree of name recognition. For owners of properties that don’t have strong competitors, this might not matter. But if a given property is competing against other properties with similar specifications, and in particular, certifications of their own, going above and beyond to attain more certifications or achieve a higher level of certification, like Platinum versus Gold, can yield rewards.

Marketing

This leads to our third driver, which is in many ways an extension of that last one. As more occupiers and investors look for properties that actively prioritize things like sustainability and wellness, finding a way to measurably highlight the way a given property checks those boxes is something many landlords may want to do. According to LEED, for instance, 61 percent of corporate leaders say that sustainability is a driver of market differentiation.

Marketing as an independent objective of property certifications plays out across a number of scales. The stamp of a certifier like LEED or WELL applies at the time of property sale, when, as discussed before, many investors have funds specifically targeted around ESG investments. Even for traditional investors, with all things being equal, a certified property is more attractive than a non-certified one. Certifications that carry with them an assumption of lower operating expenses are attractive to investors since they will, on average, result in greater NOI over a long term.

For leasing, certifications are also important. Many enterprise occupiers have specific targets in their leasing RFP processes that reward properties with verified attention to ESG factors. In addition, occupiers are also attracted to sustainability-certified properties because they carry with them the tacit assumption of lower utility bills over time.

Occupiers, of course, want to occupy spaces that they can rest assured will be the best for their own employees. This is the final direct impact of certifications on marketing: sustainability and wellness-focused certifications offer a direct benefit to employees, and can be very useful in the hiring efforts of the companies that occupy these buildings. 

Property values

One of the biggest questions owners considering a certification will have is whether or not investing in the process will result in a tangible impact on property value. There are several areas where this plays out in the real world.

But first, it is important to make a comment. Many certifications will describe themselves as benefitting property owners by adding things like increased energy efficiency or improving occupier health. However, it is not the certification itself that is conferring these benefits, but rather the underlying efforts, material choices, policies, and strategies. Barring the certifier offering some sort of consulting or education in addition to simply certifying properties, the direct impacts of the certification are limited to marketing, communication, and reputational areas. A property that meets, for instance, all the requirements of LEED Platinum but does not attain certification, and a property that does receive Platinum certification, all else equal, will be identical in all physical ways. 

Cost savings

Cost savings are a very likely outcome of sustainability certifications. Since these accreditations reflect improvements to things like energy-saving materials, management practices, and sensors, operating cost savings related to utilities is practically a foregone conclusion. And as owners know, cutting operating costs is one way to improve the cash flow, and consequently the valuation of commercial property.  

However, it’s important to remember that these cost savings are the result of the underlying property improvements, not the certifications itself. Going through all the efforts to get, say, LEED certified, but then not going through with the same certification, will result in the same energy cost savings that a full certification would yield. For this reason, it is important that owners fully consider their goals before embarking on a certification process. If pure cost savings are the only tangible goal, a certification may only be worth its weight as a guide to sustainability practices. 

Conclusions

There is a growing body of research showing the impacts of various certifications on property values. While much of this research focuses on sustainability certifications, which is the type with the longest history, it is possible to gain some conclusions as to value impacts through these studies. In their in-depth meta-analysis of certification value impacts, Leskinen, Vimpari, and Junnila of Finland’s Aalto University developed the following table.

These results indicated that certifications like BREEAM, Energy Star, and LEED are responsible for rent premiums of up to 23 percent and sales price premiums of up to 35 percent.

Other Strategic Considerations

Consolidation amongst certifiers

While some areas of certification, like transit and network connectivity, already have a clear front runner amongst providers, other fields are highly fragmented and quite competitive. This is particularly true for sustainability certifications, which is a huge and diverse playing field. While this means that owners have a wide range of options for achieving their particular certification goals, it also means that there are certain risks associated with choosing the wrong horse. 

Even if many sustainability certifications focus on the same areas, like energy efficiency and sustainable materials, there are certain differences from provider to provider. If a property owner chooses to get certified by a provider who eventually closes down operations, the result could be a property with a range of sustainability measures, each with an embedded cost, that do not directly qualify it for certification by another provider. While it is impossible to make predictions of who will prosper and who will falter in the long-term, it is likely that the big names at present are safe bets.

The impact of government regulation

The reality of the modern business landscape is that some governments have begun implementing their own requirements for various property measurable, in particular sustainability. If more cities begin enacting similar requirements, the result could be a new baseline for what buildings must achieve to avoid fines. This would likely put upward pressure on the standards embodied by property certifications, causing them to revise their requirements to be more stringent. It could also result in some consolidation amongst certification providers. If everyone is expected to embrace a high level of measurable sustainability anyway, there will be less market need for numerous different certifications. 

At the same time, while federal legislation will touch properties everywhere, some cities may choose to market themselves as being particularly business-friendly, in other words, eschewing sustainability requirements or even making promises to steer clear of such requirements for a long period of time. This could create unique local market characteristics that might reward the landlords that do go above and beyond to certify their properties in these areas. 

Conclusion

The wide range of certifications means that there should be one applicable to every property situation imaginable. In this report we have discussed the wide range of certifications that are out there, the drivers for pursuing certifications, and their effects on properties in terms of marketing, values, and efficiency. 

For most owners beginning their property certification journey, LEED is the best choice to pursue. It is widely known within the United States, has well-documented pathways to attainment, and connects with a number of other certifications like TRUE and RELi that owners can elect to pursue as well. 

Getting certified is not for every property, as it can be prohibitively expensive and require a large amount of time and effort. But the properties that do go through the process can find themselves with a range of benefits over their competitors.

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