McNeely: Detroit can become a green building leader

Kevin McNeely

We are blessed with a culture of remarkable architecture here in Detroit. We have Art Deco masterpieces like the Fisher and Penobscot buildings. The instantly recognizable Renaissance Center. And icons that run the gamut from the beautiful spires of One Detroit Center to the blighted Michigan Central Station.

Years ago, Detroit’s beautiful architecture earned it the nickname “the Paris of the West.” Today, as we embark on an opportunity to revitalize Detroit and remake it in a way that can serve as an example for recovering Rust Belt cities, we should seek to ensure that it earns a new moniker: the Green Building Capital of the World.

The Detroit Regional Chapter of the U.S Green Building Council is working hard to make this goal a reality. The U.S. Green Building Council is the organization behind LEED, the most widely used and widely known green building program in the world. LEED can play an instrumental role not only in the greening of Detroit, but in our rebirth as a world-class city attracting world-class talent and businesses.

LEED-certified buildings are better at bringing in and retaining tenants. Green buildings have up to a 20 percent higher occupancy rate. Those tenants enjoy a much healthier environment, as LEED buildings have cleaner, healthier indoor environmental quality. They also tend to be more productive. A recent study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that companies that adopt more rigorous environmental standards are 16 percent more productive than those that don’t.

Meanwhile, owners of LEED-certified buildings see significant return on investment.

One 2012 study on world green building trends found that operating costs decreased 13.6 percent for construction of new green buildings and 8.5 percent for the green retrofitting of existing buildings. Plus, the value of those buildings increased 10.9 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively.

That’s why 88 Fortune 100 companies use LEED to meet their goals. In a recent Fortune 100 survey, 60 percent of those surveyed said LEED positively impacts their return on investment, while 70 percent said they use LEED as a means to save money by being more energy efficient. And LEED is not just for big corporations and skyscrapers. Everything from single-family homes to gorgeous historical structures like South Hall at the University of Michigan Law School have benefited from LEED certification. On the multi-family front, LEED certified apartments earn approximately 9 percent more rent than non-certified units.

In a market like Detroit, where so many exciting things are happening, buildings need a competitive differentiator to stick out from the crowd. LEED-certified buildings — which offer lower operating costs and better indoor environmental quality — are more attractive to a growing group of buyers. Simply put, LEED certification creates better buildings, and better buildings lead to stronger cities.

With energy policy at the forefront in Michigan this year, now is the perfect time for leaders to implement policies that support and encourage green building in Detroit and throughout the state. Let’s tap into our history as an architectural leader, and leave a legacy of better buildings, and a better Detroit, for the next generation.

Kevin McNeely is chairman of the board of directors of the Detroit Regional Chamber of the U.S. Green Building Council.