LEED Unveils Nine ‘Safety First’ Credits, Health-centric Tools for Heading Back Inside

LEED, Safety First

As countries around the world continue to face tragic outbreaks of coronavirus, the United States is transitioning deeper into post-pandemic life despite the emergence of variants, thanks largely due to strong and increasing vaccination rates in the country. A majority of businesses plan to have employees back in the office in some capacity by fall this year with many companies already doing so, and students will return to schools and campuses in droves. Americans are eager to leave their homes, as indicated by domestic leisure travel being fully recovered to 2019 levels. Plenty more are going out for food and drinks; in some states, restaurant traffic has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

The LEED Gold Bank of America Plaza, an existing building recertification project in Dallas, owned by Metropolis Investment Holdings, was one of the first buildings to pursue a LEED Safety First Credit.

But as people head back indoors, they understandably want to know with greater certainty that these spaces are adequately prepared to handle re-entry. Is the office’s air-filtration system enough? Have schools and universities introduced infection-control monitoring procedures? Are retailers still deep cleaning their stores?

After months of social distancing and endless Zoom meetings, a simple “trust us” from building managers is not enough. No wonder that a recent CNBC survey of top business executives found that 84 percent consider employee health and wellness to be the key factor in a post-pandemic work model.

Fortunately, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed nine LEED SafetyFirst credits, specifically to assist with re-entry during COVID-19. These credits—powered by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a global rating system for sustainability—outline sustainable best practices for workplace re-occupancy, managing indoor air quality, cleaning and disinfecting spaces, building water-system recommissioning, HVAC and plumbing operations, pandemic planning and social equity in pandemic planning.

As states, cities and communities of all sizes continue to reopen their economies, the LEED Safety First credits serve as data-based tools for a safe, successful and sustained re-entry. These credits can be used by LEED projects that are certified or are undergoing certification, and the credits will continue to be updated to reflect the latest public-health developments and interpretations. (If a project team wants to certify with only these Safety First credits, contact GBCI.)

For example, the “Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19” credit builds on existing indoor air quality requirements and credits in LEED so that building teams ensure indoor air quality systems are operating as designed and determine temporary adjustments to ventilation that may minimize the spread of disease.

Meanwhile, the “Pandemic Planning” credit helps cities and communities prepare for, control and mitigate the spread of disease during a pandemic. The plan, which includes a task force of diverse backgrounds, must identify risks and vulnerabilities to health by outlining historical, geographical, epidemiological and other factors; evaluate health-care system readiness, domestic response, incident management and other existing policies and procedures; and include education and training.

The nine LEED Safety First credits were designed to give people confidence that steps have been taken to welcome them safely indoors.

As the global certification body for LEED, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) awarded Safety First pilot credits to 80 projects in just under a year with another close to 400 additional credits currently being pursued. This way, when people are ready to go back inside at their workplace, schools, childcare centers, restaurants or favorite retailers, they can have confidence that steps have been taken to welcome them safely indoors. The same trust and confidence that come with LEED can be relied upon with the LEED Safety First credits for building re-entry.

Building Examples

The LEED Gold Bank of America Plaza, an existing building recertification project in Dallas, owned by Metropolis Investment Holdings, was one of the first buildings to pursue a LEED Safety First credit. The Bank of America Plaza was awarded the Safety First “Cleaning and Disinfecting” credit, validating that it is using janitorial best practices throughout the plaza.

Other properties owned by Metropolis Investment Holdings that received Safety First credits include NBC Tower in Chicago, Pennzoil Place in Houston and One Liberty Place in Houston. Metropolis Investment Holdings’ 345 California property in San Francisco also received a Safety First credit as part of its recent Platinum recertification.

PHOTOS: courtesy U.S. Green Building Council

About the Author

Mahesh Ramanujam
Mahesh Ramanujam is the president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, Green Business Certification Inc. and Arc.

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