Platinum Record

One small business earns LEED's highest certification.

By Tobin Hack

Among small businesses and restaurants in the town of North Charleston, South Carolina sits a cutting-edge building. The structure, a new distribution center for outdoor gear company Half-Moon Outfitters, is attractive, much more so than it was in its previous lives as a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and a transmissions shop.

But its attractiveness isn’t what makes the building so remarkable. The structure is the first building to receive a LEED Platinum certification, the nation's most stringent green building certification, under the recently revised guidelines for new construction and major renovations.

While most people might only consider building green when they’re starting from scratch, Half-Moon owner Beezer Molten was determined to make the center as eco-friendly as possible through renovations, despite the challenges.

“Working with an existing building is a handicap,” he says. “It’s easier for engineers to manage their calculations when they’re starting fresh, than to come in and measure existing walls, existing window openings.”

The US Green Building Council’s (GBC) LEED system recognizes projects for their sustainability by rating performance in site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. LEED Platinum is the highest certification awarded within the system, and a rare accomplishment: Only 57 new construction platinum projects exist.

Half-Moon is the only LEED Platinum project in South Carolina, and the nation’s first in a new 2.2 measurement standard, implemented by the GBC in 2006, to replace the previous standard, 2.1. But others are in the works.

“More and more projects are trying to up the ante and achieve platinum—it’s the best for the environment and the best for the bottom line,” says Ashley Katz, GBC media coordinator. “It used to be that just a handful of office building projects were getting platinum, but now we’re seeing a diversity in the building types that are achieving LEED platinum certification,” including schools and homes.

As more and more project managers work to achieve platinum status, attaining that goal is becoming increasingly difficult. The 2.2 standard for new construction is much stricter than its predecessor; for example, it requires that project managers account for not only regulated energy loads, or those energy drains that the design team has control over, but also plug loads, energy used by all computers, copiers, table lamps, and other appliances. The new standard also requires that materials are not only manufactured locally, but also grown or harvested locally.

Today, Half-Moon’s one-story, 9,800 square foot distribution center, completed in December 2006, is a work of sustainable art. The renovation saw the installation of a rainwater catchment system, solar panels, heaps of locally sourced cedar, and many other innovative, sustainable building techniques.

Molten didn’t have to make as many eco-friendly renovations as he did to receive a platinum rating; he could have registered the project under the more lenient 2.1 standard. But to Molten, a kiteboarding daredevil, taking the most challenging route was the only choice. The move didn’t surprise his employees.

“Once we heard that 2.2 was out, there wasn’t really a decision,” says Polly Dickson, a staff member at Half-Moon who tracked all LEED points earned during reconstruction. “We’re an outdoor shop, so we want to preserve the outdoor sports we promote: hiking, climbing, surfing, kayaking, camping. Beezer’s all about adventure, and if you don’t take care of what’s around you, it’s not going to be any fun to travel.”

Even within the more stringent 2.2 standard, Molten earned 56 of the 69 total LEED points available—every point he’d applied for. Most notably, he earned the complete set of ten points in the notoriously arduous “energy and atmosphere” category, where many green projects cut corners.

“A lot of projects were calling themselves green and getting certified and getting a zero in the energy efficiency category,” says Nathan Gauthier, Half-Moon’s LEED consultant and a former employee, who is now a green building consultant for Harvard’s Green Campus Initiative. “They’d make up points in the easy categories, and have no energy efficiency.”

As a result, the GBC passed a new rule in June 2007 mandating that projects earn at least two energy efficiency points.

The innovative Robert Redford NRDC building in Santa Monica, long considered the greenest building around, originally inspired Molten to reach for platinum and beyond. Molten hopes that his own contribution will cause others to seek even more sustainable levels.

“There seems to be something in the American psyche that makes competition really appealing,” he says. “I’d love to see that spirit of competition grow in green building.”

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When was this building erected? There are definitely buildings previous to this article to achieve LEED Platinum. Perhaps not under the new 2.2 standards. The Gerding Theater was renovated nearly two years ago and was the first LEED Platinum building in Portland, OR. This is a wonderful thing in South Carolina.. I am just unsure of who is the first building to achieve LEED. It's not as new as this article portrays.

As the article says, the project is the first in the world (and still the only one in the US, though there are two in India) to receive LEED Platinum "..under the recently revised guidelines for new construction and major renovations (LEED NC v2.2)." There are other platinum projects that used the older rating systems.

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