3 Things you Didn’t Know Could be LEED Certified

By: Alex Argento, Vice President at PuraTerra

Since 1994, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification program has informed guests when office buildings, hospitals, schools and more meet the highest levels of sustainability and resource efficiency with a rating of Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Criteria include building materials, water efficiency and energy use, to name a few.

While you often hear about office buildings, hospitals and the like being LEED-certified, many people don’t realize that LEED certification touches structures beyond our everyday use. We’ve pulled together a list of interesting projects most people might overlook when it comes to achieving LEED certification.

Fast food restaurants

As some fast food restaurants look for new ways to make their menu items healthier for customers, they’re also taking steps toward contributing to the health of the environment. By putting in the effort to become LEED-certified, fast food restaurants can demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and more responsible choices overall.

Although the LEED certification process can be long and arduous for any type of building, LEED certification carries with it respect that will help customers rest assured they’re patronizing a restaurant committed to sustainability. Not only does LEED certification help fast food restaurants attract environmentally conscious customers, it can encourage current customers to keep coming back for more.

A handful of fast food restaurants have already put in the effort to become LEED certified. For example, in 2009, Chipotle earned the first LEED Platinum certification for a restaurant. The chain’s location in Gurnee, Illinois was awarded the certification for having its own wind turbine and a 2,500-gallon underground water cistern to harvest rainwater. The restaurant also has LED lighting, water-saving faucets and toilets, and Energy Star-rated kitchen equipment.

Sustainable wood railings at a Starbucks in Seattle, WA

Starbucks is another brand that has drawn attention for its environmental efforts at locations around the world. Since beginning its work with the USGBC in 2005, the company has opened more than 1,000 LEED-certified locations in 20 countries, including two flagship LEED-certified stores in China. Starbucks has utilized several environmentally friendly materials to maintain the brand’s unique aesthetic, while keeping sustainability its top priority. For example, one location in Seattle used Kebony, a sustainable, technologically enhanced wood, to build the railings around the outdoor patio. Other locations have used recycled coffee grounds in table tops, reducing the store’s waste.

While these are a few examples of fast food and fast casual restaurants that have achieved LEED certification, doing so is not without its challenges. Restaurant buildings are among the biggest energy consumers, due to extreme climate control equipment loads and long operating hours.

Due to the challenges, fast food restaurants are coming up with creative ways to become more sustainable. Two Dunkin Donuts locations in St. Petersburg, Florida have earned Silver and Gold LEED ratings by monitoring energy usage, installing concrete foam walls and employing high-performance HVAC and refrigeration equipment.

Doghouses and animal shelters

When it opened in 2004, the Society for the Protection of Cruelty in Animals (SPCA) in Tompkins County, New York became the first LEED certified animal shelter in the U.S. The building’s green features benefit both the animals in the shelter and the local environment. Some of the features include a 15,000-gallon cistern to capture runoff water (which can then be used for cleaning), a permeable parking lot to prevent runoff into nearby wetlands, sensors to control the heating and ventilation systems, toxin-free paint and dual-paned windows for insulation.

Soon after the SPCA’s LEED certification, architects began exploring other animal-related structures that could achieve the same level of sustainability, such as doghouses. In fact, inspired by the SPCA in Tompkins County, the Cornell Cooperative Extension held a Green Doghouse Challenge. Community members in Tompkins county were invited to design and build doghouses using green building principles. Several of the participants opted to use wood with non-toxic finishes, not only to be sustainable but to ensure the doghouses would be sturdy enough to withstand New York weather and regular wear and tear from dogs.

As the design and construction of green doghouses expands, sustainable alternatives like Kebony might become popular wood choices for these structures. Durable and toxin-free, the sustainable product provides the reduced forest impacts and low demands on maintenance required to make both the dog and owner happy.

Another example is Banfield Pet Hospital headquarters, which earned LEED Platinum certification in 2016. Located in Vancouver, Washington, the new headquarters placed an emphasis on green elements during its building phase. Some key elements included a geothermal heating and cooling system, a water harvesting system to capture and reuse rainwater to flush toilets, and accommodation for solar energy. In addition, while much of the building has more of an industrial feel with exposed pipes, it is softened by incorporating natural wood elements to evoke the Northwest.


The Welcome Center at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Conservatories are meant to re-engage guests with nature, but adding bricks or cement can take away from the authenticity of these environments. Conservatories like the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have implemented certain design elements to reach LEED certification and help both the guests and buildings reconnect with nature.

Some key design elements in the Phipps Conservatory, which set an example for other conservatories to follow suit, include an HVAC system that only conditions the air where people congregate, a vented dome that provides natural ventilation and allows hot air to escape, and a green roof that covers most of the building and incorporates a demonstration garden with native plants that do not require pesticides or irrigation. In building the conservatory, no- or low-VOC paints, adhesives and carpets were also used, as well as locally mined limestone, recycled steel and glass.

Fast food restaurants, doghouses and animal shelters, and conservatories are just a few of the atypical buildings that seek – and earn – LEED certification. With the right plan in place, just about any type of building can make an effort to become LEED certified or, at the very least, more sustainable.

About the author
Alex Argento is the Vice President at PuraTerra, a sales and consulting firm that specializes in helping their customers develop methods and find products to successfully improve buildings, save money and reduce carbon footprints.

This post is sponsored by Kebony