So there was some understandable disappointment when the U.S. Green Building Council recently issued a list of the top 10 states for LEED buildings based on certified square footage per person, and Michigan was not on it. After years of hearing that we were in the top tier of the nation in LEED projects and we don’t even make the top 10? There had to be more to this.
Digging around the USGBC website I found an Excel file listing every LEED project. I decided it was time for some investigation and number-crunching.
First, I looked at the completion rate for Grand Rapids. Over 50 percent of our LEED-registered projects have completed the certification process. Now that may sound low, but it includes projects registered just last month or last year, still in design or under construction. This completion rate is the best in the nation. The next closest city is Portland, Oregon listed at 42 percent and Chicago with a 30 percent completion rate. This is an indication of the Grand Rapids area’s dedication to green construction and commitment to finishing what we start.
Close to a dozen cities have more completed LEED projects than Grand Rapids, but they’re all much larger. These cities include Chicago, San Francisco and Washington DC. But if you look at it on a per-person basis, Grand Rapids beats them all. In fact, we beat almost every city in the country, with the exception of Cambridge, Mass. Blame it on Harvard’s goal to earn LEED certification for every building on campus.
All these Grand Rapids-focused numbers are fine, but what about the larger West Michigan region? If we look at the counties of Allegan, Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa as a group, they contain 114 LEED certified buildings. This represents more than half of the projects in the state of Michigan, encompassing a region with only 12 percent of the state’s population.
West Michigan currently has 10 LEED buildings per 100,000 people, better than any other entire state. Vermont comes closest, with six LEED buildings per 100,000. Michigan as a whole has 2.3 buildings per 100,000 people.
We’re also building smaller. The average LEED project in West Michigan is only 68,000 square feet. Compare this to the state average of 88,000 square feet and the national average of 102,000 square feet. This indicates greater general acceptance of LEED; we’re trying to build to LEED standards across-the-board rather than just constructing a few green mega-structures.
How does West Michigan fit in that original top 10 list by the USGBC? Even though our typical building is smaller than average, our region would rank number two on the list of entire states in square footage per person. Nevada has the most, encouraged by the 50 percent property tax discount which green buildings earn there. The Silver State’s number of LEED buildings is relatively low but with an average size of 529,000 square feet. There is even an 8.3 million-square-foot building in Nevada that earned LEED-Silver. This building alone is more than all of the LEED certified floor space in West Michigan combined.
In conclusion, when comparing West Michigan to the rest of the country we are the best at finishing LEED projects, highest in the number of LEED buildings per person, and second in overall LEED-certified floor space per person. So while we may not always make it onto every green building list, West Michigan can make a legitimate claim as a strong leader in designing and building for sustainability.
(*Based on April 2011 data and includes LEED for New Construction, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell and Schools projects.)