The Forum Reference Desk: On the Trail of National Register-Listed LEED Buildings

Posted on: March 14th, 2013 by Forum Reference Desk

The Forum Reference Desk fields a variety of questions daily. Sometimes we have the answers at our fingertips, other times we call on our network of colleagues around the country who are experts in specific topics. Such was the case with a recent query.

The former Des Moines Public Library (now the Dr. Norman E. Borlang World Food Prize Hall of Laureates), is the first National Register of Historic Places building in the state of Iowa to achieve LEED Platinum Certification. . | Credit: James Steakley

The former Des Moines Public Library (now the Dr. Norman E. Borlang World Food Prize Hall of Laureates), is the first National Register of Historic Places building in the state of Iowa to achieve LEED Platinum Certification. | Credit: James Steakley

At the end of February, the Forum Reference Desk was presented with what we initially thought was a fairly easy question to answer--how many buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places have pursued LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification? LEED is a third-party rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that measures the impact of building construction and building operations on the environment.

We first checked the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) LEED projects database , which currently has 13,426 projects with different LEED ratings registered. Sifting through the database would be a daunting task, so we decided to look elsewhere. Our next step was to contact the National Register staff in Washington. We learned from National Trust staff and Forum-L that National Register listings are not updated to indicate any of LEED certifications.

After posting a plea for assistance on the Forum-L listserve, we learned about the newest LEED certified NR buildings in Kansas and Minnesota (thank you for those tips, our dear Forum-L users). We also received an excellent tip to check with a staff person at the National Park Service Technical Preservation Services who manages the Federal Historic Tax Incentives program. She receives the same question fairly often and has attempted to cross reference her records with the ones from the USGBC/GBCI, but still could not give us the answer.

The problem lies in the fact that, when applying for LEED certification, projects can self-identify as “historic.” This doesn’t necessary mean that the building is listed in the National Register. It could be “designated locally or on a state level, or even in the applicant’s mind,” according to the TPS staff person. Secondly, a single LEED “project” may include multiple buildings--some of which may be historic, some not. Or a project may include five historic buildings, but would only be listed in the LEED database once. This makes it impossible to easily cross-reference LEED certified projects and historic properties in the GBCI database.

The Forum Reference Desk next got in touch the historic preservation certification expert at USGBC. He shared with us a list of 17 projects and confirmed that a project, at the time of applying for LEED certification, is not required to inform the USGBC of its possible national, state or local designation. The USGBC staff person also said the list is not comprehensive given the lack of careful tracking. He put the FRD in touch with USGBC’s Neighborhood Development expert, who was just wrapping up the USGBC new guidance manual, LEED for Neighborhood Development and Historic Preservation, which is available as of late last week on the USGBC website. He explained to us that under the LEED-ND pilot program 22 projects earned “Green Construction and Technology Credit 5: Reuse of Historic Buildings.” For the 2009 version of the rating system, only one project so far (out of nine certified U.S. projects) has earned “Green Infrastructure and Buildings Credit 6: Historic Resource Preservation and Adaptive Reuse.” That project was Public Health Service District Neighborhood – The Presidio in San Francisco.

In the end we learned that there is no definitive answer as to how many National Register buildings are also LEED certified. Nonetheless we did not leave our inquirer entirely empty handed. We were able to confirm that his project is the first Iowan National Register property that is also LEED Certified.

As always, if there is a topic or story you would like us to cover or research let us know in the comment section below or by emailing us directly at forum@savingplaces.org.

Editors Note: The National Trust for Historic Preservation, especially Preservation Green Lab staff, has been working for years with the USGBC to determine a better integration of historic preservation principles in the LEED ratings system. This past December, Barbara Campagna, former Graham Gund architect and current sustainability consultant, summarized her work on commenting on five iterations of LEED v4, which, once adopted, will provide the next update to the LEED rating systems.

About Forum Reference Desk

Staffed by Melita Juresa-McDonald (San Francisco Field Office) the National Trust's Forum Reference Desk provides preservation leaders direct, easy, and timely access to the latest and best information, referrals, and tools.