Several projects in 2016 showed their sustainability efforts through recycling construction and demolition materials, using recycled materials in its construction and creating water, heat and energy efficient systems. While several third party certification systems exist, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system is considered the most widely used in the United States.

The LEED certification system was unveiled in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It’s defined on its website as a “green building rating system that guides the design, construction, operations and maintenance of both new and old buildings toward sustainability.” There are four levels to LEED: Certification, Gold, Silver and Platinum, which are based on prerequisites and credits that a project meets.

More than 79,000 LEED projects have been certified across 160 countries and territories. The projects have five different categories: Building Design and Construction, which includes newly constructed buildings or buildings going through major renovations; Interior Design and Construction, which includes projects that are considered a complete interior fit-out; Operations and Maintenance, which includes existing buildings that are undergoing improvement work and little to no construction; Neighborhood Development, which includes new land development or redevelopment for projects containing residential uses, nonresidential uses or a mix of both; and Homes, which includes single family, low-rise multifamily (one to three stories) and mid-rise multifamily (four to six stories) homes.

Highlighted are recent projects recognized by the USGBC where recycling and repurposing techniques played a role in the approach and design.

Virgin Hotels Chicago, Chicago | Designation: LEED Gold

Virgin Hotels Chicago

Virgin Hotels Chicago is located in Chicago’s Old Dearborn Bank building, originally constructed in 1928. In 2003, it was designated as a city landmark. It has 27 stories, 250 rooms and suites, two restaurants, a rooftop bar and lounge and additional spaces such as a wellness facility, meeting rooms and the Virgin Hotels Commons Club.

In January 2016, the building became LEED Gold certified. This is the first property of Virgin Hotels to receive this status.

Virgin Hotels says it restored much of the original interior, including the lobby desk and ornate plaster ceilings. The modern updates were installed to specifically meet LEED certification standards.

“While keeping the historic elements of the existing building, we creatively were able to do a good amount of work, such as adding a roof deck terrace, expanding the existing penthouse with a new green roof above,” says Jefferson Thomas, director of architecture for Virgin Hotels. “We are also using green technology, such as smart thermostats and occupancy sensors, as a way to save energy when guests are not occupying the hotel guest rooms.”

The hotel used at least 10 percent recycled content to renovate the hotel and recycled at least 75 percent of the construction and demolition (C&D) debris generated. At least 95 percent of the building was reused, including the maintenance of existing walls, floors and roofs.

Virgin Hotels has opened hotels in Nashville, Tennessee, Dallas and New York and says it is striving to achieve LEED Silver with all of its future properties.

Dominion Transmission Inc., Bridgeport, West Virginia | Designation: LEED Gold

Dominion Transmission Inc.

Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI), with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, opened its office building in the White Oaks Business Complex in Bridgeport, West Virginia, in April 2016. DTI says it is the first privately owned building in West Virginia to achieve LEED Gold status.

Thrasher Group, Bridgeport, West Virginia, designed the four- story, 106,000-square-foot office building. March Westin of Morgantown, West Virginia, constructed the building, and evolveEA of Pittsburgh served as sustainability consultant.

An estimated 82 percent of debris from the construction site was recycled and diverted from landfills, and 30 percent of the project costs were used for recycled materials.

Other sustainable features include: 90 percent of the building’s occupants having outside view from their work spaces; 70 percent of building’s electricity usage being purchased with green power renewable energy credits; 36 percent designed reduction in water; 31 percent being designed for cost energy savings; a reflective roof to reduce heat absorption; and a green cleaning program.

Watkins Glen School Senior Apartments, Watkins Glen, New York | Designation: LEED Silver

Watkins Glen School Senior Apartments

Watkins Glen School Senior Apartments started as Watkins Glen Middle School until SEPP Inc., Binghamton, New York, and Two Plus Four Construction, East Syracuse, New York, converted it into a 51-unit apartment building for residents who are 55 years or older and with up to 80 percent average median income.

The project cost $12.5 million dollars and received a $3.8 million grant from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of a $95 million program for affordable housing projects. It also received $900,000 as part of the 2013 Regional Council Consolidation Funding program from the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council. In 2016, the project received LEED Silver status.

The specifications that allowed for LEED Silver certification include reusing an existing brick building and green construction materials. The project also includes efficient heating and hot water systems that are expected to reduce water and energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent more than typical code compliant construction and convenient proximity to local services.

Sustainable Comfort Inc., Worcester, Massachusetts, helped the project receive $128,500 in incentive funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority by pursuing the Energy Smart Homes designation.

Big Spring Spirits, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania Designation: LEED Gold

Big Spring Spirits

The owners of Big Spring Spirits, located in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, claim it is the first distillery in Pennsylvania and only the third in the world to receive LEED Gold certification, which they achieved through its “reduce-recycling-reuse” policy.

Big Spring Spirits achieved its Gold status through implementing practical and measurable strategies designed to achieve high performance in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

Owners Kevin Lloyd and Paula Cipar researched how and where to salvage materials and how to make the mechanical, electrical and engineering components environmentally friendly.

This research culminated in several components, including fabric scraps being used as chair adornments in the tasting room, a sewer grate being used as a railing on the patio, the bar being made from salvaged Pennsylvania walnut and recycled drains being used in the manufacturing space.

The Fulton Center, New York City | Designation: LEED Silver

The Fulton Center

The Fulton Center, built to help revitalize post-9/11 Manhattan, transports more than 300,000 transit riders in New York City. The center houses 11 subway lines, the New Jersey PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) connection and it reunites six separate subway stations in the blocks around the World Trade Center, City Hall Park and Broadway.

The transit center was one of the first in the U.S. to achieve LEED Silver certification, and was restored and preserved in accordance with the New York Governor’s Executive Order 111, the state’s “green and clean” building and vehicle guides. It also is the first MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) subway station to achieve certification.

Through adaptive reuse of historic structures, maximization of natural light and enhancement of indoor environment, The Fulton Center now has a 25 percent energy savings and 40 percent water savings. More than 50 percent of the electricity consumed in the center comes from renewable sources and more than 30 percent of the construction materials used in the center contain recycled content. More than 50 percent of the construction materials were locally sourced.

Solid Waste Authority of palm beach county Education Center, West Palm Beach, Florida | Designation: LEED Platinum

Solid Waste Authority of palm beach county Education Center

The Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County’s (SWA’s) education center at its Renewable Energy Facility 2 (REF 2) has earned LEED Platinum certification.

The education center opened in the summer of 2015 and incorporates several sustainable elements, such as floor tires made of recycled tires, a reception desk made of recycled concrete, as well as vegetated roofing, a rainwater cistern, motion-sensor lighting and solar panels.

The center was built as part of construction for the adjoining waste-to-energy facility. According to SWA chief engineer, Ramana Kari, the education center serves as an area where students and visitors can educate themselves about renewable energy.

“The education center presented an opportunity to demonstrate the SWA’s environmental leadership in solid waste management,” says Kari. “We swung for the fence and hit a home run.”

Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chair of the USGBC says. “The education center at REF 2 efficiently uses our natural resources and makes an immediate, positive impact on our planet, which will tremendously benefit future generations to come.”

Creating structures with sustainable components and using sustainable methods are key to LEED projects. LEED buildings are designed to coexist with nature rather than destroy it, according to USGBC’s Fedrizzi.

Since its inception, LEED projects are attributed to diverting more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills. LEED Gold certified buildings consume a quarter less energy and generate 34 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than the average commercial building.

“The urgency of USGBC’s mission has challenged the industry to move faster and reach further than ever before,” Fedrizzi says.

The author is assistant editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at