Building Certification

LEED Certification Provides Many Benefits for your Transfer Station

Instead of using a standard design that meets minimum building requirements, take the design to the next level creating a fun and challenging new opportunity to make your project more efficient, better for the environment and its occupants.

Debra Frye

One of the objectives of solid waste managers is to find new ways to educate people about how to live and work more sustainably. When you build your new transfer station, material recovery facility or other solid waste facility, you have a tremendous opportunity to put into practice those sustainability efforts to show people what a difference it can make.

What does that mean for the design and cost of your new facility and how do you go about getting it certified? Perhaps all new government facilities in your area are required to be LEED® certified. LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—defines and measures a facility to determine how sustainable or green the project is.

Why should you consider becoming LEED certified? There are many benefits of LEED certification. Reduced operating costs are a big plus. Sustainable features can also contribute to lower power, water and sewer bills, decrease maintenance on landscaping, reducing impacts on the environment, provide better working conditions for your staff and visitors by using fewer indoor chemicals, and providing better ventilation and more natural daylight.

How Do You Certify Your Facility?

Since its inception in 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has developed green building rating standards. USGBC is a consensus-based nonprofit with more than 15,000 member companies and organizations representing the entire building industry. Currently, USGBC has developed nine different sets of LEED standards to help address different project types. These include:

  • LEED for Schools

  • LEED for Neighborhood Development

  • LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations

  • LEED for Core and Shell

  • LEED for Retail

  • LEED for Healthcare

  • LEED for Homes

  • LEED for Commercial Interiors

  • LEED for Existing Buildings Operation and Maintenance.

Typically, solid waste facilities fall under LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations. To be certified, the project needs to clearly show the sustainable steps that were undertaken for the design, construction and commitment to the operation of the facility by submitting the required information to USGBC. USGBC has been working for a number of years to develop a standard metric that facilities could be measured against to determine if they are truly sustainable and would also prevent “greenwashing”— saying a facility is green/sustainable when in reality it is no more green than a traditional building.

LEED 2009 for New Construction and Major Renovations includes 100 possible base points, six possible points for Innovation in Design and four Regional Priority Points. To be “certified,” a project needs to satisfy all of the prerequisites and achieve a minimum of 40 to 49 points, 50 to 59 points for Silver, 60 to 79 points for Gold, and Platinum by earning 80 points and above. Categories addressed by the LEED rating system include the following.

Sustainable Sites

Site selection is an opportunity to impact sustainability. It is better to build on an existing site, minimizing the impacts on greenspace and nature. Often times solid waste facilities are located on previously used, contaminated sites that present a number of opportunities. By cleaning up a contaminated site, you are not contributing to sprawl and are improving an existing site. There is also credit for how well the selected site allows for different types of transportation access, such as by bicycle, bus or train. Other issues this category addresses include how the project affects the local habitat, stormwater quantity and quality and heat island effect from the roof or hardscape. The roof can be white or highly reflective and light colored concrete can be used for the pavement to decrease the heat island. Many transfer stations already eliminate light pollution in order to be a good neighbor.

Water Efficiency

These credits focus on reducing or eliminating water supply and sanitary sewer discharges. Credits can be achieved through switching to low flow fixtures, using xeriscape, including native plants for landscaping so no irrigation is required, and reclaiming wastewater or stormwater for process water use or toilet flushing.

Energy and Atmosphere

This is the big one! There are 35 points available in this LEED category. It covers building commissioning, which ensures that the mechanical and plumbing systems have been installed and are operating according to the design intent. Project teams can earn points—up to 19 total—by reducing energy use by 12.5 percent to 48 percent beyond ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers

) 90.1 baseline requirements. This reduction can be accomplished through specifying high-efficiency light fixtures, and reducing the number of light fixtures needed by providing increased daylight; high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems also contribute significantly. The goal of energy reduction encourages the entire design and construction team to work together to make sure the design meets all the needs of the owner.

Materials and Resources

All LEED facilities are required to collect recyclables. In addition, there are credits available for reusing parts of an existing building and minimizing construction waste that is transported to a landfill by requiring contractors to recycle materials. Points can be achieved by reusing materials. There are companies across the U.S. that salvage materials from buildings for reuse, such as doors, wood paneling and other materials. There are also points available for using materials sourced and manufactured regionally. Earning points in this category requires additional research to determine what materials are available locally.

Indoor Environmental Quality

These credits were developed to create safe, comfortable working environments, and this is critical because we build most buildings to support the people who work there. Chemicals used in carpets, paints, desks, low building ventilation rate, poor lighting, etc. all have contributed to buildings that make people sick. The goal of this section is to encourage the use of low-emitting materials, natural daylight and views, and more individual heating and air conditioning controls. Obtaining these credits creates a happier, healthier work environment.

Innovation in Design

These credits encourage individual project teams to think beyond the categories listed previously. The project team asks, how can this project go beyond what LEED asks for? These are the fun, creative credits and may include strategies such as adding an educational element to the project to explain sustainability, or specifying green cleaning methods for maintenance and care of the facility.

Regional Priority

These credits were developed to address specific regional environmental issues and are listed by zip code. A project can receive up to four additional points for achieving a LEED credit that has been identified as a priority for that project location.

Comment Periods

The LEED rating system is updated every few years to encourage and support increasing levels of sustainability. USGBC launched the 1st Public Comment Period for the next update of the LEED Rating System in November 2010. The 1st Public Comment Period was open through January 2011 and generated over 5,000 comments from LEED stakeholders. Further revisions will be made to rating system language based on these comments. The LEED Rating System 2nd Public Comment Period is expected to begin in July 2011. At the end of this process, a final draft will go before USGBC’s membership for a vote.

Pros and Cons of LEED Certification

The challenge of using LEED as a tool for a transfer station is that the new construction rating system is designed for a building with occupied, conditioned spaces. A number of the points do not translate well to the dusty, industrial atmosphere of a transfer station. Lighting sensors are one example that work well in offices to minimize/turn off lights when there is adequate daylight in the room. At a transfer station, the dust can interfere with the sensors, so the lights are always on. Additional electric metering has been helpful at these facilities. We have learned that the large processing equipment does not use as much energy as originally thought, and this knowledge has allowed owners to find where there are problems with the system, such as a large amount of energy going to heat tracing pipes in the summer.

However, the benefits of LEED certification outweigh the challenges. A LEED-certified facility will save energy, which is good for the environment and the operating budget. Reduced water and sanitary sewer usage are again a win-win situation. The current version of LEED requires that owners submit their annual utility usage information to USGBC so it can be compared to the design model. This data will show the actual utility savings, or identify if there is a problem with operations. This approach also encourages constant improvement as owners can track their utility usage over time.

LEED also promotes the use of local construction materials, which reduces haul costs and promotes the local economy. This does require that your architects, designers and contractors investigate local markets and materials, and this encourages change and improvement.

When you start with the goal of making your project sustainable and LEED certified, you have just changed the dynamics of the design process. Instead of getting the standard design that meets minimum building requirements, you are taking the design to the next level which creates a fun and challenging new opportunity to make your project more efficient, better for the environment and its occupants. Through the development of your LEED-certified project, you encourage your project team to think outside the box, ask and explore. Is there a better way to build it?

Debra Frye is the National Technical Director of Solid Waste Facilities and Senior Vice President for HDR, Inc. (Omaha, NE), an employee-owned architectural, engineering and consulting firm with more than 7,800 professionals in more than 185 locations worldwide. HDR is committed to helping clients manage complex projects and make sound decisions. The company is ranked #11 overall in the 2010 Engineering News-Record Top 500 Design Firms survey and #6 in Water. Debra can be reached at (816) 360-2709, via e-mail at

[email protected] or visit More information about the LEED Certification process is available at


DeKalb Central Transfer Station (Atlanta, GA)

An example of a LEED certified transfer station is the DeKalb Central Transfer Station in Atlanta, GA which was LEED Certified in March 2010. HDR, Inc. did the programming, design and construction support while Toland & Mizell Architects, Inc. helped with the LEED certification process.

Elements of sustainability and items of note in the new DeKalb Central Transfer Station include:

14 percent less energy used and 20 percent less water than required by building codes

20 percent recycled building materials

More than 50 percent of construction waste diverted from local landfills

Site was a former brownfield that was successfully remediated for re-use

Two-thirds of building materials were extracted, processed and manufactured within 500 miles

More than 600 people toured the facility in its first year