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Why Walmart Doesn’t Pursue LEED

WalmartWalmart is about to achieve a surprising milestone: its first LEED-certified store.

With LEED now firmly established as the world’s go-to green building standard, and companies large and small pursuing certification as a matter of course, it’s surprising that such a large, well-known company with a firmly established CSR program wouldn’t have any LEED buildings.

It makes more sense when you realize that it is for lack of trying.

“Our whole approach is about everyday low cost, so in general, we wouldn’t pay a premium for certification,” senior sustainability communications manager Chris Schraeder told The Plain Dealer.

But developer First Interstate Properties and officials in South Euclid, Ohio, the Cleveland suburb where Walmart opened a store last week, agreed that any buildings on the former Oakwood Club golf course must be LEED certified. So the company built its latest outlet to that specification. The store is also the only Walmart location to use LEDs for all lighting except heat lamps and emergency lights.

But Schraeder warns of LEED certification, “We also don’t want to open up a precedent that this is going to be a standard going forward, because it’s not.”

Why the reticence? The costs are not insignificant. The smallest component costs of attaining LEED status are the registration and certification fees, roughly 3 to 5 cents per square foot, according to a report from BuildingGreen. Then, in increasing order of magnitude (although also increasing flexibility and control over costs) come the cost of documentation performed by a design firm, contractor, consultant or the building owner; research, design, commissioning and modeling costs; and construction costs. An example of the latter is occupancy sensors at about $25 per fixture.

But it’s hard to separate how many of these costs are well and truly tied to the LEED certification itself. An efficiency-minded company like Walmart, with targets for reducing its GHG emissions, would likely install occupancy sensors with or without the certification.

Another cost estimate comes from the General Services Administration, which in 2004 published the results of a study into the costs of certifying federal buildings. It estimated LEED-related design and documentation costs for a new-build, 262,000 sq ft courthouse at 41 to 46 cents per square foot for basic LEED certification, 41 to 55 cents for LEED silver and 56 to 80 cents for LEED gold. Not figures to sneeze at – but many global companies have found certification worth the money.

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