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March 1, 2005
For O.K. Electric Supply, an electrical distributor making the most of utility rebates and lighting retrofits as tools to increase energy-efficient lighting

For O.K. Electric Supply, an electrical distributor making the most of utility rebates and lighting retrofits as tools to increase energy-efficient lighting sales since the early '90s, the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system hasn't yet had much impact on sales.

“I haven't really seen it be a driving factor,” said Bernie Erickson, vice president of O.K. Electric, Perth Amboy, N.J.

But as more cities follow the lead of those like San Francisco, Chicago and Kansas City in implementing green building standards that require LEED certification of certain new construction, the electrical industry will feel the effects of LEED and find it increasingly important to be familiar with the rating system.

“I believe the LEED initiative is gaining some serious momentum, and could prove to be the most significant program to change … the design behavior of the architects and specifiers we support,” said Tom Myers, senior sales manager, corporate accounts, Lutron Electronics, Coopersburg, Pa.

Going green my have some marketing caché, too. One developer is promoting a Philadelphia office tower as the tallest “green” building in the United States. The soon-to-be-built 57-story Comcast Center will have 1.2 million square feet of energy-wise office space. The environmentally friendly office giant highlights the sales potential of energy-efficient products for the electrical industry. This “green” building will be wired with a ton of top-shelf lamps, ballasts, dimmers, timers, and other energy-efficient electrical products.

The developer will use waterless urinals, environmentally friendly paints, as well as carpets and other construction materials made from recycled materials. The waterless urinal system is based on a technology that's already saving one of the developer's other office buildings 500,000 gallons of water annually. The building's design will also cut energy costs by employing daylighting in a big way. With floor heights of 15 feet to 17 feet, larger windows can be used, cutting down on need for artificial light.

Although the Comcast Center will showcase the potential of green buildings, Lutron's Myers says a relatively small percentage of commercial projects currently being planned and designed are “green” buildings. Currently, there are less than 2,000 registered LEED projects.

LEED-certified buildings have lower operating costs, higher lease rates, and happier and healthier occupants than conventionally constructed structures, according to the USGBC. The LEED green building rating system evaluates the total environmental performance of a building over its life cycle.

LEED certification is awarded based on the number of points a building earns. Points are awarded for preventing light pollution; increasing energy savings; incorporating daylighting; and using alternative materials such as recycled, salvaged, or renewable materials.

“Distributors are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the LEED program and the ways in which various sustainable lighting designs qualify for points within the LEED rating system,” said Stuart Berjansky, senior product manager, controllable lighting, Advance Transformer, Rosemont, Ill. “By understanding the features, functions and benefits offered by the range of sustainable lighting technologies, informed distributors can stand out within their competitive marketplace.”

Electrical products contributing to a building obtaining LEED certification include energy-efficient T5 and T8 lamps, low-mercury lamps, ultra-low-wattage exit signs, occupancy sensors and lighting controls, building management systems and outdoor light fixtures that reduce spill-off and cut down on light pollution, to name a few.

There are four progressive levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. To be certified, projects must be registered and submit completed LEED project documentation for review. Certification typically takes three months from submittal.

LEED certification is currently available for New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED-NC), Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) and Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI). Core and Shell (LEED-CS) is in pilot, to be released 2005. Homes (LEED-H) and Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) are both in development.

For LEED-NC, a building can earn up to 69 points in the following six categories:

  • Sustainable sites - 14 points

  • Water efficiency - 5 points

  • Energy and atmosphere - 17 points

  • Materials and resources - 13 points

  • Indoor environmental quality - 15 points

  • Innovation and design process - 5 points

To be LEED-NC certified, a building must earn 26 points. Silver certification begins at 33 points; gold certification begins at 39 points. To achieve platinum certification, a building must earn at least 52 points.

Lutron Electronics' Myers, suggests electrical distributors promote the lighting and control products they sell that contribute toward LEED certification. He also strongly suggests distributors have at least one person become a LEED Accredited Professional. “This will help to assure that they understand the LEED design and certification ‘process’ and understand the unique requirements the general contractor and/or electrical contractor might have on a project,” he said.

To become a LEED Accredited Professional, you must take an exam that tests understanding of green building practices and principles; and familiarity with LEED requirements, resources and processes.

Although no one at O.K. Electric Supply has taken the exam to become LEED accredited, the distributor did join the New Jersey Sustainable Business Alliance. “They work with the schools, helping them understand and gain LEED accreditation,” said O.K. Electric's Erickson.

Schools and universities make up one of the strongest customer segments for energy-efficient electrical equipment. Schools represent 14 percent of the LEED-certified square footage. Of the nation's 1,964 building qualifying for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star, 400 are public schools.

Unlike the Energy Star program, in which products that meet the EPA's guidelines include the Energy Star emblem on product packaging as a signal to consumers, individual products are not certified under the LEED program. Products can contribute to points under the rating system, but LEED criteria are performance based. In attempting to meet these requirements, LEED practitioners identify products that have desired attributes.

“It's very much a whole systemic green approach, where before a lot of the programs have been focused on specific technologies,” said Erickson.

Although Energy Star and LEED both focus on reducing energy needs by installing energy-efficient products, the LEED program takes a more all-encompassing approach, looking at environmental-friendly areas beyond energy management.

LEED buildings earn points for using construction materials containing recycled content. Other areas that contribute toward earning points include significantly reducing construction debris that goes into landfills, water conservation strategies and indoor air quality.

Using local or regionally manufactured materials can also earn a building a couple of LEED points; using regional manufacturers eliminates the need to truck products across the country and saves on gasoline consumption and fuel emissions.

Paul Mustone, president of Reflex Lighting Group, a lighting rep in Boston, said his agency has lost some business because an architect needed the point or two obtained from using regional materials in order to get to the next level of LEED certification.

“We've had projects that got steered away from us because our manufacturers were located in California,” said Mustone.

“It can hurt manufacturers, and it can hurt distributors. It might work against them if they're not paying too much attention to it,” said Mustone. “It's something they should be aware of.”

Mustone said electrical distributors should be paying special attention to energy-management systems and to the lighting specification for the outdoor fixtures they're asked to provide. Dark-sky outdoor fixtures, which eliminate light spill-off, will earn a LEED point.

“Programs like LEED, Green Lights and Energy Star have been extremely effective in creating awareness of energy-efficient and sustainable lighting products and practices,” said Advance Transformer's Berjansky.


  • T5 and T8 lamps
  • Low-mercury lamps
  • Ultra-low-wattage exit signs
  • Occupancy sensors
  • Building management systems
  • HID and fluorescent dimming systems
  • Products using the digital addressable lighting interface (DALI)
  • Outdoor light fixtures that reduce spill-off and reduce light pollution

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