Using LEED as a framework for a safe, successful and sustained re-entry plan

Sarah Alexander
June 22, 2021

LEED Safety First credits bring credibility, trust and confidence

With the long awaited rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, nations, states, cities and communities of all sizes are looking to reopen their economies while ensuring the safety of citizens rapidly. Discussions about returning to the workplace and resuming daily life are quickly moving from the hypothetical to reality. However, how we look at the buildings and infrastructure around us will never be the same. One of the significant lessons that we learned during the pandemic is that buildings can either promote sustainability, health and wellness, resilience and equity – or be one of the biggest factors working against them. We must never take for granted the role buildings play in the protection and safety of people, and we must put in place trusted data-backed frameworks to ensure that our infrastructure is prepared for future global challenges.

The good news is that we have the data-based tools we need for a safe, successful and sustained re-entry.

Building a framework of trust: Implementing the LEED Safety First Credits

Enter the LEED Safety First Pilot Credits. Developed in response to the pandemic, these 9 credits align with public health guidelines and outline sustainable best practices related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace re-occupancy, HVAC and plumbing operations, building water-system recommissioning and pandemic preparedness and response. They are available for all LEED 2009, LEED v4 and LEED v4.1 projects that are already certified and those undergoing certification. If your project is already certified and you wish to pursue one of the Safety First credits, please contact GBCI to learn more.

The Safety First pilot credits can be viewed here. You can gain deeper knowledge and expertise in the pilot credits by taking four education courses designed specifically for these credits. The first six credits can be used by building projects that are LEED certified or are undergoing certification, the next two credits are available for LEED for Cities and Communities projects, and the last credit (Arc RE-Entry) provides tools for existing buildings to benchmark infection-control policies and procedures, collect occupant experiences, and track indoor air quality. And as with LEED v4.1, the credits will continue to be updated to reflect the latest public health developments and interpretations.

Leadership by example: LEED Safety First Credits making a difference around the globe

Safety First: Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space credit
  • The Safety First: Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space credit requires facilities to create a policy and implement procedures that follow green cleaning best practices that support a healthy indoor environment and worker safety. In addition to product considerations, the credit also requires procedures and training for cleaning personnel, occupant education and other services that are within the management team’s control.
Safety First: Re-enter Your Workspace credit
  • The Safety First: Re-enter Your Workspace credit is a tool to assess and plan for re-entry as well as to measure progress once the space is occupied. It identifies sustainable requirements in building operations and human behavior that take precautions against the spread of COVID-19. It aligns with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Re-occupancy Assessment Tool and requires transparent reporting and evaluation of decisions to encourage continuous improvement.
Safety First: Building Water System Recommissioning credit
  • The Safety First: Building Water System Recommissioning credit helps building teams reduce the risk that occupants are exposed to degraded water quality. Building and business closures over weeks or months reduce water usage, which can potentially lead to stagnant water or water that is unsafe to drink or use. The credit integrates recommendations from industry organizations and experts, including the U.S. EPA and the Centers for Disease Control. It requires buildings to develop and implement a water management plan, coordinate with local water and public health authorities, communicate water system activities and associated risks to building occupants, and take steps to address water quality from the community supply, as well as the building.
Safety First: Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19 credit
  • The Safety First: Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19 credit builds on existing indoor air quality requirements and credits in LEED. Building teams should ensure indoor air quality systems are operating as designed and determine temporary adjustments to ventilation that may minimize the spread of disease. Requirements are based on ASHRAE core recommendations around ventilation, air filtration, inspection and maintenance, as well as on the following measures outlined in public health and industry resources. 
Safety First: Design for Indoor Air Quality and Infection Control
Safety First: Maintenance of HVAC Systems During COVID-19
  • The Safety First: Maintenance of HVAC Systems During COVID-19 credit was designed to maintain the well-being of occupants by addressing indoor air quality issues that may influence the spread of the coronavirus. This credit supports the ongoing inspection and maintenance of commercial HVAC systems based on guidance in ASHRAE Standard 180 or Table 8.2 of ASHRAE 62.1-2016 or equivalent. Guidance also addresses providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for building operators and maintenance technicians as appropriate.
Safety First: Pandemic Planning credit
  • The Safety First: Pandemic Planning credit is intended to help cities and communities prepare for, control and mitigate the spread of disease during a pandemic that poses a high risk to people. The plan must include a task force representing diverse backgrounds that is responsible for evaluating possible impacts and advising decision makers on short- and long-term challenges. It must also identify risks and vulnerabilities to health by outlining historical, geographical, epidemiological and other factors, and assess preparedness. The plan evaluates healthcare system readiness, domestic response, incident management and other existing policies and procedures. Education and training for community partners and other stakeholders must also be included.
    • Available for LEED for Cities and Communities projects
Safety First: Social Equity in Pandemic Planning credit
  • The Safety First: Social Equity in Pandemic Planning credit systematically considers equity implications across all phases of the pandemic preparedness, planning and response process. The local government or development authority must have a local equity officer in place and responsible for building equity into the structure of the emergency command and response system. The plan must also convene a Pandemic Community Advisory Group to gather input on an on-going basis and the group must reflect the demographic and socio-economic diversity of the city or community. Public communications, outreach and educational campaigns must also be included in order to share relevant information about the pandemic, public health and health care facilities available. Project teams are also encouraged to demonstrate how policy, procedures, infrastructure and facilities impact low income, vulnerable or at-risk groups.
    • Available for LEED for Cities and Communities projects
Safety First: Arc Re-Entry credit
  • The Safety First: Arc Re-Entry credit helps facility teams manage the risk of infectious disease transmission of COVID-19 supports the use of a comprehensive, integrated process—covering infection control policies and procedures, documentation of alignment with relevant public health authorities, repeated occupant feedback, and measurement of indoor air quality.

Powered by the global recognition of LEED, the 9 LEED Safety First pilot credits have achieved promising uptake. In just under a year, GBCI has awarded Safety First pilot credits to over 60 projects, and a further 350+ projects around the world are pursuing these credits. These projects tell a powerful story by relying on these data and trusted frameworks to encourage a safe reentry that gives occupants confidence in the places and spaces around them and helps rebuild their local economies. GBCI aspires that every project worldwide will take advantage of these frameworks to protect their occupants in a post pandemic world.

For example, the LEED Gold Bank of America Plaza, an existing building recertification project in Dallas owned by Metropolis Investment Holdings, was one of the first companies to embrace our Health Economy Strategy by pursuing a LEED Safety-First credit as one component of their BeWell promise. The Bank of America Plaza was awarded the Safety First Cleaning and Disinfecting Credit, validating that it is using janitorial best practices throughout the Plaza. Other properties owned by Metropolis that received Safety-First credits include NBC Tower in Chicago, Pennzoil Place in Houston and One Liberty Place in Houston, and their 345 California property in San Francisco also received a Safety First credit as part of its recent Platinum re-certification.

The Chelsea at Greenburgh, a 90,000 square foot new construction senior living community in West Chester County, New York, achieved LEED certification in early 2021 and incorporated the Safety First Cleaning and Disinfecting Cleaning Credit to ensure that best practices were put into place to protect its residents and staff alike. 

Let’s work together to ensure the full-scale implementation of our shared vision - healthy people in healthy places equals a healthy economy.

If you are a project that has implemented the LEED Safety First Credits and would like to sharing your experience and story with us, please reach out to Sarah Merricks, Chief of Staff at GBCI.