Sustainability is more than a trendy addition to the vocabulary of responsible club design and operation. It is a must-have for our crowded planet and is here to stay. However, the question I hear most from club owners is, “How green do I need to be?” It is an appropriate question since club owners are all concerned about their bottom lines. Most for-profit club operators do not have the luxury of taking their commitment to sustainable practices to the highest and most expensive level.

In addition, club owners often ask whether they need a green certification. This is an important decision. In the United States, the official standard of sustainability is the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program, which offers any one of four optional levels of sustainability.

1. LEED Certification
2. LEED Silver Certification
3. LEED Gold Certification
4. LEED Platinum Certification

None of these certifications comes cheaply. All involve a substantial application and verification process in addition to the design construction and operational upgrades needed to earn the desired level of certification. You will spend a minimum of $50,000 and as much as $150,000 for the application and verification needed to qualify for even the most basic levels of LEED certification.

In addition to these “paper work” expenses, you will spend serious dollars for the design/construction/operational upgrades. Gold or Platinum certification can add as much as 15 percent to 20 percent to the total project development costs. Standard or Silver certification usually can be earned with a 0 percent to 5 percent increase in project cost. Given these substantial costs, the real value of LEED certification to you is worth considering.

If you don’t need the official certification, save those application dollars and just do the smart stuff, enjoy the payback and tell the world your specific story of sustainability. Numerous opportunities exist to implement proven, LEED-validated sustainable measures that save money and improve your member experience.

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• Indoor air quality. Comply with LEED standards for interior materials, coatings and adhesives. Pay attention to housekeeping methods and cleaning chemicals. You will avoid “sick building” syndrome and have a ready and credible defense against anyone who may claim your building is making them ill.

• Day-lighting. Comply with LEED standards for natural lighting and gain the benefits of reduced energy costs, improved interior ambiance and great outdoor views for your members.

Lighting efficiency. Save energy with better lamps, more efficient ballasts and improved switching. Typically, lighting design upgrades have a two- or three-year payback.

HVAC efficiency. The potential for smart design in this category is enormous. Heat recovery, ceiling fans, programmable controls, high-efficiency heaters and coolers are all manageable first-cost investments that have potential to save operating dollars.

• Alternative energy. Solar heating of pools is an economically viable choice in many regions of the country. Geo thermal resources are commercially feasible where underground water tables can be affordably accessed.

• Innovation. Emerging technology is creating exciting smart design opportunities for savings in laundry operations, pool sanitation, plumbing fixtures, energy recovery from exercise equipment, etc.

• Water conservation. Reducing water consumption pays dividends both inside (showers and toilets) and outside (landscape irrigation).

• Building envelope. Cutting off heating and cooling loads at the building skin will often result in long-term savings. Payback may extend to seven or eight years, but for long-term ownership interest, upgrades in insulation and glass make sense. Even light-colored roofing will save energy.

For most club owners, the question of how green is green enough can be answered practically: You are green enough when further sustainable measures can no longer save money or improve your member experience. For the most part, what’s good for the planet is also good for your club.