CB Richard Ellis Group is participating in a groundbreaking pilot program with the U.S. Green Building Council that would nearly triple the number of existing properties retrofitted for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

In an effort to answer key questions such as whether office tenants prefer environmentally sound space to their energy-guzzling competitors, CBRE will enroll 100 U.S. office buildings in the Council’s Portfolio Program, which enables companies and building owners to integrate LEED into building portfolios.

Applying green practices to the third-party managed commercial office properties is considered innovative, because until now, the majority of buildings to achieve LEED EB status have been government-owned.

“Buildings that have LEED EB have operating expenses significantly below their peer set,” says Dave Pogue, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis’s asset services group. “What we want to address is, does this mean something to the tenant? Do tenants derive something from it, and are they willing to pay for that?”

In order to make green certification cost-effective for owners of existing properties, the portfolio program will focus on applying standard practices across an entire portfolio. That would make attaining certification less onerous for owners and property managers and could encourage more to seek the designation. “Each building will individually register and have their own attendant idiosyncrasies but the hope is to get as much as 80% of the certification and the practices to be consistent” throughout the portfolio, Pogue says.

At the same time, the company is establishing internal policies and procedures that will be assessed and certified as sustainable practices by the Green Building Council for the portfolio. Once the practices are approved, managers at individual properties could adopt the new procedures to earn credit toward LEED EB.

A definitive business model illustrating the financial impact of achieving LEED EB has yet to be made, Pogue says. As CBRE applies its new practices on a large scale, the company will generate data to help measure the program’s benefits. CBRE also plans to train at least 100 employees as LEED accreditation professionals and educate staff, vendors and clients about certification.

Because there are far more existing buildings in the United States than buildings under construction, LEED EB has tremendous growth potential, says James Qualk, director of LEED facilitation sales at SSRCx LLC, a commissioning services firm in Nashville. The LEED EB program’s poor participation rate since its creation in 2005 is chiefly due to a lack of awareness among property owners and managers, Qualk says, so CB Richard Ellis’ high profile will help usher the designation into the mainstream.

Qualk is among those industry observers who hope to see better practices identified as CB Richard Ellis proceeds through the portfolio certification process.

“Certifying a building through the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system is going to save you money in operating costs for both water and energy, and create a healthier space for the occupants to work and live where they can be more productive and reduce absenteeism,” Qualk says.

“At the same time, it’s not perfect; it’s an evolving standard,” he observes with regard to LEED EB. “We’re going to learn from the practitioners, so if they come up with a new process or some new ideas that can be implemented into future editions of the standard, then the system is working.”

The portfolio program is currently closed and is expected to open for new market participants in 2008. For CBRE’s 100 buildings in the program, earning LEED EB will take at least nine months with the first buildings achieving the designation by the end of 2008, Pogue predicts.

In May, CBRE said its goal was to make its operations carbon neutral by 2010. “This partnership with the USGBC is in step with our corporate responsibility initiative and our goal to bring to our client best practices that are environmentally sustainable,” says Sally Wilson, CBRE’s global director of environmental strategy. “We look forward to working closely with USGBC to foster the ‘greening’ of the American commercial real state landscape.”