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Tough test leads to big results

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Eric Cross received LEED certification in order to build a company and headquarters based on the program’s principles.

Matt LaWell | December 7, 2011

Eric Cross just laughed.

He had, the moment before, learned his score on a rigorous Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) test, his eyes running over the number, his brain breaking down what it meant, his gut and his throat and his mouth producing nothing but those deep rumbles of laughter.

Cross had read about green landscapes and buildings, about the green lifestyle, but he had “kind of ignored it for too long.” He finally chose to learn more about the process and, in the process, decided he wanted to move his company, Duke’s Landscape Management in Hackettstown, N.J., into a new green headquarters.

So he clicked through a couple of web pages and learned a little about the LEED rating systems. And he registered his project with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). And he read books and attended seminars and learned about things he thought he would never have to learn about. After about a year of studying, he took the LEED test, the reward being official certification and designation, and the ability to move forward on his project. All he needed to do was score at least a 170 to pass.

He scored a 169.

That was not the moment of laughter.

Hard to believe LEED is almost a dozen years old now. Introduced in March 2000, it “provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions,” according to the official program website. Cross pushed himself through the process, he said, because a lot of his clients had heard about it, but “weren’t sure what it meant or what it was about.” What LEED is about, in short, is sustainable building. Cross wanted Duke’s to be involved – and to be a leader.

“It helps the company,” Cross said. “It helps clients see us as an industry leader. Our niche is big corporate buildings, big campuses, large condominiums – big stuff – and we’re maintaining the landscapes of more than $2.5 billion in real estate. We take that seriously. We’re trying to get involved as much as we can.”

That includes moving Duke’s headquarters about 15 miles across I-80 to Mount Olive, where, by this time next year, the company will be situated in a 4,000-square-foot office with a green roof and a 6,000-square-foot shop with solar panels. There are plans to collect rainwater and recycle green waste, too. The land is ready. Cross and Duke’s are just waiting for final approval.

Whenever the building is finished, odds are Cross will laugh again, just like he did during the moment after he learned his LEED test score. That was after the second time he took the test – the USBGC allows you to take it three times, if necessary, then makes you wait a year before trying again – earlier this year. Cross had talked with another LEED student, a man who had scored 168 all three times. Remember, you need to score 170, and Cross had scored an agonizing 169 on his first try, so close, one miserable point away from LEED certification. He wanted to avoid the deciding third attempt.

He did. He passed. He could celebrate and move forward. It was a big moment, for him and for Duke’s, so he laughed.

He scored 171.

This is one of three stories that ran in Lawn & Landscape’s A Cut Above e-newsletter, a new source of information for maintenance contractors. To continue reading about Duke’s Landscape Management:

Dancing days: These crucial steps got Duke’s Landscape Management moving in the right direction.

Finding ways to cut: Here are tips on how to make your operations leaner.  


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