LEEDing the Way

Lesley Avery helps create the green buildings of the future

Published in 2010 Ohio Rising Stars — January 2010

Lesley Avery is your typical young, urban environmentalist. She rides her bike about a mile each morning to her job as an associate at Schottenstein Zox & Dunn in downtown Columbus. She describes herself as an “excessive” recycler—a practice she actively encourages in her co-workers. But in 2007, she brought her green philosophy to work in a much bigger way when she became the first LEED-accredited attorney in the state of Ohio.

LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” and it’s the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system for eco-friendly buildings. If you’re a LEED-accredited professional, you’ve proven that you understand both green building practices and at least one of the LEED rating systems for green projects. It’s the kind of thing that can come in handy when you’re a real-estate attorney who wants to work on environmentally conscious developments.

Avery stumbled on the whole LEED concept a year or two after law school. She attended a seminar on sustainable development and instantly became fascinated by the concept of a green building. “When I was an undergrad, I was a biology major, and I have always been interested in conservation,” she says. “I have always been a person who would rather spend my day hiking through the woods than sitting on the couch watching TV.” So the seminar’s message found a willing audience, even though she’d never really understood what a green building was before that day.

At home, Avery started doing her own research on sustainable development, and when Avery learned that attorneys were eligible for LEED accreditation, she decided to get ready for the green revolution. Currently, she spends most of her time doing transactional work for everyone from developers and municipalities, to retail and industrial tenants. Two of those upcoming projects will make use of her new expertise. As the economy turns around, she believes there will be more green opportunities on the horizon.

Meanwhile, she’s wasted no time spreading the word about how buildings and neighborhoods can become more integrated with the environment. Avery co-authored articles on the topic with another attorney at her firm. One focused on how these new ideas have taken hold in cities like Seattle, Boulder and Portland and have influenced everything from mandated city-wide recycling programs to ways to structure financial tax incentives for green buildings. “We used it as a way to give a road map to municipalities in Ohio,” she says. “To say, ‘Look, if you want to go green, you can do it one of two ways: internally or externally.’”

She’s also spoken on LEED and sustainable development at the Ohio State Bar Association’s annual meeting and to a group of municipalities in Southwest Ohio. Closer to home, she helped found a Columbus chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Avery worked with a small group of people to petition the national council and get the basics—like a Web site and mission statement—together. “We hope to promote green building and an understanding of green building principles and concepts within the local area,” she says.

When more of these developments move forward, Avery’s skills should be a hot commodity. “I think one of the things that would be so interesting would be to take the knowledge I have as a LEED-accredited professional and be able to draft those concepts into development contracts,” she says. She might do that for a single building or a larger development going for LEED certification.

“The push for green building is only going to become stronger,” she says. “I think, for any attorney who does construction work or real estate work or maybe to some extent even environmental law, it is going to be important. You don’t necessarily need to become a LEED-accredited professional, but it is definitely going to be important to be familiar with the concepts.” In other words, the future is coming, and it looks awfully green. 

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