What Is LEED Certification And Why Is It Important?

Over the past few years, the world has become aware of the need to conserve energy. Nothing has been more effective in this area than the building industry.

 LEED Plaque

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is a rating system, which involves construction, maintenance, design and operation of green businesses, homes and neighborhoods. The initials stand for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

One of the highest honors in the building rating system is having a LEED plaque on a building. This indicates that the building has met all requirements for a “green building”. A green building has construction and over-all design that meets qualifications for saving resources and energy, which provides less strain on the environment.

 LEED Buildings Benefits

Having buildings built that are resource and energy efficient not only eases the green house emissions that plague our planet but also eases the pressure of excessive waste on our landfills.

Customers and employees also benefit from a building that is properly constructed to make use of available resources. A comfortable building offers more daylight and clean air. This healthy space encourages increased business as well as employee efficiency.

Savings in everyday operations is also a big benefit for companies. Energy costs in air conditioning and heating are a big bottom line expense. LEED buildings have shown a significant drop in power company bills, resulting in more profit for the business owner.

 LEED Certification

From 1994 to 2015, LEED requirements have grown to a comprehensive system that covers everything from design to construction. Currently a building meeting these requirements must comply with environmental regulations and laws, site boundaries, building permanence and many other conditions.

A home’s certification is made by an American Provider Organization and a Green Rater. Green Raters conduct two LEED for Homes site inspections. The Green Rater and provider do not have the final certification but assist in the process. LEED Accredited Professionals are who make the final decision.

 LEED Professionals

The Green Building Certification Institute states that “LEED Professional Credentials demonstrate current knowledge of green building technologies, best practices and the rapidly evolving LEED Rating Systems…” [1]. Professional credentials (Accredited Professional, Green Associate and Fellow) are required to work in this particular area of the building industry.

LEED Accredited Professional – has advanced knowledge regarding green building with expertise in the rating system.

LEED Green Associate – has a current and solid foundation in the practices and principles of green building.

LEED Fellow – has ten or more years professional experience in green building.

 How to Obtain LEED Certification

Certification is granted by the GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute). To have the building registered, construction and design applications must be submitted together with a fee. This fee ranges from $2,900 minimum to more than $1 million for a large project. Added costs can also apply if changes must be made for compliance.

Obtaining LEED certification for a building requires planning and compliance.

These include:

  • Conform with environmental regulation and laws
  • Show site boundaries
  • Demonstrate area-to-site ratios
  • Provide occupancy scenarios
  • Building permanence
  • Pre-rating completion

On new construction, the owner must provide data regarding water and energy use for five years after occupancy. On existing buildings, data is provided from date of certification. Certification is available in Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum depending on the type of building and the amount of compliance.

Certification Levels

The LEED standard is a hybrid of proscriptive and performance requirements. The system does have specific minimums which must be met for participation, but beyond that allows participants to choose from a wide variety of options to earn points, which in turn determines certification level. This system sets a floor but also recognizes that each project is unique in terms of economics, geography, and a host of other factors.

The point scheme is the core of the standard. It drives participants to incorporate environmentally positive features within a value framework. Incorporating various features into a project will earn points. The more points, the higher the certification level, as summarized here:

  • Certified: 40 – 49
  • Silver: 50 – 59
  • Gold: 60 – 79
  • Platinum: 80 and above

The point maximum in the system is 100, spread across six categories; Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation in Design. The system also awards up to ten bonus points for addressing regional priorities (up to 4) and innovation (up to 6). For example, in an area of chronic water shortage, a focus on water conservation could earn bonus points for regional priorities, along with any points in the Water Efficiency category.

Some examples of actions that earn points will help understand the system. In the Sustainable Site category, redevelopment of a brownfield will earn 1 point. In the Materials and Resources category using locally sourced materials will earn 1 or 2 points. In Energy and Atmosphere, LEED has proscriptive minimums but then has up to nineteen points available for improved features. This category is heavily weighted since energy and atmosphere considerations are critical to the environmental impact of a project.

The environmental impact of a project is inherently complex and dependent on local realities. The LEED system recognizes this by using a combination of minimum requirements and allowing trade-offs that make sense for the circumstances of the specific project. Stakeholders should recognize this flexibility and use it to develop projects that make sense.

It is expected that eventually all new construction will have to meet standards for energy efficiency in order to promote a healthier environment.

[1] “LEED Professional Credentials” GBCI

~Written by Jessica Kane

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Econoheat., the world’s #1 leading waste oil boiler manufacturer.