A Short Introduction to LEED Certifications

LEED Silver plaque - intro to LEED certifications

The construction industry is notoriously wasteful. From the billions of tons of concrete poured each year to the insulation that keeps our homes warm, not only are the materials we use toxic for the environment, but they are also virtually impossible to recycle and damaging to our health.

However, as humanity wakes up to our destructive impact on the environment, things are beginning to change. Today, sustainable buildings are on the rise, and whether it’s the rediscovery of eco-friendly materials or the implementation of innovative designs and technologies to make our homes and offices more efficient and healthier to live in, the future of construction is looking greener than ever before. 

Among the many influences underpinning this move towards a more sustainable industry is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. Developed by the USGBC (U.S Green Building Council) in 1993, the program has steadily expanded and evolved to become the most comprehensive system for rating all aspects of a building’s construction and operation. 

But what exactly is LEED Certification? And what kinds of things does it cover?

Here we take a look at how LEED works and what kinds of things we can expect from the future of the construction industry. 

What Is LEED? 

LEED is now, as the USGBC says,  “the world’s most widely used and recognized green building rating system.” It can be used across almost all types of project, from residential to commercial, and it aims to ensure that buildings are healthy, efficient, and environmentally friendly by implementing a rating system that assesses each aspect of the building and awards points based on a strict criterion.

Ratings are split into four levels: 

  • Certified: 40 – 49 points
  • Sliver Certification: 50 – 59 points
  • Gold Certification: 60 – 79 points
  • Platinum Certification: 80 points and above

Each award weighs a variety of different aspects that include:

  • The selection of sustainable sites
  • The types of materials used in construction
  • The energy use of the construction and the building
  • The indoor environmental quality
  • The level of energy and water efficiency
  • The awareness and education that the building and construction helps to spread
  • The kind of innovations and design used in construction
  • The levels of “recyclability” of the building after it completes its lifecycle

However, these categories are constantly expanding to take in new technologies, construction methods, and increasingly stringent local, national and international regulations. The aim of LEED is to provide a recognizable framework that can be applied to all buildings, both during and after construction, and for this reason, a strict set of criteria is required to ensure that buildings everywhere meet or exceed both the environmental and human-centric grade.

What Does a LEED Building Look Like?

sustainable home - intro to leed certifications

There are now many examples of LEED buildings found across the globe, and they take all shapes and sizes—from the largest sports stadiums and conference halls to the smallest houses. Some have been given LEED certification post-construction, while others are designed and built specifically to meet the standards as set by the USGBC. 

For example, the Empire State Building was awarded LEED Gold Certification after undergoing renovation in 2009-2010. $120 million was spent to make the building itself more energy efficient and eco-friendly. At the other end of the scale, the EcoRelics and Norsk Tiny Houses company designed and built a 198-square-ft house that was awarded Platinum LEED Certification, in part thanks to its use of 89% repurposed and recycled materials. 

More Recently, the Apple Park Campus has become the largest LEED Platinum building in the US, with 100% renewable energy used to power the complex and the introduction of 9000 drought resistant trees. This, alongside a wealth of other eco-friendly and human-centric design features, have led some to suggest that it is, in fact, the greenest building in the world. 

How Do I Get LEED Certification?

Becoming LEED certified can be a complex process, however, all the information, guidance, and resources you need can be found on the USGBC website. There are steps you can take to get prepared, and once you have read through the wealth of information available, you should begin to plan your approach. 

Whether you are planning to renovate a building to LEED standards, or you are starting from scratch, it’s a good idea to identify which certification level is within reach. Once you have notified the USGBC, you will be required to submit data on the credits you wish to earn, and then wait for a final review once your building or renovation is complete. 

However you decide to plan your LEED building, it is important to take a strategic approach to design and construction. Using the framework, not only will you help push forward environmentally conscious construction, but you’ll also be able to wear your Silver, Gold, or Platinum Certification with pride!

Want to learn more about LEED Certification and Accreditation? Check out our in-depth guide.

Feature image: Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Image 1: Jeremy Levine

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