An introduction to LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
The “green” industry has grown exponentially in the last few years and continues
to branch out in more directions everyday. Several organizations exist that help
both building professionals as well as consumers understand the new and ever changing
guidelines and criteria that help determine just how “green” a building is.
One of these organizations is LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
LEED was developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1993.
It is an internationally recognized green building certification system. The growth
and evolution of LEED programs is a continuous development process. In 1998, the
LEED 1.0 pilot program was released. During the pilot period, extensive revisions
were made and by March 2000, LEED 2.0 was released. The current certification program
for buildings is called LEED 2009. LEED provides 3rd party verification that a building
(or community) was designed and constructed using strategies that have been proven
to have a positive effect across all the metrics that matter most:
- Energy savings,
- Water Efficiency,
- Emissions Reductions,
- Improved indoor air quality
- Stewardship of resources.
Like the Green Industry at large, LEED has also grown exponentially, as of July,
2009, the USGBC had over 20,000 member organizations, and over 120,000 LEED accredited
professionals. The ever evolving strategies that LEED supports impacts every phase
of the construction and facilities industries. Every profession and trade, from
architects and material manufacturers to land developers, builders, and tradesmen
have been influenced. Their impact has been considerable, having a hand in the design,
construction, or renovation of over 3.6 billion square feet of commercial space.
The effectiveness of the program in it’s early stages was documented in a 2003 review
of 60 LEED designed/constructed buildings. The buildings were on average 25-30%
more energy efficient. Other benefits associated with employing LEED strategies
also emerged. Increased productivity from better ventilation, temperature control,
lighting control, and reduced indoor air pollution were all attributed to LEED
design, construction and recommended materials.
For professionals who work in the construction industry, LEED offers three tiers
- Tier One is the LEED Green Associate. This is the pre-requisite or “101” certification
that requires an individual to pass a two hour exam. This demonstrates the candidate’s
basic knowledge and skill to support green design, construction and operations.
- Tier Two signifies an advanced body of knowledge acquired in at least one of five
different areas, called LEED AP with specialty. These are; Operations and Maintenance,
LEED for Homes, Building Design and Construction, Interior Design and Construction,
and lastly, Neighborhood Development. Each of these require passing a two hour exam
focusing on that particular specialty. A candidate need only pass one of these two
hour exams to be considered a LEED AP associate. Before being eligible to sit for
any LEED AP exam, a candidate must demonstrate that they have work experience on
a LEED project.
- Tier Three is the LEED AP Fellow. This is an exclusive class of professionals who
have demonstrated years of experience and a body of work that has helped shape the
evolution of LEED strategies, practices, or products.
Like any industry, the Green Industry’s growth has and will continue to be influenced
by economic conditions. In an economy where construction has declined in recent
years, and where a large percentage of commercial space is unoccupied, competition
among builders has intensified. Consumers and companies looking to lease space are
giving more consideration to the total cost of ownership for any space they are
considering. To that end, LEED has established a yardstick by which to compare buildings.
While buildings for different intended uses will have different design criteria,
LEED maintains three basic principles for any inhabited commercial structure. Three
core values of LEED certification are that a building should be:
- Environmentally compatible. The building should have the least environmental impact
on the community and the planet. Records are kept on the amount of waste that is
generated during the construction phase. How well the building matches it’s surroundings
and other nearby structures. It also takes into account the carbon footprint generated
by the life support systems that the building employs.
- Provide a healthy work environment. The interior of the building should be designed,
constructed, and maintained in such a way as to provide a safe, healthy working
environment that supports the close interaction of people from a multitude of backgrounds.
Systems that supply water, fresh air, heating/cooling, and relative humidity levels
should be adequate for the space and number of occupants/ cubic foot.
- Be designed in a way to yield a profit. The cost to maintain the structures and
the systems that make up their infra-structure should be competitive or superior
to other similar buildings.
LEED has developed rating systems in five main categories:
- Green bldg. design & Construction – five different rating systems, three of
these are specifically intended to oversee: a. Schools b. Healthcare c. Retail Also
– LEED for new construction and LEED for core and shell
- Green Interior Design and Construction – two different rating guides or systems;
differentiated by general commercial and also retail
- Operations & Maintenance – two rating systems; LEED for buildings, and another
specifically for schools
- LEED for Homes – has it’s own rating system and criteria. Modeled after the EPA’s
Energy Start for Homes Program
- Lastly, LEED for Neighborhood Development is in it’s early developmental stages
LEED 2009 uses a rating system of 100 possible base points plus an additional 6
points for innovation, and 4 points for regional priority. Buildings may qualify
for one of four levels of certification.
- Certified: 40 – 49 points
- Silver: 50 – 59 points
- Gold: 60 – 79 points
- Platinum – 80 points or above
The LEED for Homes rating system is different from LEED v3, with different categories,
criteria and thresholds that reward efficient design. In commercial buildings, points
are awarded across categories including Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy
and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. Before
points are awarded in any category, mandatory prerequisites must be met. In order
for a building to receive a LEED certification rating, an application must be submitted
documenting compliance with the requirements of the rating system. Registration
and certification fees must accompany the application. Publications detailing the
criteria by which each of the five categories are scored can be purchased through
To be a leader in any industry or endeavor, one should study the best examples available.
Here then, is a small list of buildings considered to be among the Greenest on the
Bank of America Tower -- New York City – The first
skyscraper to achieve a U.S. LEED platinum rating
Clinton Presidential Library – Little Rock, AR –
Opened in 2004, this building has a roof-top garden
Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center – Flushing, NY
Received a platinum rating from the EPA, this building’s photo-voltaic array is
able to produce 20% of it’s electrical needs.
La Maison du Developpement Durable - Montreal, Quebec
Rough translation; Sustainable Development House. Using both geo-thermal and thermal
accumulators for heating and cooling, built with a large percentage of recycled
materials, and several other innovations, it is claimed to be the greenest building
Confederation of Indian Industry's Sohrabji Godrej Green Business
Centre, Hyderabad, India Earned a prestigious award from the USGBC, the
Centre was named the most "environmentally advanced building in the world."
From a standpoint of energy usage and environmental design, it is one of the most
important buildings in the Eastern world.
Additional references can be found online, or at your public library.
Bank of America Tower, NY, NY, USA
Queens Botanical Gardens, Queens, NY, USA