What is LEED?

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Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in metrics such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is intended to provide building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

Since its inception in 1998, the U.S. Green Building council (citation LEED for existing buildings v2.0 reference guide page pg 11) has grown to encompass more than 14,000 projects in the United States and 30 countries covering 1.062 billion square feet (99 km²) of development area.[1] The hallmark of LEED is that it is an open and transparent process where the technical criteria proposed by USGBC members are publicly reviewed for approval by the almost 20,000 member organizations that currently constitute the USGBC.

The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) was established by USGBC to provide a series of exams to allow individuals to become accredited for their knowledge of the LEED rating system. This is recognized through either the LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) or LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) designation. GBCI also provides third-party certification for projects pursuing LEED.


[The development of LEED began in 1993 and was spearheaded by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist Robert K. Watson who, as Founding Chairman of the LEED Steering Committee (until 2006) led a broad-based consensus process that included non-profit organizations, government agencies, architects, engineers, developers, builders, product manufacturers and other industry leaders. Early LEED committee members also included USGBC co-founder Mike Italiano, architects Bill Reed and Sandy Mendler, builder Gerard Heiber, builder Myron Kibbe and engineer Richard Bourne; engineers Tom Paladino and Lynn Barker co-chaired the LEED technical committee in 1996.

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 to the marketplace.

LEED has grown from one standard for new construction to a comprehensive system of six standards covering all aspects of the development and construction process. LEED also has grown from six volunteers on one committee to more than 200 volunteers on nearly 20 committees and over 200 professional staff in Washington, DC. LEED was created to accomplish the following:

  • Define “green building” by establishing a common standard of measurement
  • Promote integrated, whole-building design practices
  • Recognize environmental leadership in the building industry
  • Stimulate green competition
  • Raise consumer awareness of green building benefits
  • Transform the building market

Green Building Council members, representing every sector of the building industry, developed and continue to refine LEED. The rating systems address eight major areas:

  • Location and Planning
  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Materials and Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Innovation and Design Process
  • Regional Priority


A 2003 analysis of the savings from green building found from a review of 60 LEED buildings that the buildings were on average 25-30% more energy efficient and had reduced , but it also attributed substantial benefits to the increased productivity from the better ventilation, temperature control, lighting control, and reduced indoor air pollution.[2]

As of 2008, LEED (and similar Energy Star) buildings had mostly been evaluated by case studies. From a purely financial perspective, in 2008 several studies found that LEED for-rent office spaces generally charged higher rent and had higher occupancy rates. CoStar collects data on properties. The extra cost for the minimum benefit has been estimated at 3%, with an additional 2.5% for silver.[3]

LEED focuses on the design of the building and not on its actual energy consumption, and therefore it has suggested that LEED buildings should be tracked to discover whether the potential energy savings from the design are being used in practice.[4]

Rating System

LEED has evolved since its original inception in 1998 to more accurately represent and incorporate emerging green building technologies. LEED NCv1.0 was a pilot version. These projects helped inform the USGBC of the requirements for such a rating system, and this knowledge was incorporated into LEED NCv2.0. LEED NCv2.2 was released in 2005. Today, LEED consists of a suite of nine rating systems for the design, construction and operation of buildings, homes and neighborhoods. Five overarching categories correspond to the specialties available under the LEED Accredited Professional program. That suite currently consists of:

Green Building Design & Construction

  • LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations
  • LEED for Core & Shell Development
  • LEED for Schools
  • LEED for Retail New Construction (planned 2010)

Green Interior Design & Construction

  • LEED for Commercial Interiors
  • LEED for Retail Interiors (planned 2010)

Green Building Operations & Maintenance

  • LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance

Green Neighborhood Development

  • LEED for Neighborhood Development

Green Home Design and Construction

  • LEED for Homes

In 2003, the Canada Green Building Council received permission to create its own version of LEED, now called LEED Canada-NC v1.0, which was based upon LEED-NC 2.0.[5]

LEED also forms the basis for other sustainability rating systems such as the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Labs21.

After four years of development, aligning credits across all LEED rating systems and weighting credits based on environmental priority, USGBC launched LEED v3[6], which consists of a new continuous development process, a new version of LEED Online, a revised third-party certification program and a new suite of rating systems known as LEED 2009. In response to concerns that LEED’s requirements are cumbersome and difficult to learn, in 2009 USGBC supported the development by BuildingGreen, LLC of LEEDuser, a third-party resource that contains tips and guidance, written by professionals in the field, on applying LEED credits and the LEED certification process.[7]

LEED 2009

1225 Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C., is the first redeveloped office building on the East Coast to receive LEED Platinum status.[8]

In LEED 2009 there are 100 possible base points plus an additional 6 points for Innovation in Design and 4 points for Regional Priority. Buildings can qualify for four levels of certification:

  • Certified – 40 – 49 points
  • Silver – 50 – 59 points
  • Gold – 60 – 79 points
  • Platinum – 80 points and above
  • Note that the LEED for Homes rating system is different from LEED v3, with different point categories and thresholds that reward efficient residential design.

 Prerequisites and Credits

Points are distributed across major credit categories such as Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. Prerequisites in each category receive no points and are mandatory for all projects.

 LEED NCv2.2

LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations version 2.2 contained the same credits as the new NC v2009, but had fewer points. There are 69 possible points and buildings can qualify for four levels of certification:

  • Certified – 26-32 points
  • Silver – 33-38 points
  • Gold – 39-51 points
  • Platinum – 52 points and above,[9]


LEED certification is obtained after submitting an application documenting compliance with the requirements of the rating system as well as paying registration and certification fees. Certification is granted solely by the Green Building Certification Institute responsible for the third party verification of project compliance with LEED requirements.

Recently the application process for new construction certification has been streamlined electronically, via a set of active PDFs that automates the process of filing the documentation.

 Directory of LEED Certified Projects

The U.S. Green Building Council provides an online directory of LEED-certified projects.[10]

Professional Accreditation

Green building professionals can become LEED accredited. This accreditation enables an individual to facilitate the rating of buildings with the various LEED systems.

The Green Building Certification Institute describes Professional Accreditation as follows “LEED Professional Credentials demonstrate current knowledge of green building technologies, best practices, and the rapidly evolving LEED Rating Systems. They show differentiation in a growing and competitive industry, and they allow for varied levels of specialization. A LEED Professional Credential provides employers, policymakers, and other stakeholders with assurances of an individual’s level of competence and is the mark of the most qualified, educated, and influential green building professionals in the marketplace.”[11]

Since January 2008, professional accreditation is administered by the Green Building Certification Institute. Between 2001 and June 2009, LEED accreditation required that candidates only pass one exam to earn their LEED Accredited Professional designation. After June 2009, LEED accreditation evolved to have three tiers and requires candidates to pass a series of LEED exams. The LEED v3 2009 accreditation process changes were made to mirror the various LEED Building Certification Rating Systems.[12] The first tier exam is called LEED Green Associate. The second tier exam is called LEED Accredited Professional with specialty and has five separate exams to allow for individual specialization. The third tier standards have not yet been determined or released. The Green Building Certification Institute has an education provider program that provide seminars and lectures to prepare candidates to take and pass the LEED Exams.

LEED Green Associate

Certification as a LEED Green Associate requires 15 hours in the biennial Credential Maintenance Program, with a minimum of three hours centered on LEED. The exam covers the main aspects and key points of the LEED rating and certification process. This process includes information on energy credits, tax incentives, and complex environmental design ratios. The LEED Green Associate certification helps people demonstrate dedication to building practices in line with green standards, but does not obligate them to have direct involvement in LEED projects. This title should be more appealing to nontechnical professionals, such as people in marketing for design firms or possibly lawyers who have become a part of real estate development deals.

 Benefits and Disadvantages

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LEED certified buildings are supposed to use resources more efficiently when compared to conventional buildings simply built to code. LEED certified buildings often provide healthier work and living environments, which contributes to higher productivity and improved employee health and comfort. The USGBC has compiled a long list of benefits of implementing a LEED strategy, which ranges from improving air and water quality to reducing solid waste, benefiting owners, occupiers, and society as a whole.[citation needed]

Often, when a LEED rating is pursued, the cost of initial design and construction rises. One reason for the higher cost is that sustainable construction principles may not be well understood by the design professionals undertaking the project. This could require time to be spent on research. Some of the finer points of LEED (especially those that demand a higher-than-industry-standard level of service from the construction team) could possibly lead to misunderstandings between the design team, construction team, and client, which could result in delays.[citation needed] Also, there may be a lack of abundant availability of manufactured building components that meet LEED standards. Pursuing LEED certification for a project is an added cost in itself as well. This added cost comes in the form of USGBC correspondence, LEED design-aide consultants, and the hiring of the required Commissioning Authority (CxA)—all of which would not necessarily be included in an environmentally responsible project, unless it also sought a LEED rating.[citation needed]

However, these higher initial costs can be effectively mitigated by the savings incurred over time due to the lower-than-industry-standard operational costs typical of a LEED certified building. Additional economic payback may come in the form of employee productivity gains incurred as a result of working in a healthier environment. Studies have suggested that an initial up-front investment of 2% extra will yield over ten times the initial investment over the life cycle of the building.[13]

Further, the USGBC has stated support for the Architecture 2030, an effort that has set a goal of using no fossil-fuel, greenhouse gas-emitting energy to operate by 2030.[14]

LEED is a design tool and not a performance measurement tool. It is also not yet climate-specific, although the newest version hopes to address this weakness partially. Because of this, designers may make materials or design choices that garner a LEED point, even though they may not be the most site or climate-appropriate choice available.

LEED is a measurement tool for green building in the United States and it is developed and continuously modified by workers in the green building industry, especially in the ten largest metro areas in the U.S.; however, LEED certified buildings have been slower to penetrate small and mid-major markets.[15] Also, some criticism suggests that the LEED rating system is not sensitive and does not vary enough with regard to local environmental conditions. For instance, a building in Maine would receive the same credit as a building in Arizona for water conservation, though the principle is more important in the latter case. Another complaint is that its certification costs require money that could be used to make the building in question even more sustainable. Many critics have noted that compliance and certification costs have grown faster than staff support from the USGBC.

For existing buildings LEED has developed LEED-EB. Recent research has demonstrated that buildings that can achieve LEED-EB equivalencies can generate a tremendous ROI[citation needed]. In a recent white paper by the Leonardo Academy comparing LEED-EB buildings vs. data from BOMA’s Experience Exchange Report 2007 demonstrated LEED-EB certified buildings achieved superior operating cost savings in 63% of the buildings surveyed ranging from $4.94 to $15.59 per square foot of floor space, with an average valuation of $6.68 and a median valuation of $6.07.[16]

In addition the overall cost of LEED-EB implementation and certification ranged from $0.00 to $6.46 per square foot of floor space, with an average of $2.43 per square foot demonstrating that implementation is not expensive, especially in comparison to cost savings. These costs should be significantly reduced if automation and technology are integrated into the implementation.[16]

 Incentive Programs

Many federal, state, and local governments and school districts have adopted various types of LEED initiatives and incentives. A full listing of government and school LEED initiatives can be found online[17] and is updated regularly.

Some areas have implemented or are considering incentives for LEED-certified buildings.

The city of Cincinnati, Ohio adopted a measure providing an automatic 100% real property tax exemption of the assessed property value for newly constructed or rehabilitated commercial or residential properties that earn a minimum of LEED Certified.[18]

In the state of Nevada construction materials for a qualifying LEED building are exempt from local taxes. Pieces of construction that are deemed “inseparable” parts, such as concrete or Sheetrock, qualify.[19]

The state of Michigan is considering tax-based incentives for LEED buildings.[20]

Many local governments have adopted LEED incentive programs. Program incentives include tax credits, tax breaks, density bonuses, reduced fees, priority or expedited permitting, free or reduced-cost technical assistance, grants and low-interest loans.[21][22]

International Initiatives

With many countries either having, or being in the process of developing domestic assessment methods, international exchanges and coordination have being increasingly evident.

In 1997, for example, the International Organization for Standardization’s Technical Committee 59 (ISO TC59) – Building Construction resolved to establish an ad hoc group to investigate the need for standardized tools within the field of sustainable building. This subsequently evolved and was formalized as Sub-Committee ISO T59/SC17 – Sustainability in building construction—the scope of which includes issues that should be considered within building environmental assessment methods.

In Europe, under European Committee for Standardization‘s TC350 -Sustainability of Construction Works, a consensus-building process that relates to other standards (ISO) and harmonizes existing approaches was launched. These standards shall enable the exchange of sustainability information related to internationally traded products and services.

 Carbon Trading Potential

It is expected that LEED-NC 3.0 will include a requirement for a carbon footprint (carbon building print) and a significant reduction of green-house gasses beyond a baseline level. The reduction in carbon dioxide must be measured based on the direct and indirect carbon dioxide and equivalent reductions. These include emissions related to the consumption of grid delivered electricity, on-site combustion of fossil fuels, and fugitive refrigerant emissions.

The efforts to quantify emission and reductions in emissions will be in an effort to monetize the climate change externality in the same way that a Kyoto Clean Development Project (carbon project) does. ITC Hotel Sonar Bangla Sheraton & Towers in Kolkata, India is the only green building project in the world to monetize the reductions that acts as the main precedent for this type of project.

General Statistical Analysis

It is estimated that the value of green building construction will increase to $60 billion by 2010. As of 2009, 82% of corporate America had been projected to be greening at least 16% of its real estate portfolios; and of these corporations, 18% were projected to be greening more than 60% of their real estate portfolios. The green building market has been estimated to be worth $30–$40 billion annually by the year 2010. Also by 2010, approximately 10% of commercial construction starts have been projected to be green.

Since 2000, USGBC’s membership has more than quadrupled to 19,957 member organizations, including corporations, government agencies, non-profits and others from throughout the industry. Over 5 billion square feet of commercial building space is involved with LEED green building certification system. Construction yields an annual output of U.S. $4.6 trillion, contributing to 8-10% of the global GDP encompassing a workforce of 120 million people and billions of transactions each day. Comprises 13.4% of $13.2 trillion US GDP. This includes all commercial, residential and infrastructure construction. Commercial and residential building construction constitutes 6.1% of GDP.

Buildings represent 38.9% of US primary energy use. Building are one of the heaviest consumers of natural resources and account for a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emissions that effect climate change. In the US, buildings account for 38% of all CO2 emissions. Building represent 72% of US consumption. Building use 13.6% of all potable water, or 15 trillion gallons per year. Buildings use 40% of raw materials globally (3 billion tons annually).

EPA estimates that 136 million tons of building related construction and demolition debris was generated in the US in a single year. Compare that to 254 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in the same year. The three largest segments for non-residential green building construction – office, education and health care will account for more than 80% of total non-residential construction.

 See Also


  1. ^ “Green Building By the Numbers”. USGBC. http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=3340. Retrieved 2008-12-01. ,
  2. ^ Kats GH. (2003). [www.masstech.org/rebate/green_buildings/GreenBuildingspaper.pdf Green building costs and financial benefits]. Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.
  3. ^ N Miller, J Spivey, A Florance. (2008). Does Green Pay Off? Journal of Real Estate Portfolio Management Preprint.
  4. ^ Appelbaum A. (2010). Don’t LEED Us Astray. NYTimes.
  5. ^ Canada Green Building Council: Green Building Rating System
  6. ^ “LEEDv3”. US Green Building Council. http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1970. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  7. ^ “LEED Update December 2009”. US Green Building Council. http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=2138. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  8. ^ Plumb, Tierney (October 8, 2009). “1225 Connecticut Avenue gets LEED Platinum”. Washington Business Journal. http://washington.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2009/10/05/daily89.html. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 
  9. ^ USGBC Project Checklist”[1]
  10. ^ “LEED Projects Directory – Certified Project Directory”. US Green Building Council. http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/Project/CertifiedProjectList.aspx. Retrieved 20 November 2008. 
  11. ^ http://www.gbci.org/main-nav/professional-credentials/credentials.aspx
  12. ^ Chicago US Green Building Council, Exam Changes
  13. ^ Kats, Greg; Leon Alevantis, Adam Berman, Evan Mills, Jeff Perlman (2003). “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California’s Sustainable Building Task Force” (PDF). http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/greenbuilding/Design/CostBenefit/Report.pdf. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  14. ^ “The 2030 Challenge”. architecture2030.org. http://www.architecture2030.org/2030_challenge/index.html. 
  15. ^ Burr, Andrew C. (April 23, 2008). “LEED’s Big Market Bias”. CoStar Group. http://www.costar.com/News/Article.aspx?id=652024CBB8139C748C5F6F871CD4EF6B. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  16. ^ a b Going Green….Is it the 800lb Elephant in the Room?
  17. ^ “Tax Deductions and Incentives. The Vinyl Roofing Division of the Chemical Fabrics and Film Association.”. http://vinylroofs.org/tax-deductions/tax-deductions.html. 
  18. ^ “LEED Initiatives in Government and Schools”. http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1852. 
  19. ^ “Exemption for LEED Certified Green Buildings”. http://tax.state.nv.us/LEED.htm. 
  20. ^ “LEED Tax Credits Coming?”. http://blog.mlive.com/squarefootagewm/2008/10/leed_tax_credits_coming.html. 
  21. ^ “Summary of Government LEED Incentives”. http://www.usgbc.org/showfile.aspx?documentid=2021. 
  22. ^ “Public Policy Search”. http://www.usgbc.org/PublicPolicy/SearchPublicPolicies.aspx?PageID=1776. 


External Links

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Worldwide Green Building Rating Systems