What does it mean for a building to be “LEED certified?”

What does it mean for a building to be “LEED certified?” Does that mean it is a “green” building?

—Bo Thibault, Slidell, Louisiana

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC”s) national program for certifying environmentally sustainable design, construction and resource use practices for the American building industry.

The organization launched the rating system in 2000 to try to provide the building industry with consistent, credible standards for what constitutes a green building. Since then, nearly 10,000 different building projects have become LEED certified. The program sets best-practice benchmarks that builders trying to “go green” on their projects can follow. Once a building or project has been LEED certified, it can use the designation as a marketing advantage to attract buyers or tenants interested in healthy and environmentally safe working or living spaces.

Specific LEED programs focus on several different kinds of projects, including new commercial construction, major renovation projects, existing building upgrades and maintenance, residential homes, neighborhood development projects, and multiple buildings and campus building projects, among others. There is also a LEED program for schools, and USGBC is in the midst of developing specific programs for retail business construction, commercial interiors, and health care.

Builders trying to achieve LEED certification can follow checklists developed by the USGBC specific to their kind of structure or project. Each checklist takes into account five key sustainability aspects of the design and construction processes: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. To earn certification, a building project must meet certain prerequisites and performance benchmarks (“credits”) within each category. Projects are awarded Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum certification depending on the number of credits they achieve.

The LEED program also includes a full suite of training workshops and a Professional Accreditation program to develop and encourage green building expertise across the entire building industry. Thousands of architects, real estate professionals, facility managers, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, construction managers, lenders and government officials have been accredited as LEED professionals. They bring the skills and knowledge they learn through the program to bear on their own projects and help make the certification process run as smoothly as possible.

The green building certification concept is also alive and well in Canada, where the Canada Green Building Council has adopted its own version, LEED Canada, tailored specifically for Canadian construction practices and regulations. LEED registered projects are also in progress in 22 other countries around the world, including Mexico, Brazil and India. And the World Green Building Council, founded in 1998, supports LEED and other green building rating systems in Australia, Japan and elsewhere.

CONTACTS: U.S. Green Building Council; Canadian Green Building Council; World Green Building Council