Developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) is a voluntary rating system that provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operation, and maintenance solutions.

LEED is the world’s most widely used green building certification program and is considered and the mark of excellence for the high-performance sustainable building and property industry. To date, it has been adopted in more than 150 countries and territories worldwide, and more than 41,500 projects have been awarded LEED certification. A full breakdown of the LEED Certification process can be found on the USGBC website.

How does it work?

The LEED certification process involves four main steps:

  1. Register your project by completing key forms and submitting payment.

  2. Apply for LEED certification by submitting your completed certification application and paying a certification review fee.

  3. Review. Your LEED application is reviewed by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI).

  4. Certify. Receive the certification decision from GBCI.

Building projects pursuing LEED v4.0 or LEED v4.1 certification must comply with the Minimum Program Requirements and earn 40 or more points from the total 110 points available in the LEED Credit Library. See a sample snippet of the LEED v4.0 BD+C Transit credit Checklist below.

What are the LEED Certification Levels?

The four LEED certification level designations are Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Certified. Regardless of the certification level achieved, all projects must meet mandated prerequisites and then choose from 110 available credit points to reach the desired certification level. The LEED Platinum level certification achieves the highest honor and the LEED Certified level achieves fundamental performance. Each level of certification attests to a building or neighborhood’s quantity of robust, high-performance green features.

What are the Rating Frameworks?

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system currently has 21 different frameworks tailored to specific building types inclusive of new construction, renovation, and existing buildings.

  • BD+C is for new construction projects, major renovations, Core & Shell buildings, and School Projects.

  • ID+C is mainly focused on commercial interiors and healthcare projects.

  • O+M is for existing buildings or interior spaces that have been fully operational and occupied for at least one year, and are planning to undergo operations improvement with little to no construction work.

  • ND is designed to pair green buildings with smart growth and urbanism.

  • HOMES focuses on high-performance single-family and mid-rise residential projects.

What are the Credit Categories?

USGBC has created a point system In order to measure whether a building meets goals for a LEED project. To receive certification, a building has to meet minimum requirements in a variety of areas; then gain points in categories that are in line with that project’s needs. Points are awarded for specific achievements in the following areas (all definitions courtesy of the USGBC’s LEED Credit Library).

  1. Location & Transportation - This category rewards thoughtful decisions about building location, with credits that encourage compact development, alternative transportation, and connection with amenities such as restaurants and parks.

  2. Sustainable Site - The Sustainable Sites category focuses on the environment surrounding the building, awarding credits for projects that emphasize the vital relationships among buildings, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. It focuses on restoring project site elements, integrating the site with local and regional ecosystems, and preserving the biodiversity that natural systems rely on.

  3. Water Efficiency - The Water Efficiency section addresses water holistically, looking at indoor use, outdoor use, specialized uses, and metering. The section is based on an “efficiency first” approach to water conservation.

  4. Energy & Atmosphere - The Energy and Atmosphere category approaches energy from a holistic perspective, addressing energy use reduction, energy-efficient design strategies, and renewable energy sources.

  5. Materials & Resources - The Materials and Resources credit category focuses on minimizing the embodied energy and other impacts associated with the extraction, processing, transport, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. The requirements are designed to support a life-cycle approach that improves performance and promotes resource efficiency.

  6. Indoor Environmental Quality - The Indoor Environmental Quality category rewards decisions made by project teams about indoor air quality and thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort. Green buildings with good indoor environmental quality protect the health and comfort of building occupants.

  7. Innovation - Sustainable design strategies and measures are constantly evolving and improving. New technologies are continually introduced to the marketplace and up-to-date scientific research influences building design strategies. The purpose of this LEED category is to recognize projects for innovative building features and sustainable building practices and strategies.

  8. Regional Priority - Because some environmental issues are particular to a locale, volunteers from USGBC chapters and the LEED International Roundtable have identified distinct environmental priorities within their areas and the credits that address those issues. These Regional Priority credits encourage project teams to focus on their local environmental priorities.

  9. Integrative Process - Beginning in pre-design and continuing throughout the design phases, identify and use opportunities to achieve synergies across disciplines and building systems.

How long does it take to get your building certified?

It varies from project to project, but the best time estimation is 3-6 months after the End-of-Construction phase. Projects can be at any stage of the development process, from conceptual planning to construction when deciding to begin the LEED Certification process. However, since each credit fundamentally impacts so many aspects of the building's design and team collaboration, the sooner you began the easier it will be to guarantee a certification.

Why get your building LEED Certified?

There are great reasons to seek LEED certification, including financial incentives, PR, and employee happiness. LEED certification is a goal for many facilities managers and sustainability officers who seek to make their buildings more sustainable. Here are some Pros for Owners who have their Building's LEED Certified:

  • Government Incentives - Some cities or states offer incentives for green building practices.

  • Long-Term Savings - More efficient buildings and homes reduce operating costs. Lower energy bills. Lower water bills. Long-term savings often offset the costs of initial investments.

  • Public Relations - The ability to report on positive environmental practices to the press or in annual reports can be very powerful for companies. Shows a project owner’s commitment to building green.

  • Sustainability - Many companies are making sustainability a core part of their business plan or long-term goals. A green building is a way to make progress towards those goals.

  • Real Estate Profitability - Studies show green buildings sell and lease faster than traditional buildings. A business case study examining the San Diego real estate market showed that the overall vacancy rate for green buildings was four percent lower than for non-green properties—11.7 percent, compared to 15.7 percent. LEED-certified buildings also routinely commanded the highest rents. (USGBC, The Business Case for Green Building)

  • Happier Employees - LEED-certified buildings are often built with features that enhance the comfort of humans in the building, such as more open spaces, large windows, and thoughtfully located sites. As study after study has shown, happy employees are more productive employees.

How can cove.tool help?

At the moment, cove.tool can be used to pursue 10 Credits from the LEED BD+C V4.0. That means up to 36 Points (including 3 Prerequisite Credits & 2 Pilot Credits). For an explanation of how cove.tool helps earn LEED points can be found in this article.


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