LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a program with the goals of providing third-party verification for the environmental sustainability of buildings. [1] The system is set up such that buildings must first satisfy specific requirements before they can go on to earn point and achieve different levels of certifications.

The program is a division of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) but has become an internationally recognized certification providing a basis for identifying and implementing green buildings designs, construction practices, operations, and maintenance. The system is designed to be easily applied to all building types, both commercial and residential, and apply to all phases of the construction process. [2]


LEED began in 1994 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior scientist Robert K. Watson. The LEED Steering Committee, led by Robert K. Watson from its start till 2006, was comprised of nonprofit organizations, government agencies, architects, engineers, developers, builders, product manufactures, and leaders in the construction industry.[3] LEED began with the goals of: establishing a common standard for "green building", promoting integrated design practices, recognizing environmental leadership in the construction industry, stimulating green competition, raising consumer awareness of green building benefits, and transforming the building market. [4]

The certification program started with a single standard relating only to new construction; however, by 2006, LEED had branched out to cover six standards which covered all aspects of the development and construction process. By this time LEED included more than 200 volunteers on almost 20 committees and the organization had 36 professional staff members.[5]

The first actual version of the program was released in the August of 1998. Following the first release, extensive modifications were made to the program and version 2.0 of the LEED Green Building Rating System was released in 2000. Since then version 2.1 was released in 2002 and version 2.2 was released in 2005. [6] In November 20, 2013, USGBC released version 4 of the LEED building program. [7]

Today the program has grown into the premier program for green building certification. More that 56,000 commercial and institutional projects and 47,000 residential projects are currently certified by LEED in 147 countries and territories. [8]

Types of Certification

Figure 1: The main LEED certification system logos.
EED v4 has four main rating systems: building design and construction (BD+C), interior design and construction (ID+C), existing buildings: operating and maintenance (EB:O+M), and neighborhood development (ND).[9] See Figure 1. [10]

The building design and construction rating system (BD+C) covers areas such as new construction, core & shell, schools, warehouses & distribution centers, and homes among several other areas. This system rates the construction process for its environmental qualities. Areas of concern for this rating system involve the equipment used in the construction process, the materials used, and the overall innovation in creating a green design. [11]

The interior design and construction rating system (ID+C) covers commercial interiors, retail, and hospitality. This system rates the accessibility to the building, the energy efficiency of the building, and the indoor air quality among other requirements. This system is also primarily used for new construction. [12]

The existing buildings: operating and maintenance rating system (EB:O+M) rates components of the building like efficiency in building usage, green additions to the building such as improved water management systems, and overall increasing the energy efficiency of a previously constructed building. [13]

The neighborhood development rating system (ND) is based on the planning and layout for a whole region or subdivision. The issues that this system deals with are more location specific and covers issues that are broader in nature such as waste management system and energy infrastructure. [14]

Certification Scoring System

Figure 2: There are four levels of LEED certification: basic, silver, gold, and platinum.

The rating systems are divided into 5 main environmental categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality with bonus categories for innovation in design or operations and regional priority. The level of LEED certification is based on the number of credits that a construction project earns in one of these categories. Additional categories for housing construction include location, or access to efficient transportation options, and awareness. The Neighborhood development system also runs on a separate system whose categories are smart locations, neighborhood pattern and design, and green infrastructure. [15]

Most building projects are assessed based on the five main priorities according to the rating system that applies to the type of construction. Projects the earn credits by meeting specific criteria within one of the main categories. Every specific building type within the rating systems has its unique criteria and point values for each. The rating systems generally have 100 base points, six bonus points for the innovation in design category, and four bonus points for the regional priority category. This makes a total of 110 points possible for each project. Based on the number of points the project earns, the project can earn 4 types of certifications: basic, by earning 40-49 points; silver, by earning 50-56 points; gold, by earning 60-79 points; and platinum, by earning 80 or more points. [16] See figure 2[17] .

Success Stories

Figure 3: KZF Design HQ
An example of a renovation earning a LEED gold certification would be the KZF Design Headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, see Figure 3.[18] The structure, originally built in 1915, was used for the US Shoe Machinery Company but was renovated to fit modern Architectural designs. The firm decided to utilize an open-office concept for the interior with many features added to capture the natural light. While the original design was an early reinforced concrete construction type, the new design blends the original feel with a modern facade to the south and more accessible entrances. The building was refit to accommodate state of the art HVAC, plumbing systems, electrical system, and thermal envelope. The building provides a visually appealing feel from the exterior and interior. The skylights were fit with an energy-efficient glazing to increase the available natural daylight. The building also features many state of the art electrical technology for telecommunications and security. [19] All the renovations and energy features merited a LEED gold certification according to the LEED BD+C system.

Figure 4: Kantor Residence
The Kantor Residence is an example of a LEED Platinum certification, see Figure 4.[20] The house creatively incorporates the idea of living in harmony with nature with alternative energy sources, recycled materials, and conservation. The home, built in New Canaan, Connecticut, was designed to be a luxury getaway with minumum environmental impact. Through design innovations the owners were able to create a near-net-zero energy home, with over 94% of the energy need met through solar technologies. In recognition of the feat the Kantor's have achieved, the house has become an educational workshops from Connecticut Green Council, Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, and Fairfield University. The home utilizes solar thermal panels to heat over 1,000 gallons of water which is used like a battery to store heat for the house, pool, and domestic hot water. A pellet boiler with an automatic feeding system is used to provide heat when the solar heated water is not enough. Other features include a composting toilet, a graywater storage tank, and a fully sealed wood burning fireplace to efficiently trap heat. Even the interior finishing were selected for their minimal environmental impact. During the construction process, 90% of the waste was kept from landfills.[21]

Recent Research

Due to the nature of the LEED certification system, the U.S. Green Building Council is constantly researching the effects that their rating system has on the operations and energy efficiency of buildings and communities. In their report LEED in Motion: Impacts and Innovation the U.S. Green Building Council outlines the research done from past projects and how they will effect the future of the LEED certification system.[22] This resource that the U.S. Green Building Council conducts internally is used to make the revisions seen in the LEED certification system.

Some third party research is also done to test the effectiveness of the LEED certification. The New Buildings Institute has release research on the Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings. The New Buildings Institute's research showed that the savings that should be obtained through LEED was met, meaning that as far as cost and energy savings is concerned the LEED certification does encourage a benefit. However, the research does suggest improvements in the LEED program to improve quality control and narrow down results.[23]

Other third party research that has been conducted includes the Somat Shredder research in which the researchers analyze and research results of the various rating catagories for each of the rating systems and make conclusions about changes that should be implemented in new versions of LEED.[24]
  1. ^ U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "LEED" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/leed> (Dec. 2, 2013).
  2. ^ U.S. Green Building Council (2012). "About LEED" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/articles/about-leed> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  3. ^ Wiser (2013). "Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED)" Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED),<http://www.wiser.org/article/5533d8dc0e2cadba2dae55900780a0b0> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  4. ^ Wiser (2013). "Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED)" Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED), <http://www.wiser.org/article/5533d8dc0e2cadba2dae55900780a0b0> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  5. ^ Wiser (2013). "Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED)" Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED), <http://www.wiser.org/article/5533d8dc0e2cadba2dae55900780a0b0> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  6. ^ Wiser (2013). "Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED)" Leadership in Energy and Engironmental Design (LEED), <http://www.wiser.org/article/5533d8dc0e2cadba2dae55900780a0b0> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  7. ^ U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "LEED v4, the Newest Version of LEED Green Building Program Launches at USGBC’s Annual Greenbuild Conference" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/articles/leed-v4-newest-version-leed-green-building-program-launches-usgbc%E2%80%99s-annual-greenbuild-confe> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  8. ^ U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "LEED v4, the Newest Version of LEED Green Building Program Launches at USGBC’s Annual Greenbuild Conference" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/articles/leed-v4-newest-version-leed-green-building-program-launches-usgbc%E2%80%99s-annual-greenbuild-confe> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  9. ^
    U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "LEED v4" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/v4> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  10. ^ Green Work Experience (2013). "The main LEED certification system logos" LEED AP Exam Requirements, <http://greenworkexperience.com/sites/default/files/leed_ap_requirements.jpg> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  11. ^
    U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "LEED Credits" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/credits/schools---new-construction/v4> (Dec. 2, 2013)
  12. ^
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  13. ^
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  14. ^
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  15. ^
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  16. ^
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  17. ^ Danielson, S. (2013) "LEED Certification Levels" TCP, <http://blog.tcpi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LEED-Certification.jpg> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  18. ^
    U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "KZF Design HQ" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/projects/kzf-design-headquarters?view=overview> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  19. ^ U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "KZF Design Headquarters" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/projects/kzf-design-headquarters?view=overview> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  20. ^
    U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "The Kantor Residence" USGBC,<http://www.usgbc.org/projects/kantor-residence> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  21. ^ U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "The Kantor Residence" USGBC,<http://www.usgbc.org/projects/kantor-residence> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  22. ^
    U.S. Green Building Council (2013). "New USGBC report released at Greenbuild discusses LEED's impacts and innovations" USGBC, <http://www.usgbc.org/articles/new-usgbc-report-released-greenbuild-discusses-leeds-impacts-and-innovations> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  23. ^
    Turner, C. and Frankel, M. (2008). Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings, <https://wiki.umn.edu/pub/PA5721_Building_Policy/WebHome/LEEDENERGYSTAR_STUDY.pdf> (Dec. 3, 2013).
  24. ^
    Somat (2011). LEED Research and Analysis, <http://www.somatcompany.com/uploadedFiles/Content/Sustainable_Solutions/LEED%20Research%20and%20Analysis%20for%20Shredder-.pdf> (Dec. 3, 2013).