Is LEED Certification Meaningful?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a system that certifies building projects that maintain certain levels of environmental responsibility. The system includes various scales and ratings that outline a structure’s environmental impact. For businesses and property owners, achieving LEED certification can provide a welcome public relations boost and possibly qualify the site for incentive programs. Incentive programs vary across the United States, so these opportunities are often specific to a certain region or industry.

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The LEED Rating System

Projects that apply for certification are evaluated by qualified third-party investigators who grade the site on nine metrics. Areas of evaluation include site sustainability, efficiency of water use, innovative design elements and materials used. Projects are also investigated for their impact on the surrounding community, including prospective transportation needs and regional priority. Certification authorities grant points in each of the nine different categories. Sites that earn enough points and meet basic minimum standards qualify for a certified rating level that can be displayed to the public.

Types of Certification

There are large and obvious differences between various types of building projects that make a uniform scale untenable. Instead of a single rubric for all sites, projects can apply for a certain certification classification, which includes exterior construction, interior design, and ongoing operations or maintenance. There are also different types of certification depending on the scale of the project, with separate categories for homes, cities and smaller communities. Projects also receive a level of certification corresponding to the number of points they received during evaluation. Currently, the available LEED certification levels are certified, silver, gold, and platinum, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC).

Potential Benefits of Certification

As one of the most established and popular certification systems of its kind, LEED has gained international recognition as an authority in environmental responsibility. Certification logos convey meaning to peers and customers, which can be a valuable marketing resource for property and business owners. Achieving certification usually entails higher levels of efficiency and sustainability, which offers the benefit of lower maintenance and utility costs. Builders and owners considering LEED certification should also look for incentive opportunities from state or local governments, as these can defray some of the initial transition costs.

Current Mission and Scope

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program is the result of a collaborative effort between businesses, government authorities, and non-profits. The system was first established in 1993 under the leadership of the USGBC, which was founded in the same year. In addition to overseeing credentials and certifications through the LEED program, the USGBC also organizes annual events and pushes for legislation related to eco-friendly building initiatives. The council and its leadership program follow a basic mission to reduce the impact that human development has on the environment and existing communities through innovative, efficient and responsible solutions.

Achieving any level of credential through this system is not typically required of building or project owners, although this is always subject to local and federal authorities. However, LEED certification does offer numerous benefits and gives project owners an opportunity to improve sustainability, limit waste and consider alternatives.