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Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design

A process description for achieving LEED certification for development projects




In an era where environmental consciousness is on the rise, the motivation for developers to build in an environmentally friendly manner is becoming more popular. Industry in all fields is striving to become greener for financial and legislative incentives. Green design, according to the EPA, is “the practice of creating and using healthier and more resource-efficient models of construction, renovation, operation, maintenance and demolition” (Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). This type of sustainable design can be implemented in all fields of construction, including residential development, commercial sites, schools, and public and private resources. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was implemented by the US Green Building Counsel (USGBC) in 1998 to create a framework for developers to achieve green and sustainable design. The criteria for green design envisioned by LEED includes recycling building materials, reducing power consumption, and improving a building’s general sustainability in relation to its surrounding environment.  Engineers, project developers, city planners, and even individuals wishing to design their own homes can use the green techniques envisaged by LEED to reduce the cost of a development over its design life while decreasing waste associated with construction via recycling and mitigation. Though created by the USGBC, LEED is international standard of green design (USGBC, 2010). 


How LEED Impacts You:

LEED’s impact in our world is more far-reaching than environmentally conscious principles alone. In this article, you will learn how LEED can impact construction projects and the process that goes into creating a sustainable design. This article is meant to inform a non-technical audience about each step.  The LEED process implements practical solutions to create buildings that promote green principles in the following ways:


        • saves energy
        • reduces CO2 emissions
        • improves indoor air quality
        • increases water efficiency
        • raises environmental awareness





Obtaining LEED certification is a simple and streamlined process (Green Building Certification Institute [GBCI], 2010). Implementing LEED strategies is meant to be a flexible process - it can be as simple as addressing one particular area or by taking on a "whole building approach" (NRDC, 2010). There are 6 steps that must be completed to determine your LEED accreditation level. 



STEP I – Project Classification – determining if LEED is right for your development


From the outset of a project, your development objectives need to be considered in terms of their relationship to green design. Moreover, the degree to which your project may conform to the standards set forth by green design should determine the projects potential level of LEED accreditation. To make this assessment, you can follow the Project Checklist listed on the Green Building Certification Institute’s website. This checklist gives an excellent framework to help you conform your project to standard green design practices (USGBC, 2010)


Obtaining LEED certification is built upon a point system in 5 major areas, with each area weighted with more points relative to greater impact:



Sustainable Sites – This credit can be earned through designing your project in a way that minimizes its impact on the surrounding environment and further improves or minimizes impact on existing community resources.  Additionally, consideration is given to high-performance attributes that reduce energy consumption and waste.


Water Efficiency – This credit can be earned by minimizing the use of freshwater (potable) supplies or by reusing recycled water for non-potable sources. This credit is tied into the Sustainable Sites credit in that high-performance technologies (like water-efficient fixtures) and be implemented to help achieve this goal.


Energy & Atmosphere – This credit can be earned by reducing sources of electrical consumption, actively monitoring energy usage levels, and integrating energy efficient appliances (e.g. EnergyStar® rated machines).


Materials & Resources – This credit requires the selection of specific building materials that minimize waste, materials that are derived from renewable resources, or materials that are recycled or into the final construction. Additionally, a plan must be put into place to minimize waste during the entire construction process.


Indoor Environmental Quality – This credit is earned by implementing strategies to improve air quality, increase natural daylight, and improve natural acoustics. Specifically, air sensors to measure atmospheric conditions can be implemented, along with detectors for volatile compounds, to help achieve this credit.


Innovation in Design  – This credit is earned to creative solutions that transcend the normal requirements mediated by LEED. Generally, new construction projects seeking this credit will implement the most modern scientific technologies and evidence-based sustainable strategies. 


Regional Priority (Location) – This credit is achieved by mediating local geographical issues in the design. Certain regions of the country have specific environmental issues that must be accommodated for. Additionally, this credit is awarded by taking active steps to develop sites on public transit lines, within community resources, and only on previously developed sites.



STEP 2 – Project Registration


By registering your project, you are stating to the Green Building counsel your intent to obtain a particular LEED certification status. After the appropriate fees have been paid, your project will be listed on LEED Online where your project team can be assembled. LEED Online serves as the portal through which all of your documentation must be submitted. The status of your documents and any comments from your project's review team can also be checked through this portal (GBCI, 2010).


STEP 3 – Application Preparation


To obtain credits in each of the sections listed in the Overview, you must meticulously prepare pertinent documentation that describes how each aspect of your projects meets the accreditation criteria. Each credit contains relevant engineering calculations that demonstrate conformity to each of the above listed parameters (GBCI, 2010).    


STEP 4 – Submission


The designated LEED Project Administrator of your project team must sign and submit the application via LEED Online to be eligible for review.  Each appropriate document for each particular credit area must be included at this point.  Though the same basic parameters are evaluated, the type of LEED Rating must also be selected (GBCI, 2010):



      •       LEED for New Construction
      •       LEED for Schools
      •       LEED for Core and Shell
      •       LEED for Commercial Development
      •       LEED for existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance


STEP 5 – Review of your Application


The review process by your designated LEED Team begins at this point. The time it takes to complete the review process will vary based on the LEED Rating path that was selected in the previous step. A preliminary design review will first be conducted to examine the construction and calculation documents. During review, each component of of your project's documentation will be listed as "anticipated", "pending", and "denied". Once a final decision has been reached by your assigned review team, each credit applied for will be designated as "approved" or "not approved". In both instances, the review team will provide you comments and technical advice to improve your project. If you project was not initially approved, an appeals process can be commissioned if an appeal is filed within 25 business days after approval is denied, a repeal fee has been paid, and each technical comment for improvements has been assessed and assimilated into a revised design (GBCI, 2010). 


STEP 6 – Certification


Depending on the number of points awarded, a certification level will be designated for your project. The breakdown of points are as follows:

      •       Certified:  40-49 points
      •       Silver: 50-59 points
      •       Gold: 60-79 points
      •       Platinum: > 80 points


From this point onward, construction and development may begin in accordance with the standards set forth in the certified design.Your project will be included into a database for other developers to use as a model for successful LEED design (GBCI, 2010). 




LEED Certification is leading the way with green design in modern developments. When a project achieved LEED certification, it not only has both direct and indirect impacts on the local community, but it encourages other developments to follow suite. As this article demonstrates, the process to obtaining LEED certification is very simple, streamlined, and designed to reflect the very tenants it stands for.





An audience profile sheet has been completed (specific and generalized) to better asses the target audience (non-technical) of this wiki article.




Green Building Certification Institute. Process overview. March 2010. Retrieved from 



Natural Resources Defense Council. Apply Sustainable Building Strategies. March 2010. Retrieved from



US Green Building Counsel. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. March 2010. Retrieved from 



US Green Building Counsel. What LEED measures. March 2010. Retrieved from



US Green Building Counsel. LEED online. March 2010. Retrieved from



US Environmental Protection Agency.  Feb 22, 2010. Retrieved from


How Leed Impacts You:

In this article, you will learn how LEED impacts the future of developments and the process that goes into creating a green design. This article is meant to inform a non-technical audience about each step .  LEED’s impacts into our world are more far reaching than just environmentally conscious principles. The LEED process implements practical solutions to create buildings that promote green principles in the following ways:

      saves energy

      reduces CO2 emissions

      improves indoor air-quality

      increases water efficiency

      raises environmental awareness

The creators of LEED (the US Green Building Counsel) have provided a concise process by which the criterion for certification is achieved. Based on the degree to which a project conforms to sustainability principles, designations including Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum can be obtained.

Sustainable Sites

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