There is no national legislation or regulation that defines the standards for green building.  At this point, one of the most widely recognized and utilized standards is the LEED certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (“USGBC”).  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy Efficiency Design.

Architects, real estate professionals, facility managers, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, construction managers, lenders and government officials all use the LEED designation because it is recognized both here and internationally as a credible standard.  The criteria set forth in the LEED programs address the complete lifecycle of buildings, providing owners and operators with a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

There are many benefits that come with attaining LEED certification for a building project.  It offers compelling proof to clients, tenants, peers and the public at large that defined and measurable sustainability and environmental goals have been set and achieved.  LEED certification allows building owners and managers to take advantage of a growing number of national, state and local government incentives, and can help boost third party interest in a building project.

The USGBC has assigned four levels of LEED Certification – Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.  Each level corresponds to a range of total points accrued in five green design categories, which include: sustainable sites (SS), water efficiency (WE), energy and atmosphere (EA), materials and resources (MR), and indoor environmental quality (IEQ).  The USGBC has developed specific LEED standards to cover new commercial construction and major renovation projects as well as interiors projects and existing building operations.  The newest version of LEED—LEED v3—incorporates commercial “core and shell” construction and schools into the new construction and existing building operations standards.  LEED also has a separate rating systems for residential homes that is different from LEED v3. In addition, USGBC is developing programs specific to neighborhood developments and healthcare facilities.

LEED projects must meet mandatory prerequisites in several core categories and earn the minimum points for the selected rating system.  Examples of prerequisites include features such as: erosion control and construction site pollution reduction for sustainable sites and minimum energy efficiency requirements for energy and atmosphere.  Points are allocated across each of the core categories:

  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy & Atmosphere
  • Materials & Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Innovation in Design

It is important to note that because technologies constantly evolve and sustainability practices continue to advance year after year, the USGBC updates guidelines for the LEED green building certification program on an ongoing basis.  The most recent revisions were made in 2009 when LEED v3 (also referred to as LEED 2009) was introduced as the new set of criteria for certification.  In LEED v3 there are 100 possible base points plus an additional 6 points for Innovation in Design and 4 points for Regional Priority.

In order to obtain a LEED certification for a building or project, the owner or project team must submit documents and information demonstrating compliance with all of the prerequisites as well as the requirements for all points that are attempted.  Some of the criteria are design-related, some are construction related, and still others are related to the operations of the building.

The level of certification that is awarded depends upon the number of points achieved by the project team:

  • Certified – 40 – 49 points
  • Silver – 50 – 59 points
  • Gold – 60 – 79 points
  • Platinum – 80 points and above

The appeal of the Northland Pines High School Gold certification was significant because it was the first time that a third-party had challenged the award of a LEED certification to a project. (see my June 23rd post)   Naturally, there was wide-spread interest in the process and outcome of that appeal and now there is no shortage of speculation as to what impacts that appeal will have on future certifications and awards (and potentially decertifications).