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What does it mean to be LEED Certified?

What is LEED Certification?

The ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’, most commonly referred to as LEED, is the nation’s leading green building certification [1].

With an increased push for greener, more environmentally friendly urban projects, there was a need for a unified set of standards project managers could refer to and the Green Building Council delivered.

LEED works on a points based system, where your project is awarded a rating that is calculated on how much (or little) it is likely to impact the local environment. There are four possible levels of award [2]:

  • Certified,
  • Silver,
  • Gold, and
  • Platinum.

Any building that can boast a high level LEED certification has been independently verified as environmentally sound. This allows end users and the general public to have confidence in green building claims and gives them the ability to make ethical choices.

The great thing is that old and new buildings alike can gain certification and even some minor changes can make your next project much more environmentally sound.

In this article, we will look at exactly why you should get your project certified and go over some basics of how LEED certification can be achieved. Before we get into that though, let us more closely consider the impact of manmade structures on the urban environment.

The Impact of Construction on the Urban Environment

Humans have conquered the natural environment and nothing is more of a testament to that than a modern urban centre.

Our towns and cities are designed from the ground up for human utility, with impressive skyrises, motorways, parks and public squares. The problem is, all too often the environmental impact of our design decisions are ignored.

Some common environmental problems caused by urban construction projects include [3]:

  • Increased surface runoff, overloading local waterways and polluted polluting water.
  • A lack of natural, indigenous vegetation, leaving no room for native species.
  • Light pollution which can potentially disrupt natural wildlife behaviours.
  • ‘Heat Islands’, caused by insulating materials that store heat energy.
  • Air pollution due to transportation and the excessive use of electricity for heating or cooling.
  • No consideration for the use of locally sourced materials.

After more than a century of rapid urbanization, the human impact on the natural environment is becoming noticeable and not in a positive way. Luckily our understanding of our impact as well as new technologies and materials give us the opportunity to make a positive change to our urban environment.

It is now possible to refit existing projects, or build new ones that have a much lower impact than more traditional urban construction. LEED certification is a recognized and objective way of knowing that you have succeeded in this goal.

Why Use LEED?

Gaining LEED certification does take time, forethought and an investment into suitable building materials, which causes some project managers to question the value of the certification.

However, when you carefully consider some of the potential benefits of having a LEED certified project, it becomes clear that the effort is worth it.

Tax Incentives

An increasing number of jurisdictions around the country offer tax rebates for projects that have LEED certification [4]. These governments have recognized the long term benefits of green construction and to incentivize environmental consciousness, they have decided to make an impact on your bottom line.

This is not just a handout though. Certified buildings typically have a much smaller footprint and consume far fewer municipal resources, meaning that the tax breaks given are often just a small part of the savings a low impact development has for local administrations [5].

Leasing and Resale

Both individuals and businesses are increasingly aware of their environmental footprint, which has made environmental certification a major selling point in the leasing and resale of domestic and commercial real estate.

Many companies have committed to being more environmentally friendly and an easy way to work toward that goal is to ensure that their office space has a low impact, which can be verified with LEED certification. This can also be a smart financial move, with the operational costs, especially concerning utilities consumption, being considerably lower in compliant projects [6].

Research conducted by real estate agents in the US, Europe and Australia concluded that LEED certification improved lease desirability by 17% and resale by as much as 35% [7].

How To Get LEED Certified

The best way to ensure you qualify for a LEED certification is to have this goal in mind from the beginning of the project. As long as you follow the relevant LEED guidelines for your project during the planning and construction, your review and certification should be a mere formality.

When you look at the standards, you can see that they change depending on your type of project. LEED can be used for [8]:

  • Building Design and Construction
  • Building Operations and Maintenance
  • Interior Design and Construction
  • Homes
  • Neighbourhood Development

While each category has its own unique requirements, there are nine guiding principles of LEED certification that you will need to follow.

Water Efficiency

From the ground up, your project must be designed with water efficiency in mind. Clean water is a finite resource and we must do our best to protect this resource.

This begins with the usage of water efficient fittings or can be as complex as rain water capture and grey water recycling systems. One aspect of water efficiency that can often be overlooked is drainage efficiency, which requires a reduction of hard outdoor surfaces, or their replacement with more permeable alternatives, such as aggregate stabilized with Organic-LockTM [9].

Energy Conservation

All LEED certified buildings must be energy efficient. In fact, around 30% of all certification points are allocated to this category [10]. Natural light should be used as much as possible and low consumption appliances considered for use. Material choice is also an important factor when it comes to reducing the use of heating and cooling.

For example, in warmer climates, traditional building materials can retain heat. Not only does this heat buildings it also warms the urban area in general, increasing the usage of HVAC systems [11].

Location and Transportation

LEED certification focuses on the entire project, even where it is located and the available transport links. It is no good having a highly sustainable office building if it is so remote that the workers must drive to work every day.

In particular LEED focusses on walkability, bike paths and public transport links, as these are by far the most environmentally sound means of transportation in a modern city [12].

Sustainable Site

Your site itself must be designed in a way that it maintains the vital relationship between your project and the surrounding area. This begins with the reduction of pollution during construction and an environmental site assessment [13].

Where possible, local habitats should be maintained and restored and natural rainwater flows maintained with the use of permeable materials like aggregate stabilized with Organic-LockTM. If all this is done, it should also naturally reduce the Heat Island Effect and provide ample open space, which are also key criteria [14].

Integrative Process

This may sound complex, but it is simply about considering the entire building as an interlinked system during the design and creating systems that link and complement each other.

A simple example of this is considering the buildings physical orientation to maximize natural light and heat to reduce lighting and cooling costs. One simple decision like this can have a significant impact to the usability and resource consumption in the finished building [15].

Materials and Resources

Wherever possible, LEED certification requires the use of sustainable, locally sourced materials in the construction of your project. It is considered to be inefficient and environmentally unsound to transport heavy construction materials long distances when alternatives exist closer to the site [16].

One clear example of this is the use of decomposed granite instead of other external paving options. This resource is sustainable and found nationwide, so it is simple to source locally. The great thing is this often makes it much cheaper than traditional paving options and when stabilized with a product like Organic-LockTM, it is just as durable and much easier to repair and maintain.

Indoor Environmental Quality

Even the indoor environment should be considered. Bacteria, mold and even the fumes emitted from paints, new carpets and other flooring can have a negative impact on human health. It is believed that as many as 3.8 million deaths per year globally can be attributed to indoor air pollution [17]

The key to eliminating this risk is the presence of suitable ventilation and material choices that are cleaner and safer for humans.


The Green Building Council is most interested in seeing innovation in the field of sustainable design. If the thousands of architects and designers working on projects all put thought into how to have a lower impact on our world new and exciting methods can be discovered.

LEED points are awarded to projects that push the boundaries and discover new and innovative ways to help the environment.

Get Your Next Project LEED Certified

Whether you are designing a new park or a massive new office project, consider LEED certification in the planning stages of your next project.

There are clear financial benefits to building green given the potential for tax savings and increased desirability of your project, but more importantly you can do your part in creating a greener, more sustainable future.

The great thing is that you do not need to be an expert in LEED construction yourself to get started. There are countless resources available online and many expert consultants who can assist you in making clean and green choices.


[1] [8] LEED | Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. (2019). Retrieved 6 November 2019, from http://leed.usgbc.org/leed.html

[2] What Is LEED Construction And What Are Its Benefits | Greener Ideal. (2019). Retrieved 6 November 2019, from https://greenerideal.com/guides/1210-what-is-leed-construction-and-what-are-its-benefits/

[3] Environmental Impacts of Urban Growth | Seto Lab. (2019). Retrieved 6 November 2019, from https://urban.yale.edu/research/theme-4

[4] New Building Institute. Case Study: Deep Energy Savings in Existing Buildings. http://newbuildings.org/sites/default/files/Case_Study_200-MarketBldg.pdf

[6] [7] Value, H. (2019). How LEED Increases Real Estate Value – 4tell. Retrieved 6 November 2019, from https://www.4tellsolutions.com/blog/how-leed-increases-real-estate-value/

[9] What is LEED? – Water Efficiency – Green Building Elements. (2019). Retrieved 7 November 2019, from https://greenbuildingelements.com/2014/09/11/leed-water-efficiency/

[10] [11] How LEED saves energy | U.S. Green Building Council. (2019). Retrieved 7 November 2019, from https://www.usgbc.org/articles/how-leed-saves-energy

[12] A Look at LEED v4 Location and Transportation | Focus on Green | Sustainability Consulting. (2019). Retrieved 7 November 2019, from https://www.focusongreenllc.com/single-post/2016/02/16/A-Look-at-LEED-v4-Location-and-Transportation

[13] [14] What is LEED? – Sustainable Sites. (2019). Retrieved 7 November 2019, from https://greenbuildingelements.com/2014/08/27/leed-sustainable-sites/

[15] The Integrative Process in LEED V4 – ArchEcology. (2019). Retrieved 7 November 2019, from https://www.archecology.com/2017/08/25/the-integrative-process-in-leed-v4/

[16] certification. (2019). Green construction and LEED certification – Materials Today. Retrieved 7 November 2019, from https://www.materialstoday.com/composite-applications/features/green-construction-and-leed-certification/

[17] What’s Causing Your Indoor Air Pollution?. (2019). Retrieved 7 November 2019, from https://www.onhealth.com/content/1/indoor_air_pollution


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