Leed Certification Explained

Updated February 21, 2017

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building certification program administered by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). It provides third-party certification that a building is designed and built using materials and methods which reduce environmental impact. The LEED program is designed to apply at all types of buildings, at any stage of a building's life cycle and provides construction industry professionals and building owners with a framework to produce green buildings that provide a healthy environment for their occupants.

Rating Types

LEED offers a number of rating types tailored to different types of buildings. Each rating system is designed to address the specific needs of each project type. Rating systems include: New Construction, for large scale commercial projects and major renovations; Existing Buildings, which targets the maintenance and operation efficiency of existing buildings; and Homes, which evaluates the green performance of new homes. Separate rating systems also exist for Schools, Health Care and Retail projects, in addition to Neighborhood Development, which uses a comprehensive approach towards the green urban design of neighbourhoods.

Certification Criteria

LEED bases its evaluation on a building's performance in the following five key areas: energy efficiency, water efficiency, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and overall sustainability of the site. The LEED for Homes certification includes two additional criteria specific to residential building. The first is Locations and Linkages, which focuses on a home's location and accessibility to amenities and transport. The second, Awareness and Education, addresses an often overlooked aspect of green building, namely the occupant's awareness of how to operate the building in a way that maximises its green features.

Certification Process

Applicants wishing to obtain a LEED certification first must register with the GBCI. Then, the building owner must prepare an application outlining the building's green features and how they meet the LEED criteria. Evidence of the building's performance in these areas must be clearly demonstrated, such as with laboratory testing certificates verifying that building materials are free from toxic chemicals. The application is then submitted for evaluation by the GBCI through an online submission system. The submission will undergo a thorough review process, which varies in procedure and duration depending on the rating type. If the application review is successful, the applicant will receive formal notification and a certificate of recognition. If a certification is not awarded, the applicant can appeal this decision.

Certification Levels

The LEED program awards a level of certification depending on how well the building performs against the rating criteria. Points are awarded against each criteria and then added together to give a total score. The certification levels are as follows: Certified, 40-49 points; Silver, 50-59 points; Gold, 60-79 points; and Platinum, 80 points and higher. If the building receives fewer than 40 points, no certification is awarded.


Aside from the obvious environmental advantages, LEED certification also provides benefits to the building's owner and its tenants. While gaining a LEED certification can incur additional expenses during the design and construction phases, LEED-certified buildings are designed to maximise energy and water efficiency, providing cost savings over the lifetime of the building. In addition, achieving a LEED certification enforces a standard of sustainable building on the side of building owners and builders. It is commonly used as a marketing tool to demonstrate a level of corporate responsibility.

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About the Author

Charlie Higgins is journalist, editor and translator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has written for a variety of lifestyle and niche market websites, including International Food Trader, The Olive Oil Times, microDINERO, Sounds and Colours, Connecting Worlds and The Buenos Aires Reader.