What Is LEED (Leadership In Energy & Environmental Design)?
And why it matters to your project
f there has to be a single buzzword to define the 21st century, it might be “sustainable.” Few other words have inserted themselves into all aspects of daily living. From the homeowner to the small start-up to the corporate office, there is a worldwide commitment to reducing carbon footprint and managing our impact on both economies and the environment.
The best place to start in creating a sustainable lifestyle is with the architects and the builders – the designers and visionaries – who create the places where we live, work, and play. And guiding the quest for sustainability in architecture and construction are LEED standards.
What is LEED?
LEED was developed in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as a tool to guide building professionals to consider aspects of green design in their projects. Presently, it’s the most widely used third-party verification for green buildings.
Using a point system, LEED is essentially a scorecard – the greener the building, the more points it earns. With an emphasis on effective energy and water systems, the goal is to develop a project that is environmentally conscious and cost effective. After the points have been tallied, the project becomes LEED certified.
In October 2016, the newest version of LEED was released, encompassing more criteria to better meet sustainability needs. In addition, professionals can become more familiar with LEED, and receive accreditation through a series of education modules.
What building projects are eligible for LEED certification?
Any and all buildings and construction or renovation projects are eligible for LEED certification. There are presently five categories of buildings. Each umbrella has its own checklist for accruing points. Among the items scored are the materials used, water usage, energy efficiency, and smart location. The LEED certification categories are:
- Building Design & Construction is designed for new construction and major renovation projects, as well as the various systems within the structure, such as plumbing and electrical. The category addresses all types of buildings, from residential and commercial to medical and hospitality.
- Interior Design & Construction is listed because the inside is what counts. Most people spend a majority of time inside, and this category addresses retail, commercial, and hospitality spaces.
- Building Operations & Maintenance is geared toward a variety of projects, including high-rise buildings, warehouses, hospitals, schools, and retail spaces.
- Neighborhood Development has two options for certification: Plan Certification and Built Project Certification. The first can assist with marketing and funding a project, while the second is designed for projects that are near completion or were completed in the past three years.
- Homes targets single family homes and multifamily dwellings up to eight stories tall. LEED-certified homes are designed to maximize fresh air indoors while minimizing exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants.
Why LEED certification is important to your project
Beyond the benefit of a building that has sustainable features, a LEED certification also has financial rewards attached to it.
Although benefits may differ based on location, most states and municipalities offer incentives to encourage sustainable building. These can include tax breaks, expedited permitting and/or reduced fees, and rebates.
There’s also a degree of legacy. Once completed and certified, a LEED plaque indicates the project has been independently verified to be sustainable. Currently, 2.2 million square feet are certified each day around the world – and that’s good for people, the planet, and the bottom line.
Working with an LEED-accredited architect
The combination of client interest in healthier spaces and society’s demand for sustainable structures presents a unique challenge for architects. Very often, opening costs to achieve such goals are higher than traditional construction, but the savings will be felt in the long run.
To better assist professionals, LEED provides a series of courses that not only familiarise participants with the LEED standards, but also educates them about the latest technology and materials to assist in realising a successful project. Once receiving LEED accreditation, professionals can develop further expertise with continuing education hours.
Aman Architecture is one such architectural firm. Heather Aman is LEED accredited, and is a member of the American Institute of Architects, the Architectural League, and the New York Green Building Council.