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Green Building 101: What is LEED?

Published on Written by Posted in LEED

Need a quick refresher on green building basics? This is our "Green Building 101" series that we'll publish throughout the month. We'll visit topics that form the foundation of our understanding of green building today.

What is LEED?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is a third-party green building certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings and neighborhoods. The rating systems give building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable effect on their buildings’ performance. By promoting a whole-building approach to sustainability, LEED recognizes performance in location and planning, sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality, innovative strategies, and attention to priority regional issues. Additionally, LEED addresses all building types through different rating systems and rating system adaptations.

What are the different LEED rating systems?

There are five LEED rating systems: LEED for Building Design and Construction (BD+C), LEED for Interior Design and Construction (ID+C), LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M), LEED for Neighborhood Development (ND), LEED for Homes Design and Construction.

Within each of these rating systems are different solutions to fit various project types and scopes:

LEED for Building Design and Construction:

New Construction
Core & Shell
Schools
Retail
Hospitality
Data Centers
Warehouses & Distribution Centers
Healthcare

LEED for Interior Design and Construction:

Commercial Interiors
Retail
Hospitality

LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance:

Existing Buildings
Schools
Retail
Hospitality
Data Centers
Warehouses & Distribution Centers

LEED for Neighborhood Development:

Plan Built
Project

LEED for Homes Design and Construction:

Homes and Multifamily Lowrise
Multifamily Midrise

How are the rating systems structured?

The LEED rating systems are made up of prerequisites and credits. Prerequisites are required elements or green building strategies that must be included in any LEED-certified project. Credits are optional elements that projects can pursue to gain points toward LEED certification.

Although the organization of prerequisites and credits varies slightly depending on the building type and associated rating system, LEED is generally organized by the following broad concepts:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality

How does a project achieve certification?

Achieving LEED certification requires satisfying all prerequisites and earning a minimum number of credits. Each LEED rating system corresponds to a LEED reference guide that explains credit criteria, describes the benefits of complying with the credit, and suggests approaches to achieving credit compliance. The levels of certification generally follow these thresholds:

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

Ready to learn more?

Become a green building expert—make a beeline for the Core Concepts Guide!

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    Tiffany Coyle made 10 contributions in the last 6 months

Tiffany Coyle

Digital Marketing Specialist U.S. Green Building Council

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