Unlocking Sustainability: Exploring LEED Certification and What It Is

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In today’s world, the environment is increasingly important. Every day, people typically go through paper towels, paper plates, plastic utensils, plastic-wrapped items, etc. On a small scale, the impact is not large; however, when it scales up to an entire population using these things, it can have a significant impact. Despite everyday usage, the biggest impacts tend to be with people, but rather in a building. This can be less than ideal when it comes to being energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. That’s where IBC Engineering comes in with our services in LEED certification. 

What is LEED? 

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s what going green is for buildings with an official title. IBC strives to achieve LEED certification for buildings we work with and do so by working closely with our LEED-accredited professionals. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting sustainability in the construction and engineering industry. 

History of LEED 

Having projects in over 180 countries, LEED covers an extensive amount of building types and sustainability categories. Influencing the construction industry for many years now, it’s a great program to be a part of when working on buildings as it promotes a much lower carbon footprint, is more eco-friendly, and improves the overall environment in comparison to non-LEED certified buildings. The timeline of LEED dates back all the way to 1993 and is shown below.  

1993 – USGBC establishes itself as a coalition of leaders to promote environmentally responsible practices, specifically within buildings. 

1998 – The first LEED rating system is launched for major renovations and new construction. It is presented as a framework for assessments and builds on the idea of environmentally sustainable building practices. 

2000 – LEED version 1.0 is created as a standardized system for green building designs. 

2001 – LEED’s rating system expands to include additional building types in the commercial field. 

2003 – LEED for Core and Shell is introduced, focusing on sustainable site development. 

2009 – LEED v.3 introduces significant updates including regional credits and more emphasis on energy efficiency. 

2013 – LEED v.4 is launched and expands even more to include life cycle assessment, environmental impact, and integrated designs. 

2019 – The most recent update, known as LEED v.4.1, includes updates and refinements to the rating system which incorporate feedback and industry advancements.  

LEED Rating and Certification System

We hear all the time about LEED’s rating system, but how does it look once broken down? It has different categories and certification levels. An overview of the categories looks like this: 

  • Integrative Process: Integration of sustainability goals among the teams 
  • Location and Transportation: Sustainable site selection, public transport, and promoting walkability 
  • Sustainable Sites: Emphasizes land use, site development, and environmental impact reduction 
  • Water Efficiency: Water conservation in indoor and outdoor settings 
  • Energy and Atmosphere: Focuses on energy performance, efficiency, renewable energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. 
  • Materials and Resources: Promotes sustainable materials selection, waste reduction, and life cycle assessment considerations. 
  • Indoor Environmental Quality: Addresses indoor air quality, thermal comfort, natural light access, and general comfort 
  • Innovation: Recognizes innovative strategies and approaches that go beyond basic LEED requirements. 
  • Regional Priority Credits: Provides additional credits based on environmental conditions. 

The other portion of the system is the certifications you receive once you do pass the ratings. There are four levels based on points that your building can receive. Points can be accumulated based on sustainable features, design strategies, and performance metrics. 

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

Getting to this point contributes to sustainable practices, and eco-friendly building systems, and can lower costs overall for the building and business. 

Benefits of Being LEED-certified

Getting your building LEED certified can be very beneficial, and not just for the environment. Things like reduced energy consumption, lower utility costs, and a higher ROI (return on investment) over time can be of interest to those seeking a LEED certification.

According to the USGBC, LEED-certified buildings consume about 25% less energy than non-LEED-certified buildings making them much more energy efficient. This can feed into saving costs as typically these buildings require about 19% less maintenance as well as having reduced water usage leading to a lower water bill.

On top of reduced bills, 60% of owners who put in the additional investment reported that they experienced a favorable and positive ROI within just one year of choosing to go green (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory). The initial investment that gets put down comes back into the pockets through operational and energy cost savings.

With lower costs, the property value itself can go up as much as 7% according to a study done by the University of Notre Dame and the University of California-Berkeley. This also goes hand-in-hand with the fact that many governments and municipalities provide incentives, grants, or even tax benefits for buildings to go green, which includes the LEED certification. This incentive alone is like a cherry on top for buildings to go green and take a step in the right direction for the environment.

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