April 7

How to Get LEED Certified? A Guide For Building Owners



In today’s environmentally-conscious world, green building practices have become increasingly important as we strive to create sustainable, energy-efficient spaces that benefit both the environment and the occupants.

One of the most recognized and respected green building certification systems is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

In this article, we will delve into the process of achieving and maintaining LEED certification, explore the various rating systems, and offer practical tips to help your project succeed in its pursuit of this prestigious accreditation.

What is LEED?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a globally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED certification provides a comprehensive framework for creating healthy, efficient, and sustainable buildings by considering various environmental factors such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and indoor air quality.

The LEED certification system encourages innovative and eco-friendly building strategies that help minimize the environmental impact of construction and operation. By prioritizing sustainable design, LEED-certified buildings can achieve long-term benefits, including reduced energy consumption, lower operating costs, and improved occupant well-being.

LEED certification operates on a point-based system, with projects earning points for meeting specific criteria across several categories. These categories include:

  1. Sustainable Sites: Encourages selecting sustainable locations and implementing site development strategies that minimize environmental impact.
  2. Water Efficiency: Promotes the efficient use of water resources and reduces potable water consumption.
  3. Energy and Atmosphere: Encourages the design and implementation of energy-efficient systems, the use of renewable energy, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Materials and Resources: Supports the reduction of waste generated by the building and its occupants and encourages the use of sustainable materials and products.
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality: Aims to create healthy and comfortable indoor environments by considering air quality, thermal comfort, and access to daylight and views.
  6. Innovation: Rewards the use of innovative building strategies, technologies, and design practices that go beyond LEED’s standard requirements.
  7. Regional Priority: Addresses specific environmental concerns and priorities unique to a project’s location.

Based on the points earned, a project can achieve one of four certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Each level represents a higher degree of commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

By striving for LEED certification, building owners and developers can demonstrate their dedication to sustainable development and contribute to a greener built environment.

Importance of LEED

LEED certification has become a benchmark for green building projects worldwide, offering numerous benefits for building owners and occupants.

The importance of LEED certification extends beyond environmental responsibility, providing tangible advantages in various aspects of the construction and operation of a building.

1. Environmental Responsibility

LEED-certified buildings contribute to a more sustainable built environment by reducing their ecological footprint. By implementing sustainable design and construction practices, these buildings minimize resource consumption, reduce waste, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, LEED certification is a powerful way to demonstrate an organization’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

2. Cost Savings

LEED-certified buildings typically have lower operating costs due to their efficient use of energy, water, and other resources.

Over time, these savings can offset the initial investment in green building technologies and practices, providing a strong financial incentive for pursuing LEED certification.

3. Higher Property Value

LEED certification often leads to higher property values as environmentally conscious buyers and renters increasingly seek sustainable living and working spaces.

Additionally, LEED-certified buildings may qualify for tax credits, grants, and other financial incentives to enhance their value.

4. Increased Occupant Satisfaction

LEED-certified buildings provide healthier and more comfortable living and working environments thanks to improved indoor air quality, access to natural light, and thermal comfort.

These factors can contribute to higher occupant satisfaction and well-being, leading to increased productivity and reduced absenteeism in the workplace.

5. Competitive Advantage

As awareness of environmental issues grows, businesses and organizations that occupy LEED-certified buildings can gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

By demonstrating their commitment to sustainability, these organizations can attract environmentally conscious tenants, employees, and customers who value corporate social responsibility.

6. Positive Public Image

LEED certification can enhance an organization’s public image by showcasing its dedication to sustainability and environmental stewardship. This positive perception can increase brand recognition and customer loyalty, reinforcing the organization’s commitment to sustainable practices.

In conclusion, the importance of LEED certification goes beyond its role as a symbol of environmental responsibility. By pursuing LEED certification, organizations can realize tangible benefits, including cost savings, higher property values, and increased occupant satisfaction, all while contributing to a more sustainable future.

LEED Certification Process

LEED Rating Systems

LEED offers various rating systems to cater to different building types and project scopes, ensuring that the diverse needs of the construction industry are addressed. Each rating system consists of prerequisites and credits, with projects earning points based on meeting these requirements. Here’s a brief overview of the different LEED rating systems:

1. Building Design and Construction (BD+C)

The LEED BD+C rating system is designed for new construction and major renovation projects, focusing on the building’s design and construction phases. This rating system includes several subcategories: New Construction, Core and Shell, Schools, Retail, Data Centers, Warehouses and Distribution Centers, Hospitality, and Healthcare.

Projects pursuing LEED BD+C certification must demonstrate sustainable design and construction practices across all aspects of the building process.

2. Interior Design and Construction (ID+C)

LEED ID+C is tailored for projects that involve designing and constructing interior spaces within an existing building or newly constructed shell. This rating system suits commercial interiors, retail spaces, and hospitality projects.

The ID+C rating system aims to create high-performance, healthy, and sustainable interior environments by focusing on material selection, indoor air quality, and energy-efficient lighting systems.

3. Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)

The LEED O+M rating system targets existing buildings undergoing improvements or seeking certification for ongoing operations and maintenance practices. This rating system applies to various building types, including commercial, institutional, and residential facilities.

LEED O+M certification emphasizes sustainable building operations, such as energy and water management, waste reduction, and indoor environmental quality.

4. Neighborhood Development (ND)

LEED-ND is designed for new land development projects or redevelopment projects involving multiple buildings, such as residential neighborhoods, mixed-use developments, and commercial centers.

This rating system addresses sustainable planning and design principles at the community scale, promoting walkable, compact, and transit-oriented development patterns that reduce automobile dependence and encourage a sense of community.

5. Homes

The LEED Homes rating system is tailored for single-family homes, low-rise multi-family buildings, and mid-rise multi-family buildings up to eight stories. This rating system focuses on creating healthy, comfortable, and energy-efficient living spaces by addressing site selection, water efficiency, energy performance, and indoor environmental quality.

In summary, the various LEED rating systems provide a comprehensive framework for addressing the sustainability needs of different building types and project scopes. Project teams can ensure that their buildings meet the highest sustainability and environmental performance standards by selecting the appropriate rating system.

How to Get LEED Certified: Project Registration

To start the LEED certification process, you must register your project with Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the organization responsible for administering LEED certifications. Registering your project is a critical first step that sets the foundation for a successful LEED certification journey. The registration process includes the following steps:

How to Get LEED Certified Step #1: Determine the Appropriate Rating System

Before registering your project, it is essential to determine the appropriate LEED rating system that best suits your project type and scope. Various rating systems are available, including BD+C, ID+C, O+M, ND, and Homes.

Carefully review the requirements and criteria for each rating system to select the one that aligns with your project goals and objectives.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #2: Create an Account on the LEED Online Platform

The LEED Online platform is the primary tool for managing the LEED certification process. To register your project, you must create an account on the platform. If you already have an account, log in to proceed with registration.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #3: Register Your Project

Once logged in, click the “Register a Project” option, and complete the required information, including your project’s name, location, size, and other relevant details. Be sure to select the appropriate LEED rating system for your project.

Accurate information is crucial, as it will be used to determine your project’s eligibility for certification and calculate potential certification fees.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #4: Pay Registration Fees

After providing the necessary project information, you will be prompted to pay the required registration fees. These fees cover the cost of administering the certification process and depend on factors such as the project’s size, complexity, and the selected rating system. Note that members of the USGBC may be eligible for discounted registration fees.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #5: Assemble Your Project Team

With your project successfully registered, you can assemble your project team, including architects, engineers, contractors, and other stakeholders. It’s crucial to have a team knowledgeable about LEED requirements and committed to achieving the project’s sustainability goals.

You may also consider engaging a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) to guide your team through the certification process.

Completing the project registration process sets the stage for a successful LEED certification journey. With your project registered and your team assembled, you can now focus on implementing sustainable design and construction practices to help you earn the desired points and achieve the certification level that aligns with your project’s goals.

How to Get LEED Certified: Documentation and Submission

After registering your project, you must compile and submit the necessary documentation to demonstrate compliance with the selected LEED rating system’s prerequisites and credits. Proper documentation is essential, as it proves that your project meets the LEED criteria and requirements. The documentation process involves several steps:

How to Get LEED Certified Step #1: Collect Relevant Documentation

Throughout your project’s design, construction, and operation, gathering and maintaining all relevant documents demonstrating your project’s compliance with LEED requirements is crucial. This documentation may include design plans, energy modeling reports, commissioning documents, material data sheets, waste management plans, and indoor air quality test results.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #2: Organize and Prepare Your Submission

Before submitting your documentation, ensure it is well-organized and easy to understand. Create a comprehensive submission package showing how your project meets the LEED prerequisites and credits. This package should include a cover letter, a project narrative, and supporting documentation for each credit pursued. You may also need to provide drawings, photographs, and other visual aids to help illustrate your project’s sustainability features.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #3: Upload Documentation to LEED Online

Upload all relevant documentation to the appropriate sections of your project’s LEED application using your LEED Online account. Ensure your submission is complete and accurate, as missing or unclear information may result in delays or denial of certification.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #4: Pay Certification Review Fees

In addition to registration fees, you must pay certification review fees to cover the cost of evaluating your project’s documentation. These fees vary based on the size and complexity of your project, as well as the selected rating system.

As with registration fees, USGBC members may be eligible for discounted review fees.

How to Get LEED Certified Step #5: Submit Your Application for Review

Once you have uploaded all documentation and paid the required fees, submit your application for review by the GBCI. The review process typically involves two stages: the preliminary review and the final review.

During the preliminary review, GBCI reviewers will evaluate your documentation and provide feedback on any areas that require clarification or additional information. After addressing any concerns and resubmitting the necessary documentation, the GBCI will conduct a final review to determine your project’s certification level.

You increase the likelihood of a successful certification outcome by meticulously documenting and submitting evidence of your project’s compliance with LEED requirements. Ensure your documentation is thorough, organized and demonstrates a clear commitment to sustainability to maximize your chances of achieving the desired LEED certification level.


How to Get LEED Certified: Tips to Be Successful

Achieving LEED certification requires careful planning, coordination, and commitment from all project stakeholders. To increase your chances of a successful LEED project, consider the following tips:

1. Assemble the Right Team

Your project’s success depends on having the right team in place. Assemble a team of professionals with expertise in sustainable design, engineering, construction, and LEED processes. This includes architects, engineers, energy modelers, and LEED Accredited Professionals (APs).

A knowledgeable and experienced team will be better equipped to navigate the complexities of the LEED certification process and achieve your project’s sustainability goals.

2. Set Realistic Goals

Establish realistic sustainability goals and targets that align with your organization’s values and budget early in the project planning phase. Consider potential trade-offs between upfront costs and long-term operational savings.

Communicate these goals clearly with your project team to ensure everyone is on the same page. Setting achievable targets can avoid disappointment and ensure your project remains on track for LEED certification.

3. Opt for Integrated Design

An integrated design approach brings together all stakeholders, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building occupants, from the project’s outset. This collaboration identifies and resolves potential conflicts and synergies, resulting in a more efficient and sustainable building.

Early collaboration fosters innovation and creativity, as team members can share ideas and expertise to develop holistic solutions that address multiple sustainability goals.

4. Keep Updated on LEED Standards

LEED standards are regularly updated to reflect the latest advancements in sustainable building practices. Stay informed about these changes by following the USGBC’s resources, attending conferences, and participating in webinars.

Keeping abreast of updates and best practices will ensure that your project complies with the most current LEED requirements and that you can use innovative strategies to improve your building’s performance.

5. Continuously Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Throughout your project’s design, construction, and operation, continuously monitor and evaluate your progress toward meeting your sustainability goals. Regular assessments will help identify areas for improvement and opportunities for further optimization. By tracking your project’s performance, you can make informed decisions and adjustments as needed to maintain your path toward LEED certification.

In conclusion, a successful LEED project requires a dedicated team, clear goals, an integrated design approach, and a commitment to staying informed about LEED standards. By following these tips, you can increase your chances of achieving the desired LEED certification level and enjoy the numerous benefits of sustainable building practices.

How to Get LEED Certified: Maintaining The Certification

Achieving LEED certification is significant, but maintaining your building’s high-performance standards is ongoing.

To ensure your building continues to operate efficiently and sustainably, consider the following steps:

1. Ongoing Performance Monitoring

To ensure your building continues to perform optimally, it is essential to monitor energy, water, and waste management systems regularly.

Implement a robust facility management plan that includes the following:

  • Regular audits: Conduct energy, water, and waste audits to assess your building’s performance and identify opportunities for improvement. These audits will help you detect inefficiencies and address them promptly.
  • Preventive maintenance: Establish a preventive maintenance schedule for your building’s systems, such as HVAC, lighting, plumbing, and waste management. Regular maintenance helps prevent equipment breakdowns, extends the lifespan of your systems, and ensures they operate at peak efficiency.
  • Ongoing commissioning: Continuously evaluate and optimize your building’s systems to maintain high performance over time. Ongoing commissioning involves retesting and re-calibrating systems, updating operating procedures, and training for building staff.

2. Recertification Process

LEED certifications are valid for a specific period, depending on the rating system. For example, LEED O+M certification requires recertification every five years. You must comply with LEED requirements and complete the recertification process to maintain your LEED status.

The recertification process includes the following steps:

  • Review LEED requirements: Stay informed about the latest LEED standards and ensure your building continues to meet the necessary prerequisites and credits.
  • Update documentation: Maintain up-to-date records of your building’s performance, including energy and water consumption, waste management practices, and indoor environmental quality metrics. This documentation will be required during the recertification process.
  • Submit recertification application: Complete the recertification application on the LEED Online platform, providing the necessary documentation to demonstrate your building’s ongoing compliance with LEED requirements.
  • Pay recertification fees: As with the initial certification, you must pay fees associated with the recertification review process. These fees depend on your building’s size, complexity, and the selected rating system.

By diligently monitoring your building’s performance and following the recertification process, you can maintain your LEED certification and enjoy the benefits of sustainable building practices.

How to Get LEED Certified: A Conclusion

Achieving LEED certification is a significant accomplishment that demonstrates your commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. By understanding the certification process, assembling a skilled team, and implementing best practices, your project can successfully achieve and maintain its LEED certification, contributing to a greener future.

To successfully navigate the LEED certification process, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the various rating systems, prerequisites, and credits. Additionally, assembling a team of experienced professionals, setting realistic goals, adopting an integrated design approach, and staying up-to-date on LEED standards will help your project achieve the desired certification level.

Remember that maintaining your LEED certification requires ongoing performance monitoring, preventive maintenance, and sometimes recertification. By staying vigilant and committed to continuous improvement, you can ensure that your building remains a shining example of sustainable design and construction, benefiting the environment, your occupants, and your bottom line.

How to Get LEED Certified: FAQs

1. How long does it take to get LEED certified?

The LEED certification process can take a few months to a couple of years, depending on the project’s size, complexity, and level of certification sought.

Factors such as the project team’s experience, the building’s design and construction timeline, and the thoroughness of the documentation submitted can all impact the time it takes to achieve certification.

2. Can existing buildings become LEED certified?

Existing buildings can pursue LEED certification through the LEED Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M) rating system, which focuses on ongoing building performance and sustainable operations.

This rating system evaluates energy and water efficiency, waste management, indoor environmental quality, and sustainable purchasing policies, allowing existing buildings to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

3. How much does LEED certification cost?

LEED certification costs vary depending on the project’s size, complexity, and the rating system pursued. These include registration fees, certification fees, and professional services such as consultants and energy modelers.

Additional expenses may also be related to implementing sustainable design strategies and technologies to meet LEED requirements. While these upfront costs can be significant, LEED-certified buildings often benefit from long-term operational savings due to improved energy efficiency and reduced resource consumption.

4. What is the difference between LEED Accredited Professional (AP) and LEED Green Associate?

A LEED Green Associate is a professional who has demonstrated a basic understanding of LEED principles and green building practices. This credential is ideal for individuals new to the green building industry or working in fields that support sustainable design and construction.

A LEED AP is a more advanced credential that signifies expertise in a specific LEED rating system, such as LEED BD+C or LEED ID+C. LEED APs have in-depth knowledge of the LEED certification process, making them valuable assets to project teams seeking certification.

5. Is LEED certification required by law?

LEED certification is not required by law in most jurisdictions. However, some local and regional governments incentivize or mandate LEED certification for specific projects, such as public buildings or those receiving government funding.

Additionally, many private organizations voluntarily pursue LEED certification to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, improve their public image, and enjoy the numerous benefits of green building practices.


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