Green construction projects emphasize a balance between high-performance and low environmental impact. Although there are many metrics and performance indicators which establish a project’s various sustainable attributes, certifying that a project meets a specific standard is the establishes a project’s level of “greenness.” Architects, owners, engineers, developers, and contractors across the world are embracing materials, technologies, and design practices which reduce both the long-term human and environmental costs of a building. While new regulations and social pressure are a factor, many decision-makers are motivated by the strategic advantage of green construction – especially LEED certification – provides. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it is the most widely used green building rating system by engineers in the world.
The LEED Certification system provides a globally recognized framework for creating healthy, efficient, and sustainable buildings. There are different rating systems that address the unique concerns of different building types and markets. Certification status is awarded based on LEED prerequisites, LEED credits, and LEED points. Prerequisites set the minimum requirements that all buildings need to meet in order to achieve LEED certification. Fulfilling the requirements of prerequisites will not earn points, however, credits do contribute to points. Pursuing credits sets your building apart and delivers more benefits. The more points your building earns, the greater the reward. Rewards range from healthier spaces to buildings that save money and resources, and of course more prestige and recognition.
LEED Credits and Project Certification Levels
A project’s LEED performance score determines the level of certification achieved. Credits may be earned in the following LEED categories:
- Location and Transportation – Buildings that are located near amenities such as restaurants and parks and encourage compact development and alternative transportation are highly valued.
- Sustainable Sites – This category is concerned with the environment surrounding the building, including the natural ecosystem and the relationships between neighboring buildings. Integrating the site with local ecosystems and fostering biodiversity are key objectives.
- Water Efficiency – Efficiency is defined as prioritizing conservation as well as the thoughtful consumption of water indoors, outdoors, and in specialized uses.
- Energy and Atmosphere – A reduction in energy use, energy-efficient design strategies and incorporation of renewable and alternative energy sources are rewarded in all LEED systems.
- Materials and Resources – This credit category focuses on the impact of extracting, processing, transporting, maintaining, and disposing of building materials. The goal is to promote a cleaner life cycle and increase performance.
- Innovation – LEED recognizes advances in building features and practices, rewarding new technologies and new applications of the latest environmental research.
- Regional Priority – Each region has distinct priorities identified by the LEED International Roundtable and the USGBC that addresses local issues.
- Indoor Environmental Quality– Environmental quality applies to indoor air, thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort. The health of building occupants is a major concern in this category.
LEED certification levels are awarded by points earned:
- 40-49 is Certified
- 50-59 is Silver
- 60-79 is Gold
- 80-100 is Platinum
LEED Certification Benefits
Every construction project has a budget, and building owners are constantly looking for ways to reduce expenses and maximize their investment. Following LEED certification guidelines presents many opportunities for owners to see short and long-term financial gains.
Once construction is complete and the building is in use, the utility-efficient systems will conserve energy and water, ensuring waste is at a minimum. With fewer resources consumed, the operating costs will be significantly reduced. Residential and commercial owners will both profit from the higher occupancy rates and higher rents characteristic of green buildings. Occupants and visitors of green buildings receive health benefits not found in non-environmentally friendly buildings. The latest World Green Building Trends report published by industry leader Dodge Data and Analytics shares the experience of a headquarters in El Salvador where there was a 68% reduction in respiratory problems and staff sick days were almost cut in half. These quality-of-life enhancements are seen consistently across the world.
LEED certification is another source of value as they assure the building’s quality. The rigorous assessments ensure that the building measures up to the expectations of building owners as well as the community around them. LEED certified projects have a higher point of sale value due to their efficiency, longevity, and socially conscious positioning.
The Future Of Green Construction
Concern for the environment is rising, impacting all facets of the construction industry. World Green Building Trends reveals increased sensitivity to sustainability and greater emphasis on creating buildings that promote health. It analyzed results from 87 countries and found that within the next three years, eco-friendly construction methods will jump from 27% to 47% across all project types. In the US market, the green construction trend is expected to continue. Completely “green” projects are projected to increase significantly from 32% to 45%, especially with new commercial construction projects. Building owners were significantly invested in the future of environmentally friendly development; 57% reported that the majority of their projects will be green by 2021. The Dodge report clearly shows that green rating systems will play a significant role in the construction industry, rising in importance with each year. Understanding and employing LEED certification standards is essential for architects, engineers, building owners, and everyone else involved in building development.