green architecture

LEED Certification and Its Impact on the Environment

Climate change is one of the most talked-about and impactful environmental threats, and society’s consumption of energy has a direct connection to this issue. Transportation and farming are responsible for a majority of greenhouse gas emissions, and the energy consumed by homeowners and businesses is not far behind, accounting for 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it’s estimated that a typical home wastes up to 30 percent more energy than an energy-efficient home. Businesses are even more of a problem, with more than 100 million buildings in the US consuming over 75 percent of the nation’s electricity.

About LEED Certification

LEED logoLEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification has become a potential means of addressing the issue, with the advent of green building and other sustainable building practices. The United States and other countries have seen over 14,000 green building projects since the introduction of the LEED certification process in 1998.

The process of LEED certification sets criteria that are easily able to be reviewed by citizens and organizations. The program is governed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), and participants are required to pass an accreditation exam giving them the right to use the LEED Accredited Professional designation after their company name.

The goals of LEED certification include improving water efficiency, reducing the cost of energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving indoor environmental quality. The certification process makes it easy for builders to incorporate green building design into their plans, and the process is easily adaptable for business and commercial applications.

The LEED process works by using a point system that encompasses five categories: Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Sustainable Sites, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Materials and Resources. The points are calculated based on how well each of these areas are addressed in the planning and construction processes. The point levels range from Certified to Platinum and are described in detail on the US Green Building Council’s website.

Benefits of LEED Certification

Of course, the chief benefit of LEED certification is environmental in nature. According to the USGBC, LEED-certified residences use 20 to 30 percent less water and energy than average. This number can be as high as 60 percent greater than homes that are built to minimum standards. LEED is versatile because it can be used for both residential and commercial purposes.

Another notable benefit of homes built to LEED certification standards is the immense savings for homeowners. In addition to significant decreases in monthly utility bills, many municipalities have introduced tax incentives for LEED-certified structures. The US Department of Energy even has a database that allows builders to locate state and federal incentives for LEED-certified buildings.

Homeowners will also see increased home values. Homes built to LEED specifications have been shown to sell for 8 to 9 percent higher than non-LEED certified homes, according to a study conducted in California. In addition to homeowners saving money, corporations can also see significant savings. For example, Bank of America has realized a $227 million savings in energy costs thanks to their LEED-certified facilities.

The environment is also positively impacted by LEED standards. The LEED process has prevented about 80 million tons of waste from entering landfills, and fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere in comparison to non-LEED commercial building processes.

Barriers to LEED Certification

There are many benefits to LEED-certified buildings, but there are also a few drawbacks that make widespread adoption challenging. One major hindrance is the LEED certification point system, which some argue is vague and encourages builders to seek the correct amount of points rather than building with the environment in mind.

Another issue with LEED certification is the risk of liability concerns faced by builders and contractors. If a LEED-certified building fails to produce the estimate cost savings or required installations are not done properly, then the builder could be held responsible.

In some instances, LEED certification is something that is sought only at face value, but the structure itself is not necessarily green by design. And finally, the LEED point system asserts that builders must meet certain ceria to obtain silver, gold and platinum ratings. In some critics’ opinions, this stifles true green building technological innovation.

Regardless of challenges with the LEED certification process, there’s no doubt that green buildings are better for the environment and are addressing key issues in energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions. Even buildings that do not go through the LEED certification process, but which focus on energy efficiency, water conservation, and emissions reduction, are coming to the forefront as builders recognize how valuable green building is from both financial and environmental standpoints.

Change is already happening at a rapid pace in the business sector, as about half of all new of retail and hospitality construction are considered green building projects. LEED certification is likely to get more attention in the coming years as consumers become more educated about its benefits – both in cost savings and in environmental impact.