Understanding LEED: A Simple Guide to Energy Efficiency for Small Businesses

Understanding LEEDIs your business interested in becoming more energy efficient? If you’d like to lower your energy consumption and operate a leaner, more environmentally responsible business, understanding the LEED rating systems is important.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it’s a series of rating systems used in green building design. Launched in 1994, it’s since become an important standard for assessing a building’s overall environmental responsibility.

The origins of the LEED rating system


LEED was developed by the United States Green Building Council to make it easier for building owners to have an environmental focus. The system has been updated several times since its launch, most recently in 2009.

The LEED rating systems measure energy efficiency and environmental impact in a wide range of categories. Both commercial and residential buildings can gain LEED certification in five different categories:

  • Building Design and Construction (BD+C)
  • Interior Design and Construction (ID+C)
  • Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)
  • Neighborhood Development (ND)
  • Homes (HOMES)

The four levels of LEED certification

In 2009, the US Green Building Council launched an updated version of the rating system called LEED 2009. The LEED 2009 system has 100 base points available to buildings in six different categories:

  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Materials and Resources
  • Indoor Environment Quality
  • Innovation in Design

In addition to the 100 base points available for buildings, four additional points are given out in the form of Regional Priority Credits. In addition to this, six extra points  can be given out in the Innovation in Design category.

In giving out points, the performance criteria looks at two benefits: the effects of the building’s design on the environment relative to other buildings, and the benefits of each credit to humans.

Under the LEED 2009 system, buildings can achieve one of four different levels of LEED certification. These are Certified, which required 40-49 points, Silver, which required 50-59 points, Gold, which required 60-79 points, and Platinum, which is only given to buildings that achieve a score of 80 or more points out of 110.

Starting the LEED certification process

While starting the LEED certification process is simple, most businesses work with a professional LEED expert before registering. If your business is ready to register and gain LEED certification, you can do so online at the Green Building Council website.

The requirements for LEED certification vary depending on the category you wish to apply for. There are also certification fees that need to be paid before any building is eligible for LEED certification.

You can learn more about the requirements for the various LEED certifications with the US Green Building Council’s online Guide to LEED Certification. Guides about the Commercial and Homes certification are available in downloadable PDF format.

In order to gain LEED certification, your building will need to pass two reviews: the preliminary review, which is a review of your application for compliance, and final review, which is a determination of your credits based on your final application.

The cost of LEED certification can vary based on your membership. Organizational members and non-members need to pay a $1,200 registration fee and a minimum certification fee of $2,750. Silver, gold and platinum members are required to pay a $900 registration fee and minimum certification fee of $2,250 for certification.

Do you think your building has what it takes to become LEED certified? If your new building has an environmentally responsible design and numerous energy efficiency features, consider filing a LEED application to start the certification process.

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