Buildings are responsible organisms. 

A building has several systems that may not serve healthy relations to the environment, they are mass bodies of consumption, water, and energy. In production of buildings and materials, carbon is made, which is a mass contributor to pollutants and atmospheric harm. In other words, buildings need a lot and don’t nourish the planet in return. They’ve retributed to 41% of all energy consumption whilst being 13.6% accountable for potable water usage. When considering such consumption levels of energy, water, and supply, buildings make up 73% of electricity consumption in the US. Terms such as zero-carbon were then aspired to achieve, it means a balanced leverage between production and avoidance of carbon.

To consider a zero-carbon and stringent energy system (a strict system with set criterions), a grading system must be applied to assess these Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s. In relevance to this criteria, something was needed to show responsibility for energy and environmental design, so that they can rectify it. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) was then founded in 1994. It was curated by the USGBC (U.S Green Building Council) and is used as a way to encourage sustainable practices for performance measurements.

It has been shown as an effective criterion for waste diversion since it has upcycled 80 million tonnes of waste diversion from landfills. Let this be an overview of what the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is. 

From aspirations to market standard

Introduced in 1998, LEED has challenged the status quo for buildings to be integrated as living organisms, buildings at a systems-level efficiency. It is an international green building rating system that fluctuates according to the mandatory regulation changes in the sustainability industry; it is not connected to any government system. Projectile trends have shown that the more you are familiar with LEED strategies and processes, the easier it is to implement them when they become mandatory. It is a globally applicable strategy, yet locally relevant, which means that it is able to look at a problem as a global issue, yet show solutions from a local context to bring harmony with the local environment. 

An example is air conditioning. LEED encouraged globally applied air circulation through sustainable means and showed results of the air qualities, especially in Zimbabwe, which houses the Termite Building that used local ant termitaries for heat regulation and wind flow. This is what has encouraged the production of over 94,000 registered projects and over 54,000 certified projects. It has thrived on the global market because mandatory eco-oriented actions are becoming necessary, so developers need to pursue LEED to differentiate themselves from non-conforming groups.

An overview of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - Sheet1
N-ZEB model part L building regulation (Nearly Zero Energy Building)_©Beige, 2022

LEED needs to be ahead of what is ‘needed’ but encourage innovators for what is ‘nourishing’.

Innovators and risk-takers are the first to adopt a leading-edge concept as a solution, so this grading system is what gives a leading advantage to find even partial solutions for: 

  • Global warming
  • Refrigerant management in buildings (air conditioning equipment to decrease Global Warming potential)
  • Climate Change; building in risk of flooding, emergency generators, and resilient design for flood plains

Evolution of Voluntary Certification schemes

1990  Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)
1993  U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
1998  Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) v1
2008  Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI)
2010   Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB)
2011   Irish Green Building Council (IGBC)
2014   WELL Building Standard v1
2016   Home Performance Index (HPI)
2018   WELL Community Standard and WELL v2
2019   LEED v4.1
2021   Deadline to Certify under LEED v3

 

This timeline shows voluntary certification schemes and their year of discovery. They are all separate from LEED and have different grading systems, but serve to show how they all led to creating LEED from conventional schemes. When comparing LEED to the Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI), it is a third-party certification body to review LEED ratings, purely independent reviewers and strictly assessed based on documentation. The latest version of LEED is version 4 (v4). 

LEED v4

This version is a continuous update from previous LEED versions, adding more specific prerequisites (what a building/site should already have before being LEED certified) and credits. It focuses on on-site strategies. One problem it solves is carbon offsets. Buildings may deliberately produce more carbon and attempt to reduce it, resulting in having a greater reduction of gas emissions. In this case, LEED v4 no longer uses carbon offers as a credit to contributed achievements. Another implementation that LEED v4 considers is location and transportation to be an integrative process. 

LEED common goals 

Optimise energy performance
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Design for resilient and habitat preservation
Increase use of renewable energy systems (helps offset peak demand on the grid, reducing the need to build more fossil fuel power plants on the grid) A mechanism needs to be implemented that credits renewable energy to implement back into the grid 
Verify quality through commissioning
Strengthen corporate social responsibility
Address thermal comfort
Improve health & productivity 
Align with GREB (Global Real Estate sustainability Benchmark) reporting

 

LEED project types

An overview of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - Sheet2
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)_©CPD, 2020

Explanation of criteria for each project type

  1. Building Design + Construction: Monitoring existing building operations and maintenance
  2. Interior Design + Construction: Focus on infrastructure and shelling of building materials
  3. Building Operations + Maintenance: Studying building systematics 
  4. Neighbourhood development: Site examinations
  5. Homes: Singular/modular construction inspections and documentations

The below diagram notifies LEED project types in the context of their credit categories:

An overview of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - Sheet3
LEED rating system_©U.S. Green Building Council, 2022
  1. Sustainable sites: Focuses on the environment surrounding the building, awarding credits for projects that emphasise the vital relationships among buildings, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. It focuses on restoring project site elements, integrating the site with local and regional ecosystems, and preserving the biodiversity that natural systems rely on.
  2. Water efficiency: Addresses water holistically, looking at indoor use, outdoor use, specialized uses, and metering. The section is based on an “efficiency first” approach to water conservation.
  3. Energy & Atmosphere: Approaches energy from a holistic perspective, addressing energy use reduction, energy-efficient design strategies, and renewable energy sources.
  4. Materials & Resources: Focuses on minimising the embodied energy and other impacts associated with the extraction, processing, transport, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. The requirements are designed to support a life-cycle approach that improves performance and promotes resource efficiency.
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality: Rewards decisions made by project teams about indoor air quality and thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort. Green buildings with good indoor environmental quality protect the health and comfort of building occupants.
  6. Innovation In Operations & Regional Priority: New technologies are continually introduced to the marketplace, and up-to-date scientific research influences building design strategies. The purpose of this LEED category is to recognize projects for innovative building features and sustainable building practices and strategies.

Out of the six LEED Credit Categories, one key feature has not yet been visible: there needs to be influences on where the buildings are being built (near transit, commute, residential, schools). The main dilemma is not just that new buildings need to be sustainable, but also those that were previously built. For maintaining these standards, online softwares monitors and circulates information on the building’s energy efficiency. Hence, they are needed to continually uphold your LEED certification standards. Such documentation of carbon credentials can be through Arcskoru, where 129 cities are currently participating (the City of Savona, Italy, was the first LEED city in Europe). 

An overview of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - Sheet4
Action-Oriented Measurable Green Performance, LEED Certification UAE_©A Quick Guide to LEED Certified Interiors, 2015

LEED does not only need to assess a building, but also sites, cities, and communities for regenerative design. LEED for cities can be applied for governing bodies of a city or municipality, and LEED for communities can be applied to non-city places such as countries or regions.

An overview of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - Sheet5
Living Building Challenge, focusing on sustainability as not just growing, but thriving on current resources, relevant to LEED goals (2014)

Four categories of rating

The points accumulated are a result through the specific strategies and design tools implemented.

An overview of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - Sheet6
LEED Rating System Certification Levels_©Keppler, 2018

There are mainly four products of consumption, of which are key performance indicators that LEED requires to assess: Zero, Water, Waste, and Carbon. Here is the way they are generally calculated and defined. 

LEED Zero groups: 

LEED Zero Energy: Source energy balance is less than or equal to 0

Source energy balance = [total energy delivered] – [total non-renewable energy displaced]

LEED Zero Water

Water balance = total potable water consumed – total alternative water used + water returned to the original source 

LEED Zero Waste: achieves TRUE Zero waste Platinum certificate 

LEED Zero Carbon

Carbon Balance = Total Carbon emitted – total carbon avoided 

To existentially assess LEED’s involvement, we must overview its presence and increase in LEED certifications throughout Europe: 

10 Years of LEED Certifications in Europe_©LEED – Irish Green Building Council, 2021

This graph signifies Europe’s advancements in LEED certifications. It represents Europe and not other continents because Europe is the only whole continent that can be assessed for environmental design. While South America retains only certain regions and cities with LEED certifications, Europe maintains a generally distributed ratio of LEED sites for the population densities. This shows the need for architects to apply LEED standards to ensure future prosperity instead of short-term construction. 

References: 

  1. Beige, E., 2022. A “Nearly Zero Energy” Standard by 2050 in EU – Half-Dream, Half-Reality – Energy in Time. [online] Energy in Time. Available at: 
  2. <https://www.energyintime.eu/nearly-zero-energy-standard-2050-eu-half-dream-half-reality/ > [Accessed 12 March 2021].
  3. Youtube.com. 2020. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) CPD. [online] Available at: < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hplTtK2q4a0 > [Accessed 3 July 2021].
  4. Usgbc.org. 2022. LEED rating system | U.S. Green Building Council. [online] Available at: 
  5. < https://www.usgbc.org/leed > [Accessed 5 May 2022].
  6. Summertown. 2015. LEED Certification UAE | A Quick Guide to LEED Certified Interiors. [online] Available at: < https://www.summertown.ae/quick-guide-leed-certified-interiors-uae/ > [Accessed 5 May 2022].
  7. 2014. [online] Available at: < https://living-future.org/lbc/ > [Accessed 5 May 2022].
  8. Keppler, S., 2018. LEED: A Look at the Rating System That’s Changing the Way America Builds. [online] BuildingGreen. Available at: < https://www.buildinggreen.com/feature/leed-look-rating-system-thats-changing-way-america-builds > [Accessed 9 March 2021].
  9. Irish Green Building Council. 2021. LEED – Irish Green Building Council. [online] Available at: 
  10. < https://www.igbc.ie/certification/leed/ > [Accessed 5 May 2022].
Author

Emma Mohammad is CEO of JustNow. She researches urban biophilic design for micro-architecture technologies whilst writing for various organizations such as Motus News, Greener is Cleaner, PathCheck foundation, and The Biomimicry Institute. Through writing on regenerative design, and eco-architecture, she has continued to delegate as a sustainable procurement (SPP) ambassador.

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