Guide to the LEED Rating System

LEED offers different levels of certification, based on the number of points a building receives in various areas of environmental concern

Building or converting an existing building to comply with LEED standards is a practical step businesses can take to demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability. The LEED rating system is a program for designing energy-efficient, water-efficient, and environmentally friendly buildings. It is the gold standard for sustainable buildings. 

LEED offers different levels of certification, based on the number of points a building receives in various areas of environmental concern. For many businesses the long-term energy and water savings, and positive environmental impact, are more than worth the initial investment to achieve LEED certification.

Here is everything you need to know about the LEED rating system:

Levels of LEED Certification

There are four main LEED certification levels, based on how many points a building receives in a variety of environmental and conservation criteria. The four levels of certification are:

  • Certified (40-49 points)
  • Silver (50-59 points)
  • Gold (60-79 points)
  • Platinum (80-100 points)

A building stating that it is LEED platinum certified has the highest levels of sustainability and lowest environmental impact. In addition to accrual of points, a building can be certified in different areas. 

Categories of LEED Ratings

LEED standards can generally be applied to all building types, but for simplicity of categorization, the LEED rating system is grouped into five categories:

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

Here is the breakdown of each of these categories and their application:

Building Design and Construction (BD+C)

BD+C pertains to the physical structure of the building and its construction. Buildings that fall under this category are office buildings, apartment buildings, warehouses, hospitals, schools, retail spaces, data centers, and other large public or commercial spaces. 

The main certifications under BD+C are for “new construction” or “core and shell”. Core and shell projects are where a developer controls the electrical, mechanical, plumbing and “core” of the building, without touching the interior finishes of the building. 

Interior Design and Construction (ID+C)

ID+C certifies the interior design, build-out and finishes. This category focuses on an interior space that will improve the environment and be comfortable for the people in it.

This category is often used by companies renting large commercial space without control of the building’s external or core structures. This certification is used for office and retail spaces, hospitals, and other commercial buildings. 

Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)

This category is specifically for existing, inefficient buildings. It includes the steps and procedures to improve sustainability in their operating systems and maintenance. 

Buildings in this category can be any type of existing space, especially those used for offices, schools, warehouses, retail buildings, data centers, hospitals, and other commercial buildings. 

LEED for Homes (H)

This category includes single and multi-family homes with no more than three stories. It is used by private individuals as well as developers who want to create a LEED-certified development of private residences. 

Neighborhood Development (ND)

ND includes all types of land projects to integrate principles of LEED into the design. This includes green spaces, walkability, smart growth, etc. from the planning stage to completion.

Other LEED Certifications 

In addition to these main categories, LEED has three more categories:

  • Cities and communities – for entire cities or sub-sections of cities to measure water consumption, energy use, waste, transportation, and human experience.
  • LEED Recertification – for buildings that were certified under previous versions of LEED.
  • LEED Zero – for projects that have net-zero carbon and resource goals, meaning that their total operations are carbon and energy neutral. 

LEED Certification

To become LEED certified, a building or project receives points in several categories. These main categories are:

  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Sustainability Sites
  • Regional Priority Credits
  • Innovation in Design
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Education Awareness

For each of these categories, a range of points are given based on performance and set criteria, which can be seen in detail on the LEED website

To become LEED certified, you can register on the LEED website, submit your application, and receive a complete review by the Green Building Certification Institute.  Once the review is successfully completed, you will receive the institute’s decision on the level of certification achieved. 

Final Thoughts on the LEED Rating System

The LEED rating system allows businesses to progress through stages of certification. While there is an initial investment to become LEED certified, companies reap many rewards, from increased value of the building to improved public perception.

The proven benefits of LEED certification for businesses include everything from reduced cost of water, energy, operations and maintenance, to improved indoor air quality and employee satisfaction. LEED certification is the gold standard for a reason: any building can become an example of sustainability for the environment, the company, and the community. 


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