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What is LEED?

With an exponential increase in the world’s population, skyscrapers and sustainability are both on the rise. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most reputable standard for eco-friendly construction worldwide. Combining the best interests regarding profit, planet, and people, LEED defines parameters for architectural projects that prolong the health, safety and well-being for ourselves and the world we live in. 

LEED’s rating system was created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and released to the public in 2000, which has since shined a new light on the concept of green building. As real estate thrives and the market evolves, so does LEED’s global impact. It is currently being implemented by all fifty states in the U.S., as well as over 160 other countries.

Since LEED proved a successful idea in the U.S., Canada constructed its own version with specific rainwater harvesting protocols in mind. Its creator, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) emphasizes values such as zero-carbon building, as well as categories that mirror the USGBC: sustainable sites (SS), water efficiency (WE), energy and atmosphere (EA), materials and resources (MR), indoor environmental quality (EQ), innovation in design (D), and regional priorities (RP). 

LEED exemplifies that conservational design is limitless, with its certified buildings ranging from schools to airports, exhibition centers, and sports stadiums. Famous examples include the first NFL LEED-EB certified stadium, Soldier Field, in Chicago – this stadium was not built sustainably, but the renovations it underwent in 2003 earned its credentials through an intensive recycling program, utilizing green chemicals and implementing electric vehicle charging stations. 

The Two International Finance Center in Hong Kong also received LEED Gold by reducing solar heat fluctuations through use of natural light rather than electricity by design and The Crystal in London earned LEED Platinum in 2004 for its ability to solely use renewable energy to function.

How does LEED work?

LEED is a ranking system, and each project earns its ranking through prerequisites and credits. By implementing strategies that reduce environmental risk, credits are earned, which allow projects to rank as LEED certified (40-49), silver (50-59), gold (60-69), and platinum (80+). 

More applicable prerequisites are broken down based on the LEED rating reference guide that a project qualifies for. The six primary guides are:

Building and Design Construction (BD+C): This includes the new construction of schools, healthcare, data centers, and distribution centers, as well as general major renovations. 

Interior Design and Construction (ID+C): This applies towards making interior spaces fit for occupants and employment needs, or commercial interiors. Retail and hospitality can also fall under this category. 

Homes: For families and multi-families in one to six-story homes, this category is aimed towards residential buildings. 

Neighborhood Development (ND): This is for residential projects that do not qualify as a home, like land development or redevelopment for neighborhood-wide additions like rainwater management or community centers. 

Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M): Similar to BD+C, this guide can apply to schools and other institutions; however, O+M is geared towards existing buildings that need improvement or minimum amounts of construction. 

Cities and Communities: These projects handle large-scale metropolitan projects, such as waste, water, and transportation. 

All projects are encouraged to maintain their worth and sustainable attributes through means like LEED Recertification, which regrants certifications based on whether projects have or have not continued updating their design to LEED standards. Additionally, LEED Zero is granted to projects that reach net zero goals concerning carbon, energy, water, or waste. 

How does LEED affect you?

The majority of our time is spent indoors, whether for recreation, work, or our lifestyle at home. This makes the quality of those spaces important, not just for the environment around us, but for the environment we experience by living in them.

Those that have access to LEED certified buildings enjoy better indoor quality, such as cleaner air through air filtration, ventilation, and the installation of updated HVAC systems. LEED buildings also offer residents the added comfort of detailed inspections and review of the design to ensure the desired effects are being achieved. 

In the U.S., builders are rewarded for obtaining LEED certifications through benefits like expedited permitting and zone allowances. Green projects have lower operating and maintenance costs, along with decreased payback periods. Investors have observed economic pros that cannot be overlooked; the value of green assets are growing. Resell costs are notably higher on LEED-certified homes, and individual income tax to states that is directly related to LEED-related employment has surpassed $1 billion. 

What does LEED’s future hold?

Creating energy-efficient buildings ensures that the environment and its resources are not depleted. Using less water and energy also reduces emissions and your utility bills. Nearly two-million square feet from projects like these are recognized as LEED certified every day, which contributes to the 540 million tons of waste that will be diverted from landfills by 2030. 

This movement will continue, as the world’s population continues growing proportionately to climate change with our use of fossil fuel consumption, wasting resources, and decimating the ecosystems around us. Florida and its coastal areas are especially jeopardized by this trend, with projections showing a linear growth in population with an average of 845 new residents a day until 2025. 

Material selection continues to be a means of evolution for LEED. Prioritizing sustainable materials delivers a product with a smaller carbon footprint and environmental impact. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is an example of one city that has implemented this into their newer construction. Named city with the “Most Outstanding Green Government” by a local chapter of the USGBC, and certified as a “Florida Green Local Government” by the state’s green building coalition, its 60 LEED certified projects have made a significant positive impact on the region’s environment. 

Like in most industries, the burning question is: how to create something that both profits and reflects sustainable values? LEED and its partners have taken responsibility, and plan on continuing, to pave the way for builders, tenants, and designers alike. 

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