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LEED Certification 101
6 Minute Read
Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
December 13, 2020

LEED Certification 101: What It Is and Why It's Important

Green construction is on the rise. There is no doubt that the future of construction will be environmentally friendly. As contractors start looking for ways to build greenly, building owners and managers are also looking for ways to identify their buildings as environmentally friendly. 

One of the most globally recognized identifiers of green buildings is through LEED Certification.

What Is LEED Certification

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Around the globe, this certification is recognized as the standard for green building classification. From residential to commercial buildings, and everything in between, any building can be LEED Certified. 

From homes to factories to office buildings, LEED Certification communicates the message to the public that a building has been fitted, designed, and equipped with the environment in mind.  Over 8,500 buildings around the world have been LEED Certified. Of these, 4,300 of them are in Canada, making Canada home to more LEED buildings than any other country.

Becoming LEED Certified

To become LEED Certified, a company must register the project with the LEED council who will then determine if the building matches certain qualifications. The review is processed by a third party that represents LEED to ensure unbiased grading. 

The process differs slightly depending on the type of building being reviewed. There are also different levels of certification as well, including a basic “certification” level, then silver, gold, and platinum levels. You achieve these levels by scoring different “points” during the review and certification process. 

Some of the aspects of a building that are analyzed include things like:

  • Plumbing and mechanical systems
  • Insulation
  • Framing and air sealing
  • Access to community services by foot or bike paths
  • Building locations away from environmentally sensitive areas
  • Access to bicycle storage
  • Access to public transport
  • Planting trees and gardens
  • Having water conservation processes in place

These are just a few of the things that are looked at in the analysis. Specifics would differ depending on the building type as well as location. The entire process is explained more fully on the LEED Certification website.

LEED certification levels
An overview of the different LEED Certification levels and the point system. Image borrowed from Everblue Training

Benefits of being LEED Certified

LEED Certification is just one way to share that a building is built with the environment in mind. It may seem like a lot of work to get a plaque for the lobby, but LEED Certification does in fact provide benefits to the building. 

Benefits of becoming LEED Certified include:

  • Faster lease-up rates
  • Qualification for tax rebates 
  • Retaining higher property values
  • Attracting renters, employees, or buyers who are concerned about their environmental impact
  • For homes, it can help them sell faster and at a higher price

Other benefits include better air quality, lower costs for heating, cooling, electricity and water, happier employees or renters, and many more.  It’s clear that LEED Certification – while a great support for building owners and a starting point for what to look for in a green-certified building – is much more focused on the finished product and how it operates.

People Can Become LEED Certified Too

LEED offers a program for people to become certified in green building practices. It is a great program to make sure that someone on your team has the knowledge and understanding of what goes into a green building. Having that go-to person to ask the right questions can make sure that your buildings are built LEED-friendly right from the start. 

This program could be beneficial for construction companies themselves as building owners may want to hire a company that is aware of the standards set by LEED.

History of LEED Certification

LEED began in 1993 at a time when buildings were designed to please the eyes, not the environment. One of the founders of LEED – Rick Fedrizzi – spoke with The Guardian before about this phenomenon:

“In the 1980s and 1990s, people were getting turned on by building materials that looked great – things like Italian tile, reflective glass glazings and so on. But top buildings, with ‘Class A office space’, were largely defined by aesthetics. There was no connection to air quality, water and energy usage, or the waste produced on site.” 

LEED was created to challenge building designers and owners to take environmental impact into consideration. Tax breaks, public recognition, and cost savings for the buildings have helped to entice more and more people to take this method of building design into consideration. Since the 1990’s, over 13.9 billion square feet of building space in 150 countries have been LEED Certified.

Examples of LEED Certified Buildings

Buildings all over the world have received LEED Certification. Check out some of these well-known and maybe even surprisingly LEED Certified buildings:

1. Soldier Field – Chicago, IL

Soldier Field, Chicago

Awarded its certificate on December 1, 2011 Soldier Field was the first existing NFL stadium to become LEED Certified. Renovations in 2003 incorporated a number of energy, water and waste reduction processes such as reusing soil and sod from playing field for other landscaping purposes, switching to green cleaning chemicals across the facility, switching to electric vehicles to be used on site, replacing lights with LED, and implementing an impressive recycling program for everything from delivery pallets to lost and found items.

2. Gulf Islands National Parks Preserve Operations Center – Sidney, BC

Wooden Structure
Image borrowed from HGTV 20 Greenest Buildings Across Canada list. 

In 2006, the Gulf Islands National Parks Preserve Operations Centre was the first building in Canada to receive LEED Platinum status. Harvesting rainwater for reuse, installing low-flush toilets, and using solar energy and drought-tolerant plants for landscaping are features of this impressive green building.

3. Shanghai Tower – Shanghai, China

LEED skyscraper

If the world’s second tallest building can achieve LEED Platinum Certification, then any building should be able to. Standing over 2,000 feet tall, The Shanghai Tower is now one of the greenest landmarks in the country of China. The energy efficient lighting system alone saves the tower over half a million dollars in operational costs. 

The double glass walls insulate, let in sunlight and allow for air ventilation. 270 wind turbines are built into the facade of the building and power all of the exterior lighting. This building uses 80% less energy for heating and cooling than other buildings like it.

4. Facebook HQ – Menlo Park, CA

Menlo Park
Image borrowed from The Globe and Mail.

The Menlo Park Facebook HQ was built upon stilts to sit above the parking garage to reduce land use. If that isn’t cool enough, the nine-acre roof is entirely landscaped green-roof to provide employees a nice space to enjoy while also making the building more energy-efficient.

5. Vancouver Convention Center – Vancouver, BC

Vancouver Shoreline

A double Platinum Certified building, the Vancouver Convention Center prides itself on using the latest in green technology to become as sustainable as possible. With a six-acre living roof which houses beehives to incorporating a marine restoration habitat into the foundation of the building, the Convention Center also features a grey water system for toilets, uses seawater to heat and cool the building, and was built using local wood from sustainably-managed forests.

6. TD Center – Toronto, ON

TD Building, Toronto
The three TD Center buildings in Toronto, Ontario. Image borrowed from Urban Toronto.

The TD Center performed it’s own Sustainability Reports for four years before all six towers incorporated into the TD Center were awarded LEED Certification. Of course, all six of these certifications are Platinum level, as well. After this certification, the TD Center in Toronto became one of the greenest office complexes in the world. 

The initiatives for these buildings include both large and small scale changes, highlighting that no change is too small to make a difference. From turning off lights to using cold lake water to cool the building, the complex has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 6%, reduced water use by 3.9%, and has generated enough cost savings to power 800 households for an entire year.

7. King Street Station – Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA
Image borrowed from Amtrak.

The original building was first built in 1906. Over 100 years later, the King Street Station in Seattle received the LEED Platinum certification after a course of enhancements and updates to the building. These updates included converting the parking lot into a pedestrian square, installing a ground-source heating system, and installing solar panels to power the station. This project is a great example of green construction as 98% of waste produced through the renovations were recycled.

8. Empire State Building – New York City, NY

NYC Skyline

This world renowned building was awarded Gold Certification in 2011 after a $550 million rebuilding project. With the goal of bringing the building up to the standards of the 21st century, this project resulted in a 38% decrease in energy consumption for the operation of the Empire State Building. This represents $4.4 million in energy cost savings every year.

9. Manitoba Hydro Place – Winnipeg, MB

Tall building, Winnipeg
Image borrowed from Aecom.

Awarded with the Platinum certificate in 2012, the Manitoba Hydro Place consumes 70% less energy than a comparable office building featuring conventional designs. Green roofs, maximization of sunlight, energy efficient lighting and a geothermal heating system are just a few ways that this building uses natural resources to reduce its environmental impact.

10. The Crystal – London, UK

Crystal, London, UK
Image borrowed from RobAid.

An iconic exhibition center on the Royal Victoria Docks in East London, the Crystal received LEED Platinum certification in 2014. The building is powered 100% by renewable energy. Marked as the most sustainable building in all of London, The Crystal incorporates sustainable building practises in everything from lighting to heating.

No matter how big or small a building or facility is, it’s clear that LEED Certification and sustainable business operation is not only beneficial for the environment but also helps to reduce operation costs. These ten buildings are just a few examples of the thousands of LEED Certified buildings around the world. Hopefully one day we can say that there are millions – maybe even billions – of green buildings in the world.

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Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.
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