Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has taken off in the last decade.

Developed as a third-party green building certification system by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification status has proved beneficial for developers and building owners alike. By using a points-based system to certify the green credentials of a new construction or renovation project, the LEED certification framework identifies practical solutions to common green building problems.

In this article, we’re going to look at:

  1. What is LEED Certification?
  2. The Four LEED Certification Levels
  3. How to Achieve LEED Certification for Buildings
  4. Earning LEED Certification Points and Credits
  5. How to Increase Your LEED Certification Score

If you’re considering working toward LEED certification for your project but are unfamiliar with the process, this overview will give you a high-level view of what to expect. Needless to say, your project’s waste and recycling plays a significant role in getting you across the finish line.

What is LEED Certification?

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1993, LEED certification is considered the gold standard in the green building industry. LEED certification provides a structured way for professionals to become involved in sustainability and reduce the nearly 569 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) waste produced in the United States per year.

The Green Business Certification Inc. (GCBI) is responsible for the ongoing management and evolution of the LEED certification program, as well as the Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) certification program.

As the most widely recognized green building rating system in the world, LEED is reported to have “More than 79,000 projects […] participating in LEED across 160 countries and territories, comprising over 15 billion square feet.” Furthermore, the U.S. Green Building Council estimates that “nearly 5 million people experience a LEED building every day.”

LEED certification is available both to older buildings that are due to be renovated, as well as to new developments. It makes no difference whether the building will be used for residential or commercial purposes. Through LEED certification, your building can earn tax credits, save money on operational costs, and make an impact on all who live, work, and visit your building. You’ll pay a flat upfront fee to get registered, and then you’ll pay another fee on the completion of your project.

As part of its mission, the organization behind LEED is always improving its systems and processes. This continual refinement takes into account the complexities industry leaders face when searching for accreditation for themselves or certification for their projects. All of those different routes make it possible for virtually any building and home project to earn certification.

What it Means to be LEED Accredited vs. Certified

LEED certification is specifically for buildings, while LEED accreditation is for individuals.

LEED accreditation can be gained by professionals who want to advance their career and increase their skill set. Earning accreditation can also earn points for your future LEED projects. Through accreditation, you’ll become knowledgeable in unique design and construction techniques, be in high demand in an increasingly green market, and stay informed on the latest technologies through continuing education.

The Four LEED Certification Levels

Everything you do during a building project—from the materials you choose to the way you manage waste—adds up to a point system that helps you earn certification. The more points you earn, the better the sustainability of the building.

LEED-certified buildings can earn a total of 110 points, with buildings earning 80+ points being awarded LEED Platinum status.

The four LEED certification levels are:

  • Certified: 40-49 Points
  • Silver: 50-59 Points
  • Gold: 60-79 Points
  • Platinum: 80+ Points
Image: LEED certification levels, courtesy of the U.S. Green Building Council West Michigan Chapter

So, if you have heard of a building that is LEED Gold or LEED Platinum certified, this means the building earned between 60-79 points or 80+ points, respectively.

How to Achieve LEED Certification for Buildings

Because LEED standards are so flexible, not every project has to follow the same rules to earn points. Different rating systems take into consideration the needs and challenges of various projects. How you earn points typically depends on what you’re building.

The LEED Rating System

Depending on the building you intend to get LEED-certified, you will need to follow a specific LEED rating system:

  • Building Design and Construction (BD+C)
  • Interior Design and Construction (ID+C)
  • Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)
  • Neighborhood Development (ND)
  • Homes
  • Cities and Communities
  • LEED Recertification
  • LEED Zero

Every rating system has its own set of “prerequisites,” which are the minimum requirements your project needs to achieve on top of the points needed for certification.

If you are unsure which rating system is most suitable for your project, reach out to Rubicon’s Sustainability team at sustainability@rubicon.com and we will be happy to help.

Earning LEED Certification Points and Credits

So, how do you earn points and meet the requirements? This is where many companies get confused.

LEED has a system of “credits” that are equivalent to points. For example, if you’re working on a new building design and construction (BD+C) project, you’re required to follow the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning credit guidelines. The U.S. Green Building Council has a Credit Library which lets you easily select your type of project and pull up a list of credits. The LEED credit library will show you what’s required and how you can earn points.

You don’t have to follow every single credit’s guidelines. That’s the beauty of LEED—you can choose what’s best for you, your business, and your project.

How to Increase Your LEED Certification Score

LEED certification credits are focused on the following concepts, which are also the smart filters in their online library:

  • Energy and atmosphere: Your building must be energy efficient, while at the same time providing those inside the building with quality indoor air.
  • Indoor environmental quality: Similar to the above, this area focuses on indoor ventilation and access to daylight.
  • Integrative process: How integrated are the different aspects of your building, and how does this integration add to your building’s green credentials?
  • Location and transportation: How will residents, workers, or visitors reach your building? Is it close to a public transportation system?
  • Materials and resources: How sustainable are the materials used in the construction (or refurbishment) of your building? How will you dispose of construction and demolition (C&D) waste?
  • Sustainable sites: How is the natural environment around your project site affected as a result of your building? How does your building minimize its impact on the surrounding environment?
  • Water efficiency: How sustainable is your building’s water usage?

These concepts guide the direction of a project and impact your certification. To achieve high LEED scores and certification status, it’s necessary to keep detailed records of how these concepts are brought to life. From the emissions created hauling materials in and out to the way you sort and dispose of debris—just about every step can count for or against you.

Waste management is a required and critical step in LEED certification. When you submit your project for certification, one of the many things you’ll need to show is how much waste was generated, disposed of, and diverted. A misstep in tracking prerequisites like waste management planning could cost your entire project its certification.

Building LEED credits means building more value, and the right waste and recycling partner can work with you to ensure you achieve the highest possible level of LEED certification for your project.

To learn more about Rubicon’s work transforming the entire category of waste and recycling, be sure to download our inaugural Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Report.

If you have any questions about how to gain LEED certification for your project, you can reach out to Rubicon’s Sustainability team directly at sustainability@rubicon.com, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.

Chris Batterson is a Key Account Manager for Construction & Project Solutions at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.