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Certified-Green Buildings: LEED-ing the Way To Sustainability


As more companies seek new ways to help reduce the environmental impact of their facilities, LEED certification provides a valuable roadmap of best practices companies can use to improve employee health and operate more sustainably. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED program creates standards for green and sustainable practices and provides third-party certification for facilities as they retrofit and renovate to meet their environmental goals. This guide provides an overview of the LEED certification process and offers tips on ways you can help make your facilities more environmentally friendly.

Certifying Building and Renovation Projects with LEED

The USGBC offers various LEED rating systems to meet the needs of different projects and commercial buildings. Facilities can become LEED certified by completing a mix of prerequisite and optional credits to earn points toward LEED certification; however, a building must receive a minimum of 40 points to become certified. 

The LEED certification process involves five main steps:

  1. Choose a rating system. Before registering a project with LEED, you'll need to select the rating system  that best fits the project. USGBC also offers certification models for multiple buildings and options for federal building projects. 
  2. Check the minimum program requirements. Minimum Program Requirements (MPRs) are the basic requirements that indicate if your project can pursue LEED. 
  3. Monitor important deadlines. LEED rating systems are not always open for registration or certification. View the deadlines to ensure you know the status of your desired rating system.
  4. Apply and pay required fees. Submit your completed application and pay a certification review fee. Check the fees table for LEED registration and certification costs.
  5. Register the project in LEED online. Follow the LEED Guide to Certification for your project type.

LEED Credits and Points

Each LEED rating system focuses on several key areas. The rating systems are:

  • Location and Transportation
  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Materials and Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Innovation 

According to FacilitiesNet, LEED credits are predefined investments that facilities can make to increase sustainability and improve their operations in these critical areas. LEED credits range from investments in green cleaning programs and indoor air quality to using renewable energy sources and creating a green purchasing program. Each credit can be worth one or more points, depending on a facility’s performance and level of investment in each category. While some LEED credits are required to achieve a LEED certification, others are optional and help improve your facilities’ operations.

The following list provides an overview of various Building Operations and Maintenance LEED credits for you to use as a reference guide. Even if your facility does not plan to become LEED certified, understanding these credit requirements can help you more easily create green policies.

Prerequisites: Prerequisites provide the minimum requirements that all buildings must meet to become LEED certified. Credits required for existing building certification include creating a site management policy, measuring and reducing indoor water use, tracking and reducing energy use, creating a maintenance and waste reduction plan and improving indoor air quality. 

Location and Transportation: The LEED Location and Transportation credit category focuses on efficient and sustainable ways to move people to and from the facility. For existing buildings, facilities must survey employees and guests to determine the average carbon output needed to commute to and from your facility. This data is used to create a Transportation Performance Score and indicate investments in transportation sustainability your facility may need to make.

Sustainable Sites: The Sustainable Sites category includes several potential credits for existing buildings. These credits can help facilities reduce the impact of construction and ongoing operations on the local environment and help protect the nature around the facility. These include creating a site management plan focused on sustainability, a program for rainwater mitigation, reducing the impact of waste heat on the local environment and reducing light pollution.

Water Efficiency: The Water Performance credit requires facilities to measure all water used by the site, including reclaimed water. The amount of water used is combined with other metrics such as facility size and operating hours to generate a Water Performance Score. The more efficient a facility is with its water usage, the higher their score and the more points they are awarded.

Energy and Atmosphere: LEED offers a variety of credits to existing buildings related to Energy and Atmosphere. To earn these credits, facilities must implement plans to use energy efficiently while reducing waste and pollution. Additional credits may be issued to facilities investing in reducing energy waste, limiting pollution and reducing greenhouse gas creation by using renewable energy sources.

Materials and Resources: Most Materials and Resources credits are prerequisites. These credits are issued to companies that create purchasing, materials and waste management plans that emphasize sustainability and reduce waste. Facilities can also earn credits for replacing most of their materials and cleaning supplies with green alternatives.

Indoor Environmental Quality: The Indoor Environmental Quality category contains a variety of prerequisite credits and newly revised credits for green cleaning and pest management. These credits encourage facilities to invest in HVAC systems that properly ventilate indoor spaces, reduce the spread and impact of tobacco smoke in the facility and regularly monitor air quality. In addition, optional credits can be awarded to facilities investing in green cleaning supplies and chemicals that replace a majority of their cleaning supplies with green alternatives or create a comprehensive pest management program that focuses on the health and safety of employees and guests.

Innovation: Facilities can also complete any number of optional Innovation credits to earn an additional point toward LEED certification. These credits can range from investments in sustainable parking and building design to creating programs to educate employees and the community on sustainability.

LEED-Certified Building Levels

Buildings that register their projects with LEED and meet all the requirements for a particular building rating system can become LEED-certified. There are four levels of certification, depending on how many points a facility receives. Minimum point requirements are 40+ for certification, 50+ for Silver, 60+ for Gold, and 80+ for Platinum.

Investing in LEED credits can benefit your facility even if you do not get certified. Your facility can use the LEED guidelines and requirements to help improve your existing policies, such as implementing a green cleaning program or reducing waste. These individual investments can help you reach sustainability targets using well-defined, clear standards. 

Learn more about Grainger’s Green Resources.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.