U.S. Green Building Council and LEED Rating System

U.S. Green Building Council LogoThe U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) founded by David Gottfried, Rick Fedrizzi, and Mike Italiano on April 6, 1993, is celebrating its 20th birthday.

The co-founders and original members envisioned bringing together experts from across the entire building industry to promote sustainable building via green building standards and a system for rating green buildings.

U.S. Green Building Council Mission

“To transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built, and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.”

U.S. Green Building Council Organization

The USGBC is a nonprofit organization whose programs and services include:

  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building program and rating system
  • LEED professional credentialing
  • Green building education, advocacy, and initiatives
  • Greenbuild International Conference and Expo

Companies and organizations pay membership fees to belong to the USGBC. Members include building owners, real estate developers, facility managers, architects, engineers, utility managers, contractors, product manufacturers, government agencies, and nonprofits.

Chapters enable individuals and members to participate in USGBC and green building at the local level.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)

Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank - Photo: Ed Massery
Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank – Photo: Ed Massery

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building program was developed by a USGBC volunteer committee over a period of several years. In 1998, LEED version 1.0 was initiated and tested on 12 pilot projects located across the United States. LEED version 4.0 is currently in the works.

LEED Certification

The LEED rating system is used to evaluate the “greenness” of a project or building and achievement is recognized via LEED certification.

Projects or buildings must comply with minimum program requirements, meet prerequisites, and earn a minimum number of points in credit categories to achieve LEED certification at one of the following four levels:

  • Certified: 40-49 points
  • Silver: 50-59 points
  • Gold: 60-79 points
  • Platinum: 80+ points
LEED Credit Categories
UC Santa Barbara Bren Hall Roof with Solar Panels
UC Santa Barbara Bren Hall Roof with Solar Panels

The purpose of LEED credit categories is to define green building standards and performance criteria. Each category contains possible credits of varying points. Building and project owners determine which credits to pursue and how to achieve them. The main categories are listed below with a few examples of their purpose:

  1. Sustainable Sites – protect undeveloped land, reduce auto use, manage stormwater, restore habitat, and reduce light pollution
  2. Water Efficiency – reduce water needed for buildings and landscaping, reduce need for wastewater treatment
  3. Energy and Atmosphere – reduce energy use of buildings, use renewal energy, and reduce greenhouse gases
  4. Materials and Resources – reduce waste, use sustainable materials
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality – occupant comfort, health, and productivity
  6. Innovation in Design – going above and beyond credit requirements
  7. Regional Priority – extra credit for addressing regional issues
LEED Rating Systems
Philip Merrill Environmental Center - Photo: Robb Williamson
Philip Merrill Environmental Center – Photo: Robb Williamson

Since 2000, LEED rating systems have been revised and expanded for various project or building types and now include:

  • Core and Shell Development
  • New Construction and Major Renovations
  • Homes
  • Schools
  • Commercial Interiors
  • Retail
  • Neighborhood Development
  • Healthcare
  • Existing Building Operations and Maintenance

Photos from LEED Version 1.0 Pilot (shown above – top to bottom)

  • Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (LEED Silver certification)
  • University of California, Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management (1st building to receive two LEED Platinum certifications, new construction, and existing building maintenance and operations)
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation Philip Merrill Environmental Center (1st building to receive LEED Platinum certification)

I am a fan of green building and the USGBC. In 2010, I earned a LEED Green Associate credential. It was through a series of continuing education webinars I learned about and fell in love with LEED for Neighborhood Development. There is a piece of previously developed derelict land in my town—if I only had a few million dollars…

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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