LEEDing the way to green design.

Photo by byronpeebles | flickr.com

These days, it has almost become a norm to flash around how green you are. In fact, some businesses that are advertising their eco-friendliness are truly green and sometimes when you read the fine print, they really aren’t doing anything that spectacular.

The environmentally friendly ploy is slowly becoming the new age version of that classic restaurant gimmick where magically after being open for only two days they have a sign that says, “Best Breakfast in Town!” But how can we determine objectively who is running a sustainable business and who’s not? The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) had the same question and they have come up with a solution.

Based out of Washington, D.C., the USGBC is a non profit organization dedicated to helping the environment with eco-friendly buildings. Co-founded in 1993, the USGBC has a diverse team of environmentally concerned professionals from builders to elected officials who work to “transform the way that buildings and communities are designed.” Currently, the USGBC is most famous for their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

LEED provides accreditation for buildings or communities which have taken into account their energy saving, water efficiency, CO­2 emissions, environmental quality, and selection of building materials in their design and construction.

Since starting in 2000, there are now over 160,000 LEED Professional Credential holders across the world. The LEED certification is based on a rating scale making it applicable to all types of buildings from commercial to residential.

Specifically buildings are rated on a 100-point scale where points are reflective of the buildings’ potential beneficial environmental impacts. The buildings are rated on the categories of sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, materials & resources and indoor environmental quality.

For an example of commercial buildings, sustainable sites is out of 21 points and looks at design elements which are sensitive to the environment. The water efficiency category is worth up to 11 points and requires buildings to use at minimum 20% less water than a standard comparison building.

Energy and atmosphere is out of 37 points and rates how a building uses renewable energy, reduces CFCs and tracks energy usage. The materials and resources category is scored out of 14 points and evaluates a building’s minimization of waste and harm in their materials and construction. Finally, the indoor environmental quality category is out of 17 points and is based on multiple criteria including air quality, temperature, humidity, lighting and acoustics.

There are even two bonus categories: innovation in design and regional priority. Innovation in design can add up to 6 points on to a building’s score and is rated on the sustainable innovation that was used in the building’s design and construction.

Regional priority can yield up to 4 bonus points and is evaluated on the ability of a building to address local environmental concerns in its design and construction. Overall, to gain LEED certification, a building must have a score of 40. To enter higher levels of certification, buildings must earn 50+ points for silver, 60+ for gold and 80+ for platinum.

In the end the true benefit of LEED is its capacity to improve building design in an objective, dynamic and consistent approach. With 18 other national building councils participating in the LEED International Program, LEED certifications are becoming more innovative and prestigious each year.

It is this kind of reputable organization and global collaboration that is continuing to bring the green movement out of that hippie stereotype and into everyday life. So take note next time you see a business with a LEED certification; it’s no gimmick and they will have a ton of cool eco-friendly things to show you about their building.