16.1 Certification Systems: LEED Certification System

Author: Abril Muré

ABSTRACT: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is one of the most well-known green building certifications in the world. It was created in order to foster a culture of green building, through ensuring that buildings operate efficiently and have minimized impact on the environment. Throughout the years, there has been a lot of controversy on the effectiveness of LEED.

LEED Certification Levels usgbc.org/leed


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was the first green building system to be developed in the United States. It is one of the most widely recognized green building certification programs in the world and was first developed in the 1990s by the United States Green Building Council, in order to encourage organizations, companies, and individuals in adopting green and sustainable designs (Matisoff, Noonan, and Mazzolini, 2014).

In order to obtain the LEED certification for a building, one needs to pay an initial fee to register their project. Once all supporting documentation is submitted, the project is then submitted to receive an evaluation. If they qualify for certification, the project will become listed on the LEED project list. According to LEED the following determines what constitutes as a green building: the use of sustainable and non-toxic building materials, the optimization of energy and water consumption, a high-quality indoor environment, and an overall minimal impact or disturbance to the environment (Kubba, 2009).

Once one receives LEED certification for their project, they are placed in one of four certification levels:

  1. Certified: 40-49 points
  2. Silver: 50-59 points
  3. Gold: 60-79 points
  4. Platinum: 80+ points

One can accumulate the most points in the category of greenhouse gas emissions, and indoor environmental quality fossil-fuel depletion.

LEED’s gamification of the certification system through a points system, receives a lot of criticism. The overall concern is that by introducing an award point system, the main goal turns into gaining self-serving benefits instead of incentivizing hard work towards minimizing the environmental impact of building construction (Orr, 2014). For example, LEED faces quite a bit of backlash for not prioritizing land use; the points system does not deduct any points for the neglection of walkability (Orr, 2014). If there is no deduction of points for failing to meet certain requirements, it is very easy for a project to neglect certain aspects of green building without consequences.

Furthermore, a building’s energy performance has barely any correlation with the LEED certification level of it (Newsham, Mancini, & Birt, 2009). This means that theoretically green buildings can provide a substantial amount of energy savings, but the effectiveness of the building depends on the individuals who use it. LEED certification should work towards implementing the measuring of carbon emissions emitted by a building annually, to ensure the green building is being used accordingly. Electricity generation is responsible for about 40% of global CO2 emissions, making this aspect of the certification a dire need (Abdallah & El-Shennawy, 2013).

Another aspect LEED receives a lot of backlash on, is how they do not provide accommodations for young and under-capitalized individuals. Many of the categories that score high points in LEED certification cost an immense amount of money, some of which many environmental enthusiasts may not have (Orr, 2014). For this reason, it would be recommended that they reward higher points for less expensive solutions to sustainable building. This way people from different socioeconomic backgrounds are all motivated and encouraged to participate in green building projects.

The overall building patterns indicate that building behaviour depends on the ownership. Non-profit organizations build the highest percentage of buildings earning the LEED Platinum level certification. While 8.77% of non-profit organization projects earn the Platinum level certification, only 4.30% of for-profit organizations earn it, and this number drops down to 4.19% when referring to government agencies (Matisoff, Noonan, and Mazzolini, 2014). The government must work to provide a better example by becoming a leader in green building. Despite any criticism that LEED faces, they have had an overall positive impact on raising awareness of environmental issues and have been effective in driving individuals to work towards environmental sustainability. In order to optimize that determination towards completing green building projects, LEED must change their certification points system to accommodate the under-capitalized and work towards stopping the elites from abusing the system to do performative sustainability.


Abdallah, L., & El-Shennawy, T. (2013). Reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector using smart electric grid applications. Journal of Engineering, 2013.

Kubba, S. (2009). LEED practices, certification, and accreditation handbook. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Matisoff, D. C., Noonan, D. S., & Mazzolini, A. M. (2014). Performance or marketing benefits? The case of LEED certification. Environmental science & technology, 48(3), 2001-2007.

Newsham, G. R., Mancini, S., & Birt, B. J. (2009). Do LEED-certified buildings save energy? Yes, but…. Energy and Buildings, 41(8), 897-905.

Orr, Robert. (2014). The Problems with LEED [Position Paper]. http://leanurbanism.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Orr-LEED.pdf

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