Embracing sustainability in commercial real estate: Your guide to LEED Certification

May 2, 2023

As sustainability gains momentum in the commercial real estate sector, it's essential to stay informed about green building practices and certifications. One of the most prominent and widely recognized certifications is LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In this blog post, we provide a comprehensive overview of LEED certification, exploring what it entails, how to achieve it, and the costs associated with the certification process. Whether you're a building owner, developer, or tenant, this guide will help you navigate the world of LEED certification and understand its significance in creating environmentally responsible, energy-efficient, and healthy spaces.

Jump to:

What is LEED certification?

LEED certification levels

Why get certified?

How to get certified

Does LEED certificate expire?

Minimum credits required

LEED certification costs

What is LEED Certification?

LEED is a globally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It provides a framework for creating energy-efficient, resource-conscious, and environmentally friendly buildings. LEED certification is applicable to all types of buildings, including commercial, residential, and industrial properties.

LEED evaluates buildings on several key criteria, including sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Based on their performance across these categories, buildings can achieve one of four certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

What are the 4 levels of LEED certifications?

LEED certification offers four distinct levels that represent the degree of commitment and achievement in sustainable building practices. Each level signifies a progressively higher standard in green building design, construction, and operation. Here is an overview of the four LEED certification levels:

  • LEED Certified: This is the entry-level certification, indicating that a building has met the basic requirements for sustainable design and construction. 
  • LEED Silver: A step up from the Certified level, LEED Silver recognizes projects that have made a more substantial effort to implement sustainable strategies. 
  • LEED Gold: This level signifies an even greater commitment to sustainability, with buildings achieving a high standard of environmental performance. These buildings showcase advanced green building strategies and technologies, leading to significant energy and water savings, as well as improved indoor environmental quality.
  • LEED Platinum: As the highest level of certification, LEED Platinum represents the pinnacle of sustainable building achievement. LEED Platinum buildings exemplify best-in-class green building practices, making a profound impact on resource conservation, occupant health, and environmental sustainability.

Why get LEED certified?

Building owners should consider pursuing LEED certification to showcase their commitment to environmental sustainability and to enhance building efficiency, which can result in significant cost savings over time. Additionally, LEED-certified buildings are often more attractive to tenants and buyers, potentially leading to higher occupancy rates and increased property values.

Pursuing a LEED certification can also help building owners comply with local and state energy efficiency regulations, such as Local Law 87, Local Law 97 and Local Law 84 in New York and the EBEWE Program in Los Angeles.

How do I get LEED certified?

Building owners seeking to obtain LEED certification can follow these steps to navigate the process:

  1. Assemble a Project Team: Bring together a team of professionals, including architects, engineers, and contractors, who have experience with sustainable design and construction practices. You may also consider hiring a LEED consultant or an accredited professional to guide you through the certification process and optimize your project's strategy.
  1. Register the Project: Visit the USGBC website and register your project. You will need to provide basic project information and pay a registration fee. 
  1. Choose a Rating System: Select the appropriate LEED rating system for your project, such as LEED for Building Design and Construction (LEED BD+C) for new buildings or major renovations, or LEED for Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) for existing buildings.
  1. Develop a Green Building Strategy: Collaborate with architects, engineers, and other team members to develop a comprehensive green building strategy that addresses the LEED prerequisites and credit requirements. Identify opportunities for energy and water efficiency through retro-commissioning to ensure your building meets the LEED requirements.
  1. Document Your Efforts: Throughout the project, maintain detailed documentation of your sustainable practices and performance data. This documentation will be crucial in demonstrating compliance with LEED requirements during the certification review process.
  1. Submit Documentation: Once the project is complete, submit the necessary documentation to the USGBC. The documentation will be reviewed by the USGBC to determine if the project has met the required standards.
  1. Certification: If the project meets the necessary requirements, it will be awarded the appropriate LEED certification level. The building owner will receive a certificate and a LEED plaque to display on their property.

Does LEED Certification expire?

LEED certification does not expire for the specific version under which a building was certified. Once a building has achieved LEED certification, it retains that certification level indefinitely. However, it is essential to note that building performance can change over time, and regular maintenance and updates are necessary to ensure that the building remains efficient and environmentally friendly.

For existing buildings that want to maintain their high-performance standards and continue to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, the LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) rating system is available. This rating system focuses on ongoing operational practices, requiring recertification every three years to maintain the LEED O+M status. This process helps ensure that the building's performance is continually optimized and that the property stays up-to-date with the latest green building practices and technologies.

How many credits are required for the minimum LEED certification?

The number of credits required for the minimum LEED certification depends on the chosen rating system, as each rating system has its own point scale. However, the most commonly used LEED rating system for commercial buildings is LEED for Building Design and Construction (LEED BD+C).

In the LEED BD+C rating system, the minimum certification level, known as LEED Certified, requires a project to earn at least 40 points out of a possible 110 points. Points are awarded for fulfilling specific criteria across various categories, including sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Projects that earn more points can achieve higher certification levels, such as LEED Silver (50-59 points), LEED Gold (60-79 points), or LEED Platinum (80 points or more).

How much does a LEED certification cost?

There are fees associated with obtaining LEED certification for your building. These fees are paid to the USGBC and cover project registration, certification review, and other administrative costs. The fees vary depending on factors such as the project size, membership status with the USGBC, and the chosen LEED rating system.

Here is a general breakdown of the fees:

Registration Fee: This fee is paid when you register your project with the USGBC. Registration fees differ for USGBC members and non-members. For members, the fees range from $900 to $1,200, while for non-members, they range from $1,200 to $1,500.

Certification Review Fee: This fee covers the costs of reviewing your project documentation to determine if it meets the requirements for the chosen LEED rating system. Certification review fees are based on the project's size (measured in gross square footage) and the USGBC membership status. They can range from a few thousand dollars for smaller projects to tens of thousands of dollars for larger projects.

Interested in boosting your sustainability performance? 

Our team of experts is here to help! Request a callback, and let's discuss how our PEAK Platform can help you create a more sustainable, energy-efficient building. 

CIM Team
May 2, 2023