The LEED Rating System explained

July 18, 2023

In this article, we provide an in-depth look into the LEED rating system, including how it works, the different rating systems available, how buildings earn a LEED certification, and why it's important for building owners. We will also delve into how LEED ratings are assessed, how long they last, and what building analytics can do to improve a commercial building's rating. Additionally, we will provide tips on how to improve your building's LEED rating and which rating system has precertification.

You can jump to a specific question by clicking on it below:

What is the LEED rating system?

How does the LEED rating system work?

What are the different LEED rating systems?

What are the levels of certification in the LEED rating system?

What is LEED v4?

How does a building earn a LEED rating?

Why is the LEED rating system important for building owners?

How long does a LEED rating last?

How much does LEED certification cost?

How can I improve my building's LEED rating?

How can building analytics help improve my LEED rating?

Which LEED rating system has precertification?

What is the LEED rating system?

LEED, which stands for ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’, is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of buildings and measure their sustainability. The LEED system provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings. It is widely recognized as the industry standard for green building in the United States, and used in over 160 countries worldwide.

How does the LEED rating system work?

The LEED rating system is based on a point system, with buildings earning points for meeting certain criteria in categories such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and indoor environmental quality. The more points a building earns, the higher its LEED rating will be. There are four levels of LEED certification: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points) and Platinum (80+ points).

To achieve LEED certification, a building must go through a rigorous review process conducted by Green Business Certification Inc. that includes a pre-certification review, a construction review, and a post-construction review. The building must also meet certain minimum requirements in each category and earn a certain number of points.

One of the key aspects of the LEED rating system is its emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Buildings can earn points for using energy-efficient equipment and systems, such as high-efficiency HVAC systems, LED lighting, solar panels, and data analytics platforms. They can also earn points for using renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, wind, or hydroelectric power.

Water conservation is another important aspect of the LEED rating system. Buildings can earn points for using water-efficient fixtures and appliances, such as low-flow toilets and showerheads, or for using greywater and rainwater harvesting systems. Indoor environmental quality is also a key aspect of the LEED rating system. Buildings can earn points for providing optimal indoor air quality, natural light, and thermal comfort. They can also earn points for incorporating green cleaning and pest management practices or for providing access to green spaces.

LEED certification is becoming increasingly important for building owners and developers, as more and more companies are looking to reduce their environmental impact and meet the growing demand for green buildings. Obtaining LEED certification can also help to increase a building's value, marketability, and interest from quality investors.

What are the different LEED rating systems?

There are several different LEED rating systems, each designed for a specific type of property type or project. These rating systems include:

  • Building Design and Construction (BD+C) – designed for new construction projects or major renovations.
  • Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) – covers complete interior fit-out projects including commercial interiors, retail and hospitality.
  • Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M) – certification for existing buildings undergoing improvement work or minor renovations.
  • Neighborhood Development (ND) – covers the sustainability and connectivity of communities as a whole.
  • LEED for Homes – focuses on single residential properties, including single-family homes and low-rise to mid-rise buildings.
  • Cities and Communities – evaluates entire cities and sub-sections based on energy use, waste, transportation, water consumption, and human experience.
  • LEED Zero – for projects with net-zero goals in energy, waste, water, or carbon resources.
  • LEED Recertification – for buildings that have previously achieved LEED certification, this system helps owners maintain and improve their properties over time.

What are the levels of certification in the LEED rating system?

LEED certification has four levels: Certified (40-49 pts), Silver (50-59 pts), Gold (60-79 pts), and Platinum (80+ pts).

  • Certified - signifies that the project has obtained over 40% of the essential LEED points.
  • Silver - reflects that the project has earned more than half of the basic LEED points.
  • Gold - shows that the structure has achieved a score of over 60% on the fundamental LEED points.
  • Platinum - the highest level, signifies that the project has earned more than 80% of the fundamental LEED points.

What is LEED v4?

LEED v4 is an update to the LEED certification process, which has a more flexible, performance-based approach that calls for measurable results throughout a building’s life cycle. It also allows for a more streamlined user experience and more goal-oriented credits. Here is an outline of the new features in LEED v4:

  • Increased flexibility to fit a wider range of projects
  • Increased focus on performance when it comes to design, operations and maintenance
  • Rewarding projects for participating in demand response projects
  • Expanded focus on materials, going beyond the total amount used to measure the impact on human health and the environment
  • Evaluation of total building water use
  • Streamlined documentation process
  • Better alignment between rating systems for a better customer experience 

Additionally, LEED v4 includes the addition of Arc, a new platform from GBCI that allows projects to measure, monitor and score building performance across the categories of energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience. Arc is available for LEED projects and non-LEED projects that are seeking to improve their sustainability.

How does a building earn a LEED rating?

Earning a LEED rating for a building is a process that involves meeting specific requirements in various categories, such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and indoor environmental quality. The LEED rating system is divided into different categories, and buildings can earn points by meeting the requirements in each category.

The first step in earning a LEED rating is to choose the appropriate rating system for the building. The LEED rating system includes several different categories, see above. Each rating system has different requirements, so it's important to choose the one that best fits the building.

Once the appropriate rating system has been chosen, the building's design and construction team must register the project with the USGBC. This process involves providing information about the project's location, size, and proposed green building strategies.

The next step is for the building to be designed and constructed in accordance with the LEED requirements. This includes incorporating sustainable materials and technologies, such as energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems, and promoting water conservation. The building must also be designed to promote indoor environmental quality and the well-being of the building's occupants.

After the building is completed, it must be independently verified by a LEED-accredited professional. This process involves a thorough review of the building's design and construction, as well as on-site inspections to ensure that the building meets the LEED requirements.

Once the building has been verified, it can be submitted for certification. The building will be awarded points based on how well it meets the LEED requirements, and it will be assigned a certification level of Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

Why is the LEED rating system important for building owners?

The LEED rating system is a widely recognized benchmark for the environmental performance of buildings, and it is considered to be one of the most important tools for building owners to measure the sustainability of their buildings. The LEED rating system is designed to promote the design and construction of high-performance buildings that are energy-efficient, water-efficient, and healthy for occupants.

One of the most significant benefits of the LEED rating system for building owners is the potential for cost savings. Buildings that are designed and constructed to meet the LEED requirements can significantly reduce their energy and water consumption, which can lead to lower operating costs. 

LEED also helps to promote healthy indoor environments by requiring buildings to meet certain standards for indoor air quality, lighting, and acoustics. This can help to improve the well-being of building occupants, which can lead to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and improved tenant retention, all of which can help to increase the value of the building and the return on investment.

LEED certification is also becoming increasingly important for building owners as regulations and requirements for sustainable buildings are becoming more prevalent. Many cities and states now require new buildings to meet certain energy efficiency standards, and LEED certification can help building owners meet these requirements.

In addition, LEED-certified buildings are more marketable, demanding higher rental yields and better quality investment. CBRE studied approximately 2,800 LEED-certified office buildings and 17,700 non-LEED-comparable office buildings in the U.S. It was estimated that LEED-certified office buildings offer an average annual rent premium of 31% or $38 per square foot compared with $29 for non-LEED certified buildings.1

How long does a LEED rating last?

The LEED rating for a building lasts for a period of five years, after which the building must go through a recertification process to maintain its LEED status. The recertification process is similar to the initial certification process and requires the building team to submit an application and documentation demonstrating that the building continues to meet the requirements of the system.

The recertification process is important, as it ensures that buildings continue to perform at a high level of sustainability over time. It also allows for buildings to adapt to new technologies and best practices in sustainable design and construction, and to earn additional credits in the categories of energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.

The recertification process is an opportunity for building owners to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to sustainability and to improve the environmental performance of their buildings. By going through the recertification process, building owners can ensure that their building continues to be recognized as a leader in sustainable design and construction and demonstrate to their tenants, customers and the public that their building is committed to reducing its environmental impact.

How much does LEED certification cost?

The overall fees for obtaining LEED certification are based on a project’s rating system and size, and are calculated and paid when the project team submits documentation for review in LEED Online.

However, there are standard fees for registration and a flat fee per building that must be paid in order to get certified.

For Silver, Gold and Platinum level USGBC members, the registration fee is $1,350 and the flat, per-building fee is $4,500. For organizational level members or nonmembers, the registration fee is $1,700 and the flat, per-building fee is $5,600. 

Visit the USGBC's website for a more in-depth look at fees.

How can I improve my building’s LEED rating?

Improving a building's LEED rating can be achieved through a variety of strategies and approaches. Some of the most effective ways to improve a building's LEED rating include:

  • Energy Efficiency: Building owners can improve their building's energy efficiency by implementing energy-efficient lighting systems, upgrading HVAC systems, and installing energy-efficient appliances. 
  • Water Efficiency: Building owners can reduce water consumption by installing low-flow fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems, and xeriscaping.
  • Indoor Environment Quality: Building owners can improve indoor environment quality by providing natural daylight, improving ventilation, and implementing effective temperature and humidity control.
  • Materials and Resources: Building owners can also improve their building's LEED rating by using sustainable and environmentally friendly building materials. This includes using materials that have been harvested, extracted, and manufactured responsibly, and choosing materials that have a low environmental impact throughout their lifecycle.
  • Innovative Design: Building owners can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability by incorporating innovative design elements into their building. This can include green roofs, solar panels, and other design features that promote sustainability and improve the building's LEED rating.
  • Use of Building Analytics: Building analytics can provide real-time data on building performance and can help building owners identify areas for improvement, this can help in identifying the areas where the building is not performing per the LEED framework and take corrective actions.

How can building analytics help improve my building's LEED rating?

Building analytics tools can provide real-time data on building performance and identify areas for operational improvement. These systems gather data on various aspects of building performance, such as energy consumption, HVAC systems, lighting, and water usage, and use this data to create actionable insights for building owners and managers.

One of the key areas where building analytics can help improve a commercial building's LEED rating is energy efficiency. By providing real-time data on energy consumption, building analytics can help building owners identify opportunities for energy savings, such as identification of untuned equipment, or highlighting areas of the building that are driving energy drift. This data can also be used to optimize building systems, such as HVAC, lighting, and controls, to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency.

Building analytics can also play a role in improving indoor environment quality, which is another key area that is assessed in the LEED rating system. Building analytics systems can provide real-time data on indoor air quality, temperature, and humidity, and identify areas where quality can be improved. For example, it can detect if certain areas of the building have poor ventilation, or if the temperature or humidity is too high or low, and provide actionable insights to address these issues.

Which LEED rating system has precertification?

The LEED v4 and LEED v4.1 rating systems have precertification. LEED precertification is a process that allows buildings to achieve a preliminary LEED certification before the building is constructed or before major renovations are completed. This is an optional process that allows building owners to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and receive recognition for their efforts before the building is even completed.

The LEED v4 and LEED v4.1 rating systems have a specific precertification option called LEED Dynamic Plaque. This option allows building owners to use real-time data to monitor and optimize the building's energy and water performance over time.

Precertification is an important aspect for those buildings that are in the planning and design stages. This allows building owners to ensure that their building meets LEED standards from the very start of the building process, and this helps in reducing the costs and time associated with achieving certification after the building is completed.

For more information, head to ​​

Here at CIM, we're actively helping the world's built environment to achieve net zero emissions and accelerate progress toward ambitious targets. Learn how we can help improve your LEED rating by watching a demo session of our innovation PEAK Platform at


  1.  Green Is Good: The Enduring Rent Premium of LEED-Certified U.S. Office Buildings
CIM Team
July 18, 2023