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Understanding the LEED Green Building Rating System

All LEED buildings are certified based on five environmental categories:  Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality.  And two additional categories (non-environmental) of Innovation in Design and Regional Priority under which points are awarded as well. 

All potential LEED buildings attempts to adhere to LEED’s Minimum Project Requirements and are awarded points in each category listed below.  Based on the number of points awarded a building may become either: Certified (40+ Points), Silver (50+ Points), Gold (60+ Points) or Platinum 80+ Points). 


Total Possible Points 110

Sustainable Sites


Water Efficiency


Energy & Atmosphere


Materials & Resources


Indoor Environmental Quality


Innovation and Design


Regional Priority



The important thing to consider in approaching any LEED project is that assembling the team early is often critical to the success of the project.  As you can tell from the points available in each category, Sustainable Sites is the second largest potential point generator.  Given this fact, the suitability of the site for LEED must be considered before its purchase or achieving certain LEED certifications may be greatly diminished or impossible.

The largest point generator is the Energy and Atmosphere category.  This category deals with heating, cooling, lighting and other energy systems.  Much of the work necessary to achieve points in this category is established early on in the process.  A strategy for successfully maximizing the points in this category is to engage the architect and engineer early and make certain they are familiar with LEED requirements.  Mistakes or poor planning at this stage can negate the ability of the project to achieve the desired level of certification.

Sustainable Sites and Energy and Atmosphere are just two of the categories but they are the largest point generators for LEED certification.  The take away from this is that the team needs to be assembled early.  The project owner needs to have an understanding of how each level of certification differs from the next, the potential costs involved in obtaining a certain level of certification, the interplay of the different categories.