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What is LEED Certification?



In 1989, a forward-thinking, environmentally conscious architect from Kansas City unintentionally started an entire movement around sustainable architecture. That year, Bob Berkebile petitioned the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to study how architects could uphold the integrity of their profession, but still design environmentally responsible buildings that respect the planet — a bold move in 1989. The AIA’s Board of Directors initially frowned upon Berkebile’s proposal, but a small group of like-minded architects backed him up, taking over the AIA’s national convention that year, and unanimously passing the resolution “CPR: Critical Planet Rescue.”

The troupe formed a new committee — the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) — that would eventually collaborate with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create new, sustainable architectural design guidelines. A few years later, that committee would evolve into the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the leading organization that promotes sustainability in building design, construction, and operation. Within a few years, the USGBC would go on to develop Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the internationally known rating system and symbol for sustainable and environmentally sound buildings.




LEED certification for buildings.



Today, LEED is the most widely used and well recognized green building rating system around the world. LEED certification is now used for practically all building (commercial or residential) and project types – from new construction and interior fit-outs to sustainable operations and maintenance upgrades. It signifies a certification that “creates healthy, highly efficient, cost-saving green buildings,” improving environmental performance from carbon footprint to indoor environmental quality.

There is a LEED certification framework for nearly every project, with a rating system that is grouped into five categories:


  • Building Design and Construction (BD+C)
  • Interior Design and Construction
  • Operations and Maintenance (O+M)
  • Neighborhood Development
  • Homes

What are the requirements?

Qualifying for the USGBC’s LEED certification can be a complex process, one that involves extremely detailed standards and guidelines that involve mathematical calculations and detailed documentation.

Here’s a quick, simple checklist for certification of buildings, which scores green building design and construction using a point system that is categorized in five areas:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality



A private home has even more opportunity to become LEED certified through environmentally sustainable improvements under nine priority categories:


  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Locations and linkages
  • Awareness and education
  • Innovation and design
  • Regional priority





What are the certification levels?



Buildings and homes are awarded up to 110 points, based on the level of sustainable strategies that are achieved – from basic sustainable design to a framework that consumes the least amount of energy possible. The more points achieved, the higher the level of LEED certification, which is comprised of four levels:




1. Determine your target LEED certification level.

The USGBC has a LEED rating tool to help you do this:


2. Choose the right LEED rating system, based on the 40/60 rule that the USGBC offers for guidance.


3. Start a LEED project.


4. Remember that you’ll be required to pay a flat certification fee as well as a registration fee to begin your LEED certification.

These fees can range from $900 to $5,000, and depend on the size of your project as well as your LEED certification goal.


5. Begin submitting data on credits that you achieve for your building or project.


6. Wait for review by the USGBC’s Green Building Certification Institute.

This process usually takes 20-25 business days.

For a detailed explanation of the process, see our Complete Checklist for LEED Certification.



How much does it cost?


Once you’ve paid your pre-certification and registration fees, there are certification fees that add up depending on whether you’re getting certified in Design, Construction or both. The current rate is between $0.0014-0.0057 per square foot.

For more information, visit our page on the costs of getting LEED certification.


Learn how to take the exam to get LEED accredited.


If you don’t have a building to certify, but you want to help others take their home or buildings to a new level of sustainability and environmental responsibility, you can. While homes and buildings are LEED certified, people can be individually LEED accredited —an achievement earned by taking a LEED exam to earn one of two different LEED accreditations. LEED accreditations are valid for two years. To maintain accreditation, LEED Green Associates must acquire 15 hours of continuing education every two years, and LEED APs with a specialty must acquire 30 hours. The USGBC celebrated its 25th anniversary two years ago, in 2018. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., 300 employees around the world and chapters in nearly every state and in 70 countries, it has become one of the most well-known and respected environmental sustainability organizations across the globe.


“An advanced professional credential signifying expertise in green building and a LEED rating system.”


–LEED AP with specialty


“A foundational professional credential signifying core competency in green building principles.”


–LEED Green Associate


As the first Major League LEED-certified stadium in the US, Nationals Park has served as a blueprint to what a sustainable stadium can achieve. Home to the Washington Nationals (MLB), the stadium was added to the LEED-certified buildings list in 2008 and recognized for its use of energy efficient lighting, its management of storm water leaving the site due to its proximity to the Anacostia River and its use of recycled materials during construction, among many other factors.



Case Study


At RTS, we design custom solutions to meet the waste goals of even the largest businesses and properties who are achieving or have achieved LEED certification. RTS helped Nationals Park achieve EPA compliance through advanced e-waste diversion and recycling efforts.



Nationals Park sought a service to collect and divert 22,000 lbs. of e-waste in accordance with their high environmental standards to provide several hundred square feet of space needed to properly host the All-Star game.



RTS quickly responded to the e-waste recycling request by leveraging its on-demand capabilities and utilizing its network of local recycling partners allowing operations to focus on event preparation. In partnership with operations, RTS ensured recycling efforts met compliance and zero waste standards. RTS’s technology platform provided transparency, streamlined collection logistics and reported real-time delivery of recycled material.


For more information visit our Nationals Park Case Study.


E-Waste Recycling Compliance

11.4 tons of e-waste diverted from landfill.

Operational Responsiveness

The dynamics of such a large event demanded a timeline reduction of nearly 30% to complete the project. RTS’s integrated services met the requirements and freed up event space for the All-Star Game festivities.


What is LEED Certification?

A Guide

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