Improving the energy efficiency of buildings—everything from residential homes to retail stores and factories—is crucial to environmentally responsible living. In most structures, HVAC systems, building envelopes, and lighting are all sites of wasted energy, so it makes sense to start constructing them according to higher standards. In response to this need, the US Green Building Council (USGBC), a private nonprofit concerned with environmentally friendly design, launched the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program in 1999. Since then, LEED has been revised and expanded, and it has become the most widely recognized benchmark for sustainable construction in the US.

What Is LEED?

LEED is a rigorous rating system that evaluates a building’s energy use, water consumption, pollutant emissions, and other environmentally relevant qualities. More than just a checklist of discrete improvements, LEED is a comprehensive measure of a building, everything from its material use and operational performance to its stimulation of walkable neighborhoods and public transportation; as such, new construction projects with an initial emphasis on sustainable design are most likely to achieve LEED certification.

The LEED ratings system for homes awards points for exceptional energy performance, environmentally preferable products, reduced irrigation needs, and even the use of environmentally friendly pest control alternatives. The majority of the points promote energy efficiency through reduced building envelope leakage, ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and fixtures, and renewable energy systems such as solar panels. A minimum of 45 points earns a new home a basic LEED certification; Silver, Gold, and Platinum LEED certifications require 60, 75, and 90 points, respectively.

The Benefits of LEED Construction

The long-term benefit of constructing a LEED building will be a lower negative impact on the environment. However, there are also more immediate advantages to constructing according to LEED criteria. For starters, thanks to decreases in electricity and water usage, LEED-certified buildings have lower operating costs than conventional buildings—between 40 and 80 cents lower per square foot, according to research published in the Engineering Management Journal in 2012. Additional savings are engendered by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provides for up to a $1.80-per-square-foot tax deduction for energy cost reductions beyond 2001 building code standards. Finally, when LEED buildings are sold, it’s presumed that buyers will be willing to pay more for built-in utility-saving features and a smaller environmental footprint.

Sustainable building has moved out of the early adopter phase, and initiatives like LEED are gaining in popularity; several cities even require all new construction public buildings to earn LEED certification. As worldwide energy and environmental crises become more apparent, it’s time for all builders to adopt standards like the ones promoted by the LEED program.

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Sources: Corporate Business Taxation Monthly; Engineering Management Journal; US Green Building Council.

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