Maybe you've seen the logo on a small plaque outside a trendy new restaurant, or posted on a sign in front of a new neighborhood development. Three leaves in a circle, and the initials LEED and USGBC. Some strange secret society? Some industry award? Not quite. The three leaf logo actually represents the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED program. Founded by the USGBC in 1993, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a program for certifying new buildings and renovations as environmentally friendly. The council is a non-profit group made up of affiliated companies and organizations, mostly from the construction industry [source: U.S. Green Building Council].
LEED certification is not just a rubber stamp for builders that make a few green improvements, though. The standards are set up as a system of prerequisites (also called requirements) and credits that participants can earn for specific improvements and changes. The more environmentally friendly a particular building is considered to be, the more credit points it can be awarded [source: U.S. Green Building Council]. Those improvements can be related to construction (such as using renewable sources of lumber), or the daily use and operation of a building (like using appliances that conserve energy). Credit points are classified into several categories, including measures taken to conserve water, reduce energy consumption and protect surrounding green spaces, to name a few [source: U.S. Green Building Council].
All LEED-certified projects must meet the minimum prerequisites, and they also have to score at least 40 points for the various other environmentally friendly measures they take. That 40 point minimum qualifies a building for certification. After that, additional points count toward a series of tiered designations, from Silver (for 50 to 59 points) to Gold (from 60 to 79), all the way to platinum (anywhere from 80 to the maximum 110 points) [source: U.S. Green Building Council].
The USGBC offers certifications for a wide range of building types, from large industrial and commercial projects to individual homes. Certification can be useful beyond helping the environment. LEED projects can qualify for tax credits and can help save money on energy costs [source: U.S. Green Building Council]. Of course, a single family dwelling and a new corporate headquarters aren't held to the same standard. Different classes of buildings earn points and pass prerequisites for different improvements. To find out how businesses and homeowners have to pursue LEED certification differently, read on.