LEED by Example: Designing a Sustainable Future

Jonathan SwindleExpert Advice

In design and construction, technology and sustainability go hand in hand. Finding ways to reduce energy is more than a design trend; it is the evolution of an industry and changes the way we look at construction. Technology helps architects and project teams work smarter to design sustainable buildings that maximize efficiency. To help foster accountability and excellence in sustainable design, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) founded the LEED® building certification program to encourage energy-efficient, water-conserving buildings that utilize green materials. As one of the most popular green building designations worldwide, LEED certification has become a status symbol thanks to its strict adherence to best practices in building strategies.

What is LEED® Certification?

LEED Certificate PlaqueLEED® certifications are awarded by the Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI), a third-party organization that verifies the design and construction of registered building meet or exceed to the standards set by the USGBC. From planning to construction, all phases of development adhere to these standards that are aimed at optimizing building performance and lessening environmental impact. To keep up with innovations in design and construction, the USGBC spends roughly $30 million annually to continually improve industry standards for the LEED® certification and it’s rating system. As such, the LEED® Certification is sporadically updated with newer versions like v2, v3, and currently, v4.

LEED® certifications require projects to meet proven energy efficient and sustainability standards based upon each project’s rating system. Rating systems have been developed for various project types such as commercial new construction or renovations, schools, interior architecture, home or neighborhood development. Project managers and owners choose a certification goal of certified (40-49 points), silver (50-59 points), gold (60-79 points) or platinum (80+ points) and develop strategies that fit with the site, building function, occupant behavior and owners commitment to sustainability. Categories are used to group specific design and construction criteria and prerequisites that earn points towards the project’s certification goal.  Commercial new construction and renovation projects earn points with credits grouped into these six categories:

  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Materials and Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Innovation in Design

Projects must be registered with the GBCI on their LEED website and agree to meet and preserve certain standards met during the certification process. The design and construction teams then submit documentation that detail how the credit requirements for this project have been fulfilled. A team of reviewers from the GBCI comb over every aspect of the submitted documentation, and award points based upon the accuracy of information and the practical ability of the project to fulfill the required efficiency levels. The certification process is more than just a checklist of requirements. For a project to be successful, it requires early integrated design meetings, and a whole building analysis to develop a realistic LEED certification plan. Credits should be chosen by the team that best employs cost effective solutions to meet client goals. Ultimately, LEED certification at every level should result in adding value to the building while reducing the life-cycle cost to operate it.

“Undergoing the certification process is one way owners can increase the value of their projects while doing the right thing,” says Allan Skodowski, Chief Sustainability Officer for Transwestern.

Learn more about WKMC’s LEED® certified project architects and some of our featured building projects by clicking here.


Disclaimer: The above featured image does not depict WKMC Architect's portfolio.