About the LEED Rating Systems

If you follow any news about the sustainable design of architecture and neighborhoods you have probably come across the term LEED.  It stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it’s a series of rating systems created by the United States Green Building Council.

The first LEED Rating System created was for new construction, which focused more on the construction of commercial, institutional, and larger residential buildings.  But because having one rating system didn’t allow to take into account the nuances that are specific for a particular building type other rating systems were created.

It’s been argued that these rating systems have just created another layer of bureaucracy within the process of designing and constructing a building, and in some regards those people would be right.  It’s already difficult enough to design a building in accordance to pertinent building codes, accessibility codes, and other relevant guidelines.  But what these rating systems have done quite successfully is to provide a baseline for measuring the level of sustainability attained by a building.  Without any rating system a project could be self-described as a green building because of one aspect of the design, essentially green-washing the project to make it appear it’s more sustainable than it really is.

There is a cost associated with pursuing LEED certification, which essentially promotes the growth of these systems and provides a marketing opportunity for the building.  Of course a building can be sustainable without being LEED certified, but if there’s a need to essentially prove your building’s level of sustainability (including charging a premium in selling or leasing your building) it definitely helps to have the legitimacy of LEED certification.

And another important attribute of the LEED Rating Systems is that it’s continuously updated based on newer technologies and current building practices.  I’ve worked on a project in the U.S. Southwest that benefited from how the most current version of the rating system defined an urban environment.  The previous version defined an urban environment in a manner (i.e. minimum density of 60,000 square feet per acre) that essentially prohibited any project built within cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas from attaining any points related to building a structure in an existing neighborhood.  Because this minimum density rarely occurs in some cities the rating system adapted and now provides other baseline measurements.

LEED does create another layer of requirements for designing and constructing a building, but the LEED Rating Systems provides legitimacy to a project’s holistic approach to sustainability.


7 thoughts on “About the LEED Rating Systems

  1. anon

    The newly revised LEED accreditation has made me lose faith in it as a well intentioned system. Like the AIA it seems like more of a money making machine.

    Aside from the costs of certifying a building and gaining professional accreditation, you now must pay fees to continue your accreditation year to year, and you must pay for LEED accredited classes to meet yearly education requirments.

    It would be fine if this dove tailed into AIA membership and state licensing requirments, but with the entities involved I doubt they are willing to share their pile of money.

    What is you take on the new LEED accreditation system?

  2. Eric Post author

    Architecture has to be one of the few professions where the amount of fees and organizational dues are disproportionate to the salaries offered. Apparently the fine people at the USGBC and GBCI have taken a page from the AIA and now see the potential of a cash cow with offering their accreditation.

    Here’s the link to the page (http://www.gbci.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=84) showing the different offerings for LEED Accreditation. The good news is that if you’re already a LEED AP then you don’t have to pay any extra fees.

    Just like being a member of the AIA doesn’t make you a more credible and professional architect, I think the same is true with the new levels of LEED accreditation.

  3. anon

    I thought that if you are already LEED AP and do not pay for the new LEED accrediting system you become merely “LEED Legacy”.

    Looking at those high fees is so depressing! $600 to be LEED AP!

    Add to that over $400 annually for AIA national, regional and city membership and another $100 for yearly state registration, another $100 for NCARB Certification, and (roughly) another $800 a year for AIA continuing education and the $1500 for architectural exams and you quickly get to $3500 for the first year as a LEED AP architect without the countless fees for recording, certifying, and transferring of your Intern Development Programm hours!

    What a costly profession to start taking seriously!

  4. Eric Post author

    It looks like if you take the LEED exam after June 2009 it will cost approximately $600 to become a LEED Accredited Professional. When I took the exam in 2002 it only cost $300, so I feel like I got a great deal.

    Like the AIA it doesn’t seem that becoming a LEED AP offers anything tangible other than having some initials after your name. There’s the perception that you’re more knowledgeable than someone without those initials, but in reality it’s more marketing that anything else.

    And I didn’t go through NCARB for tracking my IDP hours (Colorado doesn’t require NCARB involvement for IDP, although some states do) so my fees for that amounted to about $75 (almost $40 for the state fee and the rest for my college transcripts). Of course I want to practice architecture in states other than Colorado so I’ll have to pay approximately $1,000 to become NCARB certified (some states require NCARB certified for reciprocity).

    The profession doesn’t offer a lot of incentives for becoming a licensed architect. The truth is most people are performing the same exact duties of an architect before they even start taking the exams, so why go through the trouble of becoming licensed? NCARB is still very much a necessity (primarily for reciprocity), but I feel like our current economic situation will reduce the number of people still willing to pay for their AIA fees.


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