What LEED Measures

LEED is a voluntary certification program that can be applied to any building type and any building lifecycle phase. It promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in key areas:

Location & Transportation

The Location and Transportation (LT) category rewards thoughtful decisions about building location, with credits that encourage compact development, alternative transportation, and connection with amenities, such as restaurants and parks. The LT category is an outgrowth of the Sustainable Sites category, which formerly covered location-related topics. Whereas the SS category now specifically addresses on-site ecosystem services, the LT category considers the existing features of the surrounding community and how this infrastructure affects occupants’ behavior and environmental performance.

Well-located buildings take advantage of existing infrastructure—public transit, street networks, pedestrian paths, bicycle networks, services and amenities, and existing utilities, such as electricity, water, gas, and sewage. By recognizing existing patterns of development and land density, project teams can reduce strain on the environment from the material and ecological costs that accompany the creation of new infrastructure and hardscape. In addition, the compact communities promoted by the LT credits encourage robust and realistic alternatives to private automobile use, such as walking, biking, vehicle shares, and public transit.

If integrated into the surrounding community, a building can offer distinct advantages to owners and building users. For owners, proximity to existing utility lines and street networks avoids the cost of bringing this infrastructure to the project site. For occupants, walkable and bikeable locations can enhance health by encouraging daily physical activity, and proximity to services and amenities can increase happiness and productivity. Locating in a vibrant, livable community makes the building a destination for residents, employees, customers, and visitors, and the building’s occupants will contribute to the area’s economic activity, creating a good model for future development. Reusing previously developed land, cleaning up brownfield sites, and investing in disadvantaged areas conserve undeveloped land and ensure efficient delivery of services and infrastructure.

Sustainable Sites

The Sustainable Sites (SS) category rewards decisions about the environment surrounding the building, with credits that emphasize the vital relationships among buildings, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. It focuses on restoring project site elements, integrating the site with local and regional ecosystems, and preserving the biodiversity that natural systems rely on.

Project teams that comply with the prerequisites and credits in the SS category protect sensitive ecosystems by completing an early site assessment and planning the locations of buildings and hardscape areas to avoid harming habitat, open space, and water bodies. They use low-impact development methods that minimize construction pollution, reduce heat island effects and light pollution, and mimic natural water flow patterns to manage rainwater runoff. They also remediate areas on the project site that are already in decline.

Water Efficiency

The Water Efficiency (WE) section addresses water holistically, looking at indoor use, outdoor use, specialized uses, and metering. The section is based on an “efficiency first” approach to water conservation. As a result, each prerequisite looks at water efficiency and reductions in potable water use alone. Then, the WE credits additionally recognize the use of nonpotable and alternative sources of water.

The WE category comprises three major components: indoor water (used by fixtures, appliances, and processes, such as cooling), irrigation water, and water metering. Several kinds of documentation span these components, depending on the project’s specific water-saving strategies.

Energy & Atmosphere

The Energy and Atmosphere (EA) category approaches energy from a holistic perspective, addressing energy use reduction, energy-efficient design strategies, and renewable energy sources.

Energy efficiency in a green building starts with a focus on design that reduces overall energy needs, such as building orientation and glazing selection, and the choice of climate-appropriate building materials. Strategies such as passive heating and cooling, natural ventilation, and high-efficiency HVAC systems partnered with smart controls further reduce a building’s energy use. The generation of renewable energy on the project site or the purchase of green power allows portions of the remaining energy consumption to be met with non–fossil fuel energy, lowering the demand for traditional sources.

The commissioning process is critical to ensuring high-performing buildings. Early involvement of a commissioning authority helps prevent long-term maintenance issues and wasted energy by verifying that the design meets the owner’s project requirements and functions as intended. In an operationally effective and efficient building, the staff understands what systems are installed and how they function. Staff must have training and be receptive to learning new methods for optimizing system performance so that efficient design is carried through to efficient performance.

The EA category recognizes that the reduction of fossil fuel use extends far beyond the walls of the building. Projects can contribute to increasing the electricity grid’s efficiency by enrolling in a demand response program. Demand response allows utilities to call on buildings to decrease their electricity use during peak times, reducing the strain on the grid and the need to operate more power plants, thus potentially avoiding the costs of constructing new plants. Similarly, on-site renewable energy not only moves the market away from dependence on fossil fuels but may also be a dependable local electricity source that avoids transmission losses and strain on the grid.

Materials & Resources

The Materials and Resources (MR) credit category focuses on minimizing the embodied energy and other impacts associated with the extraction, processing, transport, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. The requirements are designed to support a life-cycle approach that improves performance and promotes resource efficiency. Each requirement identifies a specific action that fits into the larger context of a life-cycle approach to embodied impact reduction.

The scope of the MR credit category includes the building or portions of the building that are being constructed or renovated. Portions of an existing building that are not part of the construction contract are excluded from MR documentation unless otherwise noted.

The MR section addresses “permanently installed building products,” which as defined by LEED refers to products and materials that create the building or are attached to it. Examples include structure and enclosure elements, installed finishes, framing, interior walls, cabinets and casework, doors, and roofs. Most of these materials fall into Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) 2012 MasterFormat Divisions 3-10, 31, and 32. Some products addressed by MR credits fall outside these divisions.

Furniture is not required to be included in credit calculations. However, if furniture is included in MR credit calculations, all furniture must be included consistently in all cost-based credits. Special equipment, such as elevators, escalators, process equipment, and fire suppression, systems, is excluded from the credit calculations. Also excluded are products purchased for temporary use on the project, like formwork for concrete.

Several credits in this category calculate achievement on the basis of number of products instead of product cost. For these credits, a “product” or a “permanently installed building product” is defined by its function in the project. A product includes the physical components and services needed to serve the intended function. If there are similar products within a specification, each contributes as a separate product.

Several credits in the MR section include a location valuation factor, which adds value to locally produced products and materials. The intent is to incentivize the purchase of products that support the local economy. Products and materials that are extracted, manufactured, and purchased within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the project are valued at 200% of their cost (i.e., the valuation factor is 2).

Indoor Environmental Quality

The Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) category rewards decisions made by project teams about indoor air quality and thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort. Green buildings with good indoor environmental quality protect the health and comfort of building occupants. This category addresses the myriad design strategies and environmental factors—air quality, lighting quality, acoustic design, control over one’s surroundings—that influence the way people learn, work, and live.

The EQ category combines traditional approaches, such as ventilation and thermal control, with emerging design strategies, including a holistic, emissions- based approach (Low-Emitting Materials credit), source control and monitoring for user-determined contaminants (Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies credit), requirements for lighting quality (Interior Lighting credit), and advanced lighting metrics (Daylight credit).


Sustainable design strategies and measures are constantly evolving and improving. New technologies are continually introduced to the marketplace, and up- to-date scientific research influences building design strategies. The purpose of this LEED category is to recognize projects for innovative building features and sustainable building practices and strategies.

Occasionally, a strategy results in building performance that greatly exceeds what is required in an existing LEED credit. Other strategies may not be addressed by any LEED prerequisite or credit but warrant consideration for their sustainability benefits. In addition, LEED is most effectively implemented as part of a cohesive team, and this category addresses the role of a LEED Accredited Professional in facilitating that process.

Regional Priority

Because some environmental issues are particular to a locale, volunteers from USGBC chapters and the LEED International Roundtable have identified distinct environmental priorities within their areas and the credits that address those issues. These Regional Priority credits encourage project teams to focus on their local environmental priorities.

USGBC established a process that identified six RP credits for every location and every rating system within chapter or country boundaries. Participants were asked to determine which environmental issues were most salient in their chapter area or country. The issues could be naturally occurring (e.g., water shortages) or man-made (e.g., polluted watersheds) and could reflect environmental concerns (e.g., water shortages) or environmental assets (e.g., abundant sunlight). The areas, or zones, were defined by a combination of priority issues—for example, an urban area with an impaired watershed versus an urban area with an intact watershed.

The participants then prioritized credits to address the important issues of given locations. Because each LEED project type (e.g., a data center) may be associated with different environmental impacts, each rating system has its own RP credits.

The ultimate goal of RP credits is to enhance the ability of LEED project teams to address critical environmental issues across the country and around the world.

Source: U.S. Green Building Council