Story at a glance:
- LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and the most widely used green building rating system.
- LEED-certified buildings are cost effective when it comes to savings in energy, water, maintenance, and waste.
- As LEED-certified buildings become more standardized, corporations and cities are aiming toward higher certifications like Gold and Platinum.
With the passage of the Build Back Better Act in August 2022, we’re moving toward a future where sustainability may become a standard part of design conversations. But the groundwork for green building was long ago laid by USGBC and its LEED certification program. What is LEED, exactly? Explore gb&d’s guide to LEED as well as some great examples of newly certified LEED Gold builds.
LEED Certification Requirements
LEED provides a sustainability framework to encourage buildings and cities to adhere to energy-efficient and cost-saving standards that help to reduce the overall contribution to global climate change while improving people’s lives. Started in 1998, LEED certification has become the most recognizable symbol of sustainability achievement across the globe, making it the most widely used green building system today.
But LEED doesn’t just help to make buildings greener. LEED-certified buildings have also been proven to save money when it comes to energy, water, maintenance, and waste. To be considered for certification, applicants have to register and pay a few fees. Once approved the applicant must identify the credits, or points, that the project aims to achieve. These points are assigned to areas of the project that address sustainable sites, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health, and indoor environmental quality. With 110 possible points to score, projects can achieve four possible LEED certification levels:
- Certified (40 to 49 points)
- Silver (50 to 59 points)
- Gold (60 to 79 points), and
- Platinum (80+ points).
9 LEED Gold Builds
LEED certification has become a standard in today’s market, with registration growing at an average of 20% for the past five years, and more than 8,800 additional projects registered since the beginning of 2022. This has pushed many cities and corporations to aim for higher levels to maximize their savings.
Here are nine recent projects that have achieved LEED Gold.
Perched on a hillside that faces the scenic Smoky Mountains, Western Carolina University’s Brown Dining Hall was once an underutilized building that had become a storage and equipment rental space for the campus. When the team at McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture started the renovations, they wanted to make Brown Hall central to the community while also working toward LEED Gold.
Improvements in energy efficiency were attained by switching to LED lighting and installing an HVAC system that helped to regulate the temperature of individual building zones. An overall 27.8% of energy cost savings was achieved, along with a 4% reduction in annual building energy consumption. High-efficiency water fixtures and native vegetation that didn’t require irrigation aided in a reduction of water use, and building materials like adhesives and paints were all low in VOCs.
Preserving the original building structure helped the team earn most of its LEED certification points, as they redeveloped the site into a space that helped to reestablish the community and improve the quality of life. “The 25,000-square-foot expansion was designed along a new pedestrian spine, which created a corridor between the upper and lower campus. The interior was also reoriented to reveal the spectacular mountain views, and more importantly, grant pedestrians entry into the building from either east or west. This strategy achieved the goal of introducing the spaces within the existing building to daylight,” Jana Hartenstine of McMillan Pazdan Smith previously told gb&d. In the end the team was able to successfully reuse 94% of the building’s original structural elements.
City of Hope is a comprehensive cancer center in Duarte, California that focuses on treatment protocols and research. The main campus is currently undergoing a 20-year construction plan in an effort to meet the growing demand for treatment and research advancement. The four-story, 108,000-square-foot administrative building has already undergone its transformation, with a LEED v4 Gold certification achieved.
Reducing CO2 emissions played a major role toward the certification, with the team at Walter P Moore working closely with the concrete supplier to develop a new mixture that resulted in a 44% reduction. “The City of Hope project shows how an early, integrated, and comprehensive approach to addressing both operations and embodied carbon achieves reductions total project carbon emissions,” Dirk Kestner, principal and director of sustainable design at Walter P Moore, previously told gb&d.
By installing solar PV panels on the roof, the building was also able to generate nearly 40% of its own energy, resulting in substantial savings throughout the life of the building. A sunshade installed across floating walkways and stairs helps to protect the western face of the building from the sun, resulting in a reduced amount of insulation and saving on materials.
Sustainable design is more than a commitment at Yale; it’s a standard. The prestigious university required that all new construction and renovation project designs made on the campus meet LEED Gold status or higher from 2010 on. Fast-forward to 2022 and 27 LEED Gold building projects have been completed, with 14 more on the way. Yale is focused on creating a better environment while improving the health of people on-campus by integrating more access to natural light and using nontoxic materials in its designs.
“We have a disclosure requirement for materials that have Red List ingredients so we can opt for those without, and our furniture standards specifically address chemicals of concern. We continue to investigate standards for healthy building materials,” said Ginger Chapman, director of the office of sustainability at Yale, in a previous article by gb&d.
The Yale Science Building, which opened in 2019, received its LEED Gold certification in May 2022. The building was designed to meet LEED Gold standards with the inclusion of high-performance air distribution, heat recovery, a rooftop greenhouse, and an energy use target that cut energy consumption inn half.
Due to the rise in remote work, the team at Perkins Eastman in Pittsburgh focused on designing a smaller, more flexible workspace that eliminated barriers, reduced construction costs, minimized waste, and allowed for better views of downtown along with a variety of free-address seating that gives people the freedom to move and work about the office as they see fit.
Reducing the space’s carbon footprint was also a major focus of the project. “A recent study by the Carbon Leadership Forum identified the large cumulative impact of embodied carbon generated from a typical five- to 15-year interior fit-out and renovation cycle,” said Jennifer Askey, associate principal at Perkins Eastman, in a previous gb&d article. “With this in mind, our team took a deep dive into the impact our reductionist approach had on our studio fit-out’s carbon footprint.” Using previous projects as a benchmark, they were able to reduce their carbon footprint by nearly 35%.
Through designing a more flexible, smaller space, and incorporating healthy materials with low carbon emissions as well as low VOCs, the team at Perkins Eastman was able to claim a LEED Gold certification.
The State University of New York at New Paltz is a highly selective college of about 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students about 90 minutes outside of New York City. There, engineering students and researchers work on 3D design and 3D printing inside the new Engineering Innovation Hub, which itself is certified LEED Gold.
Built on a former parking lot, the site eliminated the need for excavation, which can often be costly. Landscaped bioswales were planted to help direct rainwater into a retention pond that would further aid keeping moisture from entering into places it shouldn’t be. The roof is made of a white reflective thermoplastic polyolefin membrane system, which helps to reduce the heat island effect.
High efficiency LED fixtures were installed along with light sensors to help conserve energy, and an emphasis on maximizing daylighting further reduced energy consumption. “Window headers are nine feet above the floor so light can penetrate deep into interior spaces. Our team analyzed several glazing options to maximize the energy efficiency of the exterior walls and ultimately designed window assemblies using double glazed low-E glass that provide ideal comfort levels, daylighting, and views while utilizing less than 30% of the exterior wall surface,” Urbahn Architects’ Project Manager Arielle Siegel Lapp said in a press release.
KFA is a diverse, forward-thinking architecture firm in Los Angeles that has designed and built more than 6,000 affordable housing units since 1988. When they were approached to turn an obsolete building property at the intersection of Long Avenue and Redondo Boulevard into affordable housing, they set a goal to make Fairview Heights a sustainable, healthy environment that would act as a beacon of hope for the community.
One of the most impressive features of Fairview Heights is its substantial solar panel array on the roof. The PV system was designed to generate enough onsite electricity to support its common space areas like the community kitchen and playroom, conference rooms, offices, and even a computer lab.
The landscape design also helped in earning LEED points for the project, as a minimum of 75% of the plant selections had to be drought-tolerant, ensuring the outside play areas could survive the arid conditions that climate change has brought. Fairview Heights was built with a LEED Gold certification in mind, and it became official in March 2022.
citizenM hotel is nicely positioned in Seattle’s downtown so prominent tourist locations like Lake Union, the Space Needle, and the Chihuly Garden & Glass exhibit are only a short walk away. Seattle’s first ever fully modular hotel was designed by Gensler to meet LEED Gold.
Modular designed buildings are already ahead of the game when it comes to waste management and emissions savings. Each of these 264 units was prefabricated in a factory. citizenM’s model made modular building even simpler, though, as the hotel chain offers one type of room—a single, king-sized bedroom—and an accessible iteration. Manufacturing the units in a factory setting has a myriad of benefits from an environmental perspective; where the average building will involve shipping more materials than needed to any given site, the excess of which will need to be disposed of, a factory is able to aggregate materials and distribute them between projects as well as plan out what’s needed precisely, so waste is minimized.
The building also boasts an array of solar panels on its roof as well as a heat pump. This has resulted in a building that uses 29% less energy than otherwise.
The Rancho Los Amigos Recuperative Care Campus designed by GGA+ sets the standard for rehabilitation care in Los Angeles County by helping individuals who have experienced physical trauma to heal and move forward through therapeutic care and permanent supportive housing. The 6.8-acre campus is designed around the landscape in order to promote a strong sense of community while using nature as a healing tool.
The native plants are drought tolerant and help to restore the natural habitat, while connective decomposed granite pathways provide an organic framework for healing the environment. The paved areas that are used for staff and visitor parking were built using a cool-coated asphalt in order to combat the heat island effect. A gray water irrigation system was also installed.
Other new site infrastructures include water, gas, sewer, and a stormwater retention and filtration system. Photovoltaic panels are utilized for onsite renewable energy production, and energy-efficient insulation helps to maintain a comfortable climate for the patients. The project received a LEED Gold certification in September 2022.
The Sciences Building at the University of Texas at Dallas acts as a classroom, research building, and space for students to connect. Predominantly housing the physics department, the building contains classrooms, offices, and laboratories that require a high demand of resources and a delicate space to perform research. The team at Stantec was able to achieve LEED Gold for the 186,000-square-foot building.
When it came to designing a building for intensive research, demands in energy were on the forefront. High-efficiency HVAC equipment, LED lighting, and a high-performance envelope were utilized, resulting in an estimated 26.6% energy savings. About 75% of construction waste was diverted from the landfill, and the team at Stantec worked to limit pollution into a nearby creek by directing the flow of water away from heaving traffic to make sure it can filter out. Low flow equipment was installed to help save on water and a bioswale was designed to harvest rainwater.
An impressive 40% of the building’s materials were able to be sourced locally in order to reduce CO2 emissions from lengthy shipments. “We were very intentional about finding as much as we could locally. It’s good for LEED points, but it just makes good sense,” Amy Holzle, a principal at Stantec and project manager for the building, previously told gb&d. “The campus is a huge part of the Dallas-Fort Worth community, so it’s important that we also support the community. And by sourcing local products we didn’t have to get a lot of stuff from some thousands of miles away.”