LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)

By Honey Stempka
Former Green Building Alliance Northwest Branch Director


LEED logo


What is LEED Certification?
According the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a "voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven program that provides third-party verification of green buildings." The LEED certification acknowledges that a building is minimizing its impacts on the environment and decreasing its energy use through specific design and operation guidelines. The LEED specifications can be used to make changes to existing structures or in the construction of new buildings. By following these guidelines, buildings can minimize their impact on surrounding land, reduce waste production, improve indoor air quality, and decrease energy and water use.

Any type of building, from individual residences to municipal buildings, can choose to become LEED-certified. The number of LEED-certified buildings is on the rise in the Erie region. According to Honey Stempka, Former Director of the Northwest Region of the Green Building Alliance, there are six buildings that have obtained their LEED certification and a handful more in the process of garnering their LEED designation. In addition to reducing their impact on the environment, LEED-certified buildings also save their owners money over time, so it is expected that the number of certified buildings in the area will grow steadily.

Benefits of LEED Certification:

  • Decreased operating cost
  • Healthier for occupants
  • Increased asset value
  • Tax rebates, zoning allowances, and other incentives (depends on area)
  • Reduced environmental impact

How Do You Become LEED Certified?

The U.S. Green Building Council's website's "Certification" page provides information on the certification process and applicable ratings systems in addition to the application and development of LEED. As mentioned above, LEED certification can be obtained by any type of building project, even making alterations to existing structures. LEED certification is awarded based upon a points system, with the points required to obtain certification dependent upon the type of project. The points are divided into five main categories:

  1. Sustainable Sites
  2. Water Efficiency
  3. Energy & Atmosphere
  4. Materials & Resources
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality

There are also categories that apply to neighborhood development projects. They are:

  1. Smart Location & Linkage (This credit can also apply toward LEED for Homes.)
  2. Neighborhood Pattern & Design
  3. Green Infrastructure & Buildings

Credit can also be obtained in the LEED for Homes category by providing awareness and education opportunities to homeowners, tenants, and building managers.

There are also two bonus credit categories:

  1. Innovation in design or operations
  2. Regional priorities

The level of LEED certification that a building can obtain depends on the total number of project points achieved:

  • 40+ Pts: Certified
  • 50+ Pts: Silver Certified
  • 60+ Pts: Gold Certified
  • 80+ Pts: Platinum Certified

For more information, visit the USGBC's website to find the rating system specific to your project type. Here are a few example steps toward LEED certification:

  • Water conservation through water collection systems, more efficient fixtures, and improved landscaping
  • Energy-efficient lighting systems or utilization of more sunlight with the installation of windows that allow more light into the building during the day
  • Implementation of cleaner energy sources, such as geothermal energy
  • Use of recycled materials in the construction of the new project
  • Integration of automatic control sensors to adjust air quality indoors and increase ventilation efficiency

LEED Buildings in the Erie Area:

  • Asbury Woods Nature Center
  • Erie Art Museum
  • Erie Insurance Training Center
  • Flagship City Apartments
  • James S. Wilson Middle School
  • Kohl's Department Store (Certified)
  • Metzgar Admissions & Alumni Center, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
  • PNC Bank, Erie Branch (Certified, Silver)
  • PNC Bank, Millcreek Branch (Certified, Silver)
  • Renaissance/Palace Centers
  • Residence Hall, Mercyhurst University
  • Student Housing, Mercyhurst University
  • St. Vincent Hospital Infill Building
  • Tom Ridge Environmental Center (Certified, Silver)

Logo used with permission.