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Green certification brings wellness beyond buildings

Written by: Oscar Vargas

What is ‘green,’ and how is it measured?

More than 160,000 projects have earned certifications for energy efficiency and environmental design. Those projects in 167 countries and territories achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.[1]

LEED is now the world’s most widely recognized green building rating system. Its metrics, developed 30 years ago by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), assess building design, construction, energy efficiency, water use efficiency, materials, and more. The assessments extend beyond buildings.

LEED for Neighborhood Development

The USGBC launched this rating system in 2009, offering certification based on a neighborhood’s location, innovation, and design. Credits toward certification are awarded in over 50 categories.

Several characteristics of a neighborhood’s location are rated. Among them:

  • Are housing and employment opportunities favorable in this area?
  • Is access to quality transit provided?
  • Are there improvements to encourage bicycle use?
  • Is it a conservation area for imperiled species or ecological communities?
  • Does the location help to avoid flooding?

Several ratings consider neighborhood design.

  • Are the streets walkable? Are they tree-lined and shaded?
  • Is development compact, not sprawling?
  • How well does the community connect to surrounding areas? Is it easily accessed?
  • What facilities have been provided for public transit?
  • Have schools and recreational facilities been included in the design?

These attributes of green infrastructure and buildings are rated:

  • Minimum building energy performance
  • Indoor water use reduction
  • Certified green buildings
  • Heat island reduction
  • Renewable energy production
  • Wastewater management
  • Solid waste management

LEED for Citites and Communities

This certification measures the quality-of-life factors of an entire city or in a defined area within a city:[3]

  • Energy used
  • CO2 equivalent Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions
  • The volume of water consumed
  • Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
    • Amount generated
    • Percentage of the total MSW diverted from landfills
  • Transportation
    Distance traveled per person, per day in individual vehicles
  • Education
    • Percentage of the population, age 25 or older that have graduated from high school
    • Percentage of the population, age 25 or older that have a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Equitability
    • Percentage of household income required for Median Gross Rent
    • Income/wealth inequality is represented as a number between zero and one. The number is an internationally recognized metric, the Gini coefficient.
  • Prosperity
    • Median annual household income
    • Percentage of the population, age 16 or older, that is unemployed
  • Health & Safety
    • Median Air Quality Index (AQI) – This is a number between zero and 500.
    • Number of days per year that are unhealthy for sensitive groups
    • Per capita annual violent crime incidents

LEED certification requires a minimum of 40 points. The minimum for the top award (LEED Platinum) requires double that number. LEED Gold is awarded for 60-79 points. These cities are among the communities that have achieved LEED Gold or Platinum[4]:

  • Platinum
    • Chicago, IL
    • Denver, CO
    • Lancaster, PA
    • Phoenix, AZ
    • San Jose, CA
    • Washington, DC
  • Gold
    • Cosa Mesa, CA
    • Hoboken, NJ
    • Houston, TX
    • Lancaster, PA
    • Las Vegas, NV
    • Orlando, FL
    • Rochester, MN
    • Santa Fe, NM
    • Tampa, FL


[3] – LEED for Cities and Communities