Understanding the LEED Certification Process

The LEED certification process is a rigorous, multi-step procedure designed to validate the sustainability and environmental performance of a building project. The steps can be summarized as follows:

Step 1: Choose the Appropriate Rating System

LEED has different rating systems to cater to the diverse nature of projects, including Building Design and Construction, Interior Design and Construction, and more. Choosing the appropriate LEED rating system depends on the project’s type, location, and specific characteristics. Here’s an overview of the different LEED rating systems and the types of projects for which they’re typically used:

  • Building Design and Construction (BD+C): This rating system is used for new buildings and major renovations. It has several subcategories for different types of buildings, including New Construction, Core & Shell, Schools, Retail, Healthcare, and others.
  • Interior Design and Construction (ID+C): This is used for projects that are interior fit-outs only, where the base building is not being significantly renovated. It also includes subcategories for different types of interior spaces, such as Commercial Interiors, Retail, and Hospitality.
  • Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M): This system is for existing buildings that are undergoing improvement work or little to no construction. It can be used to demonstrate that the ongoing operations and maintenance of a building meet LEED standards for sustainability.
  • Neighborhood Development (ND): ND is used for new land development projects or redevelopment projects containing residential uses, non-residential uses, or a mix. Projects can be at any stage of the development process, from conceptual planning to construction.
  • Homes and Multifamily Low-rise: This rating system is designed for single-family homes or low-rise multi-family (one to three stories)
  • Multifamily Mid-rise: This system is used for mid-rise multi-family residential buildings of between four and six stories.

To select the appropriate rating system, you’ll need to determine which category your project fits into. If your project could fit into multiple categories, you’ll need to consider which system aligns best with your project’s sustainability goals and is most practical to pursue.

Sometimes, your location can also influence which rating system is most appropriate. For example, if you’re in a region where water scarcity is a major issue, you might choose a rating system that emphasizes water efficiency.

Working with a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) can help you navigate this selection process. They have the training and expertise to provide guidance on which rating system is the best fit for your project and how to maximize your project’s sustainability and efficiency according to criteria.

Step 2: Prepare and Submit Documentation

This stage involves gathering and submitting necessary information to demonstrate your project’s compliance with the selected credits.

Submitting documentation for LEED certification is a key part of the certification process and is generally done through the  . Here are the general steps:

  • Register Your Project: This first step is done through the LEED online portal (LEED Online) managed by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). When you register, you will select the appropriate LEED After consulting with a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) if you realized you would like to change your rating you can discuss the proper rating with them further.
  • Compile Documentation: Once your project is registered, you’ll need to gather documentation that demonstrates your project’s compliance with the various LEED credits you are pursuing. This might include architectural plans, specifications, contracts, invoices, commissioning reports, photographs, calculations, and other types of documentation. The specific requirements vary depending on the credit. provides detailed forms and templates for each credit to guide you in compiling the necessary documentation.
  • Submit Documentation: You’ll submit your documentation through LEED Online. Each credit requires a separate submission. You have the option to submit all credits at once, or you can submit them in phases (split review) as they are completed. The choice depends on the project’s schedule and the team’s preference.

Step 3: Undergo a Certification Review

Undergoing a LEED certification review can be a meticulous process, but with proper preparation and organization, it can go smoothly. The GBCI performs the LEED certification review, which involves a detailed assessment of all the documentation you’ve submitted to verify your project’s compliance with the LEED rating system requirements.

Here’s what you can generally expect:

  • Preliminary Review: After you submit your documentation via LEED Online, the GBCI will conduct a preliminary review. During this phase, the LEED Review Team examines all the materials you’ve provided for each credit and ranking you are attempting to achieve. They may accept the documentation, or they may ask for additional information or clarification.
  • Review Comments: After the preliminary review, you will receive feedback on your submission. The review team will identify any credits that are marked as “anticipated” (where it appears you’ve met the requirements), “pending” (where additional information is required to make a determination), or “denied” (where it appears you haven’t met the requirements). Each comment will contain an explanation about what’s needed for clarity or why a credit was denied.
  • Revise and Respond: You will have a chance to revise and respond to the review team’s comments during the clarification phase. This typically involves providing additional information, clarification, or revisions based on the feedback received. For credits that were denied, you may either provide additional evidence to support compliance or decide not to pursue that credit.
  • Final Review and Certification: Once all the review comments have been addressed and the reviewer has accepted your documentation, your project will be awarded a certification level based on the number of credits it has achieved: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.
  • Certification Decision: After the final review, the GBCI makes a certification decision based on the number of credits you’ve successfully achieved. You will be notified of your project’s official LEED rating (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) and provided with a final review report and certificate.

The review process can take several weeks to months, depending on the complexity of the project and the number of review phases. It’s important to respond promptly to any requests for additional information and to thoroughly check your documentation before submitting it to avoid delays.

Working with a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) can be very helpful during this process. They are experienced in LEED requirements and documentation and can help ensure that your submission accurately represents your project’s sustainability features. They can also help interpret review comments and guide your responses.

Remember, this is a general overview, and the process can be more complex depending on the project. Also, keep in mind that the entire process can take several months, and you’ll need to budget for certification fees based on the size and type of your project.

Below are some additional resources for further reading and exploration:

Debunking Fears and Doubts: The Importance and Benefits of LEED Certification: Part one of this series, this blog explains common hesitations around becoming LEED Certified as well as what the benefits are and why it could be important for your business.

Three Routes to LEED Certification: There are essentially three ways you can become LEED certified. Read our blog for more information.

Navigating the Different Levels of LEED Certification: LEED certification is based on a points system, where a project earns points for meeting specific green building criteria. The number of points the project earns determines its level of LEED certification.

Is LEED Certification Worth It?: As architects and commercial designers, your work has the potential to influence the built environment significantly. Incorporating sustainable practices through LEED certification makes a powerful statement about your dedication to environmental stewardship and sustainability.

5 Sustainability Practices to Include in Your Next Commercial Construction Project: This article explores five key points to consider when it comes to sustainable design and how a Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) Engineering Designer can support your sustainable construction goals.

LEED Online: Official portal where you can register and manage your LEED projects.

LEED Credit Library: A complete list of all the credits that can be earned in various rating systems.

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC): USGBC is the organization that developed the LEED rating system. The website provides comprehensive details about the LEED certification process, rating systems, benefits of LEED certification, and more.

Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI): GBCI is the organization responsible for independently recognizing excellence in green business industry performance and practice globally, which includes administering the LEED certification process.

Taking the first step towards LEED certification might seem daunting, but armed with the right resources and support, it becomes an achievable and rewarding process. Your dedication to sustainability reflects your commitment to a greener, more sustainable future—a goal we share at Pro Engineering. If you’re still on the fence about whether LEED certification is right for your next project, we are just a phone call away.

About Pro Engineering

Pro Engineering has provided mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering design services since 1995. Our MEP engineering design team can help you prepare the required construction documents for city or state permitting. Even after plans are finalized, we continue to make adjustments and revisions per owner request, city plan check requirements, or to meet engineering goals. We have worked on many clients’ LEED projects, designing to LEED standards. We design to energy code requirements and provide the most efficient systems in all of our designs. Projects can move fast, and so can we.

For more information on how we can assist you with your next commercial construction project, contact us today.

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