The LEED program is an initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council or USGBC. LEED stands for leadership in energy and environmental design, and focuses on encouraging a more sustainable approach to the way buildings are designed, constructed and operated. For new construction and major renovations, the LEED program has five main categories in which points toward certification can be earned. Each category also has required prerequisites worth no points. To attain LEED silver certification, a project must earn a total of 50 to 59 points.

Minimum Program Requirements

This section consists of the minimum requirements for a project to qualify for a LEED certification of any level. These are perfunctory qualifications; for instance, the building must have a floor area of at least 1,000 feet, exist as a permanent structure and comply with all applicable environmental laws.

Sustainable Sites – 26 Possible Points

The prerequisite for the Sustainable Sites category aims to curtail pollution and soil erosion that often result from construction. This category also offers points for strategies toward cultivating overall sustainability. For instance, a project wins points for choosing an urban or brownfield site rather than a previously undeveloped area. This category also pertains to the building’s direct environmental impact on the immediate area.

Water Efficiency – 10 Possible Points

The prerequisite here is for the building to use 20 percent less water than the USGBC baseline for buildings of similar size and occupation. A project garners further points for going substantially beyond this 20 percent reduction in water use, as well as implementing further water conservation measures that pertain to landscaping and wastewater technologies.

Energy and Atmosphere – 35 Possible Points

This category focuses mainly on building commissioning and the energy performance of main systems such as HVAC and Lighting. It entails three prerequisites: the building must be fundamentally commissioned (commissioning a building is the testing and balancing of the main systems to assure optimum performance), use at least 10 percent less energy than the USGBC baseline, and contain systems that do not use any chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) based refrigerants. Extra points go for progressing further than prerequisite dictates in these areas as well as for the use of renewable energy sources for building operation.

Materials and Resources – 14 Possible Points

This category deals with reuse and recycling of materials, both in the construction and the ongoing operation of the building.

Indoor Environmental Quality – 15 Possible Points

This category deals mainly with indoor air quality issues including ventilation, off-gassing of materials and thermal comfort. It also deals with the need for lighting systems to be energy efficient as well as adequate for all necessary tasks.

Extra Credit – 10 Possible Points

There are two categories with no prerequisites where you can garner extra-credit points: Innovation in Design and Regional Priority. Innovation in Design deals with successful and innovative solutions for environmental and sustainable concerns. Regional Priority focuses on the addressing of region-specific environmental issues.