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The LEED Program

Much of the effort toward more environmentally superior buildings is structured around the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program now run by a nonprofit organization, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), headquartered in Washington, DC.

The USGBC has established a set of LEED standards for green building under which points are awarded for various green features in six major categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. For example, in the sustainable sites category, points are given for density of development and what the USGBC terms "community connectivity," meaning ease of access to other parts of the community. Points are also given for redevelopment in a brownfield, for access to public transportation, provision for use by bicyclists, open-space restoration, storm-water management, and a variety of other items. The water efficiency category essentially pertains to water quality and water conservation issues. The energy category pertains to energy-efficient construction and renewable energy systems, and so on.

The USGBC certifies buildings in three categories, platinum, gold, and silver, depending on how many points they achieve under the LEED rating system. Building to LEED standards is more expensive than ordinary construction, but there are paybacks. For one thing, certification is appealing to the organization or individual who is environmentally conscious and wants to achieve a minimal environmental footprint.

A LEED platinum rating is something that a residential developer can use as a selling point to environmentally conscious buyers and that a corporate advertising department might relish for corporate image purposes.

Then, too, there is a long-run cost issue, since a LEED-certified building will be less expensive to operate over the years and thus recover some, all, or more than all of the initial cost difference.

LEED certification may be required by a municipality for tax breaks, density bonuses, or other financial incentives. Where a municipality is purchasing a building, it could make LEED certification a contractual requirement.

The USGBC runs training programs to certify a variety of professionals in LEED standards and technology and, as of 2007, had certified about 54,000 people in this way. There are now LEED standards for a variety of building types, and the standards evolve as building and energy conservation technology evolves. The USGBC has links to numerous organizations outside the United States, including the World Green Building Council, Canada Green Building Council, and a number of others.

At the national level, the move to green buildings has been assisted by a variety of tax incentives. These include tax credits for home insulation and for renewable energy-generating devices.

The green building movement in the United States received a powerful push from the Obama administration and the passage of the economic stimulus package, noted earlier in this chapter. The bill includes funding for green building construction and retrofitting for public schools, public and publicly assisted housing, and a variety of other building types. It also provides substantial funds for training to prepare workers for green building jobs.

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