This week, 'Explainer' returns with a look at a term that often comes up here on UrbanToronto: LEED Certification. In evaluating new developments and retrofits of older buildings, energy efficiency and green standards are invariably important, and the LEED standards are frequently mentioned as a benchmark of environmentally friendly buildings. But what exactly is LEED Certification, and what's the methodology behind it?

Toronto's TD Centre was recently retrofitted to achieve LEED Platinum status, image by Marcus Mitanis

While high-density living helps curb urban sprawl, the activities associated with the construction of these buildings have serious impacts on the environment. According to the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), about 35% of all greenhouse gases are attributed to buildings. The waste generated from the construction and demolition of buildings comprises 35% of the waste in landfills, and 70% of municipal water is consumed inside and around buildings. With environmental protection and sustainability becoming a top political priority in many countries, developers are looking at ways to make their buildings more green.

Manitoba Hydro Place in Winnipeg, North America's most energy efficient building, image retrieved from Google Street View

We've often referred to LEED in our articles, an acronym standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED is an international rating system — initially developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1994 — which recognizes green building excellence. The points-based system can be applied to many construction types:

  • Building Design and Construction
  • Interior Design and Construction
  • Building Operations and Maintenance
  • Neighbourhood Development
  • Homes

Taipei 101 was built to LEED Platinum standards, image retrieved from Google Street View

There are four levels of certification; the more points, the higher the level attained. Points can be awarded for construction practices like diverting waste from landfills, choosing water- and energy-efficient features, and for including amenities like bike parking that encourage sustainable behaviour in building occupants. Projects that achieve a LEED Platinum standard, the highest level of certification, most often produce significant water and energy savings, excellent indoor air quality, and utilize environmentally-friendly materials throughout the construction process. Building to LEED standards is generally a more expensive endeavour, though most upfront costs are recouped in the future through utility bill savings. 

Typical LEED certification thresholds, image via the Canada Green Building Council

Have any other construction and development related terms that you would like to see featured on Explainer? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!

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From 2015 to 2017, UrbanToronto and its sister publication, SkyriseCities, ran an occasional series of articles under the heading Explainer. Each one took a concept from Urban Planning, Architecture, Construction, or other topics that often wind up in our publications, and presented an in depth look at it. It's time to revisit (and update where necessary) those articles for readers who are unfamiliar with them. While you may already know what some of these terms mean, others may be new to you. We are publishing or updating and republishing Explainer on a weekly basis. This article is an update of one that was originally published in 2016.

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Do you have other planning terms that you would like to see featured on Explainer? Share your comments and questions in the comments section below!

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Want to read other Explainers? Click on the magenta Explainer box at the top of the page.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.