Sustainability is a favourite theme in the construction industry with architects wanting to create environment-friendly buildings, suppliers looking to demonstrate that their building materials are green, and owners and end users seeking facilities that are at the cutting edge of sustainable technology.

To establish the green credentials of their designs, products and buildings as well as support their sustainability claims, many will use LEED references. LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a rating system set up by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to assess the environmental credentials of a building, and validate sustainable building strategies and practices used in its design, construction and operation.

However, it is important to note that building systems and materials are not themselves LEED-certified; while the use of these materials can help building owners achieve LEED credits, which will then count toward LEED certification, this doesn’t make the materials ‘certified’.

Besides, getting a LEED certification is not as simple as getting enough credits to be certified. Before examining which credit strategies will earn points for a project that will then determine the building’s certification level, it must first meet all LEED prerequisites. While the credits that developers want to pursue are designed to be flexible and offer a number of options, the prerequisites are the bare minimum that buildings need to meet in order to be eligible for LEED certification.

Once the prerequisites have been met, developers can look at the credits the project can achieve. The different credit options are grouped into various categories, such as Location & Transportation, Material & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality.

Different project types will have different credit options available to them, but so long as the project fits within that LEED category, developers are free to pursue the credits they like. The credits have been devised in such a way that particular ones will pair well with other prerequisites or credit options to provide synergistic benefits.

The point scoring credits include one-pointers such as the ‘clean construction’ option, which requires the implementation of a plan to reduce particulate matter emissions from vehicles, equipment and power generation. In the middle of the spectrum are categories such as ‘innovation’, which can award five points if the project can prove ‘significant, measurable environmental performance using a strategy not addressed in the LEED green building rating system’. At the higher end of the scale are options such as ‘optimise energy performance’, which sits in the Energy & Atmosphere section of the LEED Scorecard. This credit intends to ‘increase levels of energy performance beyond the prerequisite standard to reduce environmental and economic harms associated with excessive energy use’.

LEED has a number of certification levels depending on how many points your credits have built up. The different levels are: Certified (40-49 points); Silver (50-59 points); Gold (60-79 points); and Platinum (80+ points).

Since it’s not about what the product is, but what outcome it will help to achieve, it is important to ask whether the project will earn LEED credits by choosing a particular building material and if it will fit in with the credits being targeted.

Remember, developers cannot assume that a product they’ve previously chosen will help to accrue the same amount of LEED credits. This is because LEED is not a static qualification, and in fact is currently on its fourth edition. The LEED v4 guidelines (effective October 31, 2016) include several significant changes to how some types of products are evaluated. This means that the rules governing any particular product may have changed since the last time it was used.

For example, LEED v4 has an increased focus on indoor environmental quality and the impact that several categories of materials, including flooring, have on it. This in turn affects the number of points that can be accrued via the specified floor, as systems that are detrimental to the building's interior and inhabitants will make it harder to achieve LEED certification.

It is important to thoroughly discuss with the product’s manufacturer how the properties of a specific building material will help or hinder the overall total of LEED credits. Especially as you may need to know specific information about the manufacturer’s operations, such as: How far has the product travelled? How is it formulated? How is it installed? And will it maintain its green properties for the long term?

If you are interested in finding out more about the LEED guidelines, head to the LEED section of the USGBC website. If you’d like to learn more about flooring solutions that will help to achieve LEED certification, talk to your local Flowcrete expert who will be able to advise you on systems that meet the functional, aesthetic, budgetary, and sustainability requirements of your development.