Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification of Green Buildings
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2009
Holly Reed1, DVM; Karen Davis Smith2, LEED AP
1Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Tacoma, WA, USA; 2Jones and Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, Seattle, WA, USA


The idea of certifying a “green” building under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system is becoming a more common consideration for new building projects. The point of LEED certification is to address all aspects of building a new facility from design considerations; site prep; use of recycled materials; creating a healthier working environment for the staff; and, in the case of zoos and aquaria, living situations for the animals. LEED certification communicates to the public that your building addresses functional elements in the areas of energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources along with sensitivity to their impacts. In order to meet the requirements for this certification, detailed documentation must be initiated early in the design process. There are several resources available on-line to aid in defining LEED certification, determining eligibility, and initiating the process. This presentation will explore considerations involved, summarize the process, and identify helpful resources and alternatives.


Since its inception in 1998, the LEED green building rating system (developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders) was designed to promote design and construction practices that increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improve occupant health and well-being.1 This rating system has promoted a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. As zoos and aquaria continue to seek ways to actively live their mission as conservation organizations, LEED certification of new building projects is a concrete and public way to accomplish this and educate the community at the same time. The certification process is tedious, requires extensive documentation, must be initiated early in the design phase, may extend building deadlines, and will be an added expense. Increased construction costs due to the incorporation of green features can be mitigated somewhat by seeking donation of materials or taking advantage of incentive programs, property tax exemptions, and zoning allowances designated for buildings that qualify for LEED certification. In the long run, organizations building LEED certified facilities are seeing decreases in overall operational costs and creating healthier environments for building occupants, whether human or animal, as well as demonstrating leadership, innovation, and environmental stewardship.

Why Build Green?

Buildings can have a significant impact on the environment of the planet. In the U.S., buildings account for 65.2% of total electricity consumption, 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste, 12% of potable water, and 40% of raw materials used globally. Five billion gallons of potable water are used solely to flush toilets, and a typical North American commercial construction project generates up to 2.5 pounds of solid waste per square foot of completed floor space.2

Green buildings can considerably reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts. They can increase worker productivity, reduce operating costs, and add to marketability.3 A sustainably designed building, habitat, or campus can celebrate and communicate the unique features of a zoo by emphasizing environmental responsibility. Other benefits of sustainable design include reducing natural resource consumption, improving the bottom line, enhancing occupant comfort and health, and minimizing strain on local infrastructures. Green design fosters environmental, economic, and social benefits for both building stakeholders and the public at large.

What is LEED Certification?

LEED certification is a voluntary, third-party-verified rating system designed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. The standards established for LEED certification rating systems are developed through an open, consensus-based process led by LEED committees. Each volunteer committee is composed of a diverse group of practitioners and experts representing a cross-section of the building and construction industry. The key elements of USGBC’s consensus process include a balanced and transparent committee structure, technical advisory groups that ensure scientific consistency and rigor, opportunities for stakeholder comment and review, member ballot of new rating systems, and a fair and open appeals process.4

Certification can be sought for the following project types: new commercial construction and major renovation projects (LEED-NC), existing building operations (LEED-EB), commercial interior projects (LEED-CI), core and shell projects (LEED-CS), homes (LEED-H), and LEED for schools. Pilot programs include LEED for retail, neighborhood development (LEED-ND), and LEED for health care. Projects may be eligible for certification under more than one rating system. Different versions of the rating system are available for specific project types. Of specific interest is the Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC), which is published jointly by USGBC and GGHC. It is a toolkit for health care institutions to guide them in the sustainable planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance of their facilities.5

Within the LEED-NC rating system, a multiple building or campus approach can be taken. This allows for several options including certifying an entire campus of new buildings with one certification achieved as if they were equivalent of one building, certifying a new building within a setting of existing buildings that are considered a campus, and certifying new buildings within a campus setting with individual ratings.6 These approaches can result in increased economy through shared credits that can reduce documentation efforts, especially for site and infrastructure, energy, and water credits.

The rating system levels for commercial construction are Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These correspond to the number of credits accrued in five green design categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality, and one additional innovation in design category that allows for new ideas. To earn LEED certification, a project must satisfy all prerequisites and earn a minimum number of points outlined in the LEED Rating System under which it is registered.

Regional prioritization by zip code has been incorporated into the rating system. Some credits are given more points for some areas of the country. Largely, this is split by rural versus urban, but there are more specific differences by locale.7 So far, projects outside the United States are not weighted differently, but in 2003, the Canada Green Building Council received permission to create its own version of LEED based upon LEED-NC 2.0, now called LEED Canada-NC v1.0.

What is the LEED Certification Process?

To gain a more in-depth understanding about LEED, visit the U.S. Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org), Green Building Certification Institute (www.gbci.org), or Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org) websites or consult a LEED accredited professional (LEED AP). Simply put, the process involves:

1.  Determining eligibility. If you are unsure whether your building project is a candidate for LEED certification, review the LEED Rating System Checklist that applies to your project and tally a potential point total. Your project is a viable candidate for certification if it meets all prerequisites and can achieve the minimum number of points necessary to earn at least Certified level. An integrated project team should be established including major stakeholders of the project, such as the developer/owner, LEED AP, architect, engineer, landscape architect, contractor, and asset and property management staff.

2.  Registration. Go to www.leedonline.com to register your project on-line once the rating system has been determined and the registration fee has been paid. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) administers this process. Registration and Certification fees will vary depending on USGBC membership status. Certification fees are based on the rating system under which the project is certifying and the size of the project. This fee is paid when the project team submits documentation for review via LEED-Online. Certification fees are refunded if project achieves Platinum rating for NC, EB, CI, CS, and schools. A reasonable number of Credit Interpretation Rulings (CIRs) should be estimated, and fees apply per CIR. From here, the project team is assembled to begin the documentation process.

3.  Application preparation. Throughout the design and building phase each LEED credit and prerequisite requirement must be completed and documented as a part of the application process. While preparing the application the project team selects the credits it has chosen to pursue and assigns the credits to the responsible team members. When the necessary documentation has been assembled the project team will upload the materials to LEED Online and start the application review process.

4.  Application submission. To initiate the review process, a complete application must be submitted via LEED-Online by the project administrator. Requirements for a complete application vary according to the review path but will always include payment of the appropriate certification review fee. For design and construction rating systems (all rating systems except EB), the project team administrator has two options for submission: combined design and construction review, or split design and construction review. The combined review is available only to projects that have reached substantial completion. The split review is available to projects that are ready to submit “design” credits for review prior to substantial completion of the project.

5.  Application review and certification. Upon receipt of a complete submission, a formal review will be initiated. All documentation is reviewed for completeness and compliance, each prerequisite and credit will be designated as ‘anticipated,’ ‘pending,’ or ‘denied,’ and all project information forms are designated as ‘approved’ or ‘not approved’ with technical advice supplied. There is an optional final review in which credits will be ‘awarded’ or ‘denied’. An appeal process is available. Certified projects receive a formal certificate of recognition; information on how to order plaques, certificates, photo submissions, and marketing; and may be included in the online directory and the U.S. Department of Energy High Performance Buildings database.8

Tips for Success

Tips for getting LEED certified as recommended by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) include setting clear environmental targets (i.e., LEED certification level), establishing a clear and adequate budget, and maintaining the environmental and economic integrity of your project. Planning for more points than needed for your intended target certification level is beneficial. Additionally, as your project is value-engineered, be sure to examine green investments in terms of how they will affect expenses over the entire life of the building. Before you decide to cut a line item, look first at its relationship to other features to see if keeping it will help you achieve money-saving synergies, as well as LEED credits. Many energy-saving features allow for the resizing or elimination of other equipment or reduce total capital costs by paying for themselves immediately or within a few months of operation. Some points have critical relationships with other points, so removing one could eliminate others. Prior to beginning, set your goals for “life-cycle” value-engineering rather than “first cost” value-engineering.9 Hiring LEED-accredited professionals can streamline your process. They can also suggest ways to earn LEED credits without extra cost and identify means of offsetting certain expenses with savings in other areas. The project should be reviewed prior to starting construction using the LEED design submittal. Following these tips should help lead to a successful LEED Certification.

Is LEED Certification the Direction to Take for Your Building Project?

Consistent with the mission of conservation at the core of all AZA accredited institutions, acquiring LEED certification for all building projects would be ideal. Many real-life issues, including project budgets and the economy, make that a challenging goal. LEED Certification and Silver ratings are generally achievable without additional construction costs but with simply good design and attention to the goal. LEED Gold and Platinum can add to construction costs depending on the size and complexity of the project and the technologies implemented. Additional costs are incurred for LEED documentation in all cases to varying degrees, but these can be offset by savings gained by lower operating and maintenance costs, lower energy and water usage, synergies between design disciplines and technologies, increased project value, and natural resource benefits. Additional oversight and management required for the project is another disadvantage, but good planning and early team integration can minimize this issue.

LEED Certification offers many advantages including that plaques can be made visible to zoo or other patrons as a tangible benchmark of sustainability that is recognized and valued by an international public, certifications achieved can be used in marketing strategies to increase visitor attendance, third party validation of achievement, use as a communications tool to help tell the story of conservation and sustainable efforts, illustrate to the community the high level of consideration for animal and employee well-being, and reinforce the importance of environmental responsibility while providing a tangible platform for learning.

There is great long-term value in LEED certification contributing to the quality of life and good stewardship of our planet, but if actual certification doesn’t work out for a building project there are still sustainable alternatives. There is still the ability to incorporate green features and prepare the site and building for future green additions. The organizations referenced in this paper and LEED-certified professionals are valuable resources for determining which green features are the most beneficial for your building. LEED requirements can be utilized as guidelines for the design of the project even if formal submittal is not undertaken, and there are other green building standards and ratings that are useful as well. These include the Green Guide for Health Care, Green Globes, BREEAM, Energy Star, Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge, and World Wildlife Fund’s One Planet Living. Simply hiring a knowledgeable design team will go a long way towards accomplishing a sustainable project. Every step taken in a building project toward incorporating sustainability, reducing carbon footprint, and improving environmental quality is a step in the right direction.


American Zoo and Aquarium Association, http://www.aza.org/RC/RC_Green/index.html BRE (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/7/2021.)

Environmental Assessment Method, www.breeam.org.

Cascadia Region Green Building Council, www.cascadiagbc.org/lbc.

Energy Star, www.energystar.gov.

Green Building Certification Institute, www.gbci.org.

Green Globes, www.greenglobes.com.

National Resources Defense Council, www.nrdc.org.

One Planet Living, www.oneplanetliving.org. (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/7/2021.)

US Green Building Council, www.usgbc.org.

Literature Cited

1.  LEED certification information: what is LEED certification? http://www.nrdc.org/buildinggreen/leed.asp. (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/7/2021.) Accessed April 14, 2009.

2.  LEED Reference Guides by USGBC.

3.  LEED Reference Guides by USGBC.

4.  LEED rating systems: how is LEED developed? http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=222. (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/7/2021.) Accessed April 14, 2009.

5.  http://www.gghc.org.

6.  LEED-NC application guide, multiple buildings and on-campus building projects by USGBC.

7.  http://www.reallifeleed.com.

8.  Process overview. https://www.gbci.org/ProjectNav.aspx?PageID=131&CMSPageID=117. Accessed April 26, 2009. (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 1/7/2021.)

9.  LEED certification information: tips for getting LEED certified. www.nrdc.org/buildinggreen/leed.asp. Accessed April 14, 2009.


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Holly Reed, DVM
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Tacoma, WA, USA

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