New Focus: Understanding LEED® Version 3

Today, sustainability permeates every aspect of a company’s strategic business plan: social investments, manufacturing processes, real estate, materials, energy use, procurement, certifications and market claims.

Green Buildings in Context

Sustainability has become an increasing global force in business and its impact extends well beyond products and services. Today, sustainability permeates every aspect of a company’s strategic business plan: social investments, manufacturing processes, real estate, materials, energy use, procurement, certifications and market claims. The social, economic and environmental implications of business decisions, often described as the triple bottom line or more recently coined integrated bottom line, are becoming part of a more universal business framework.

At their core, triple and integrated bottom line thinking represents the transition from a solely profit-driven culture to one of balance and optimization. The relevant challenge for businesses today is to use available tools and resources to create solutions that optimize people, profit and planet value creation. An organization’s social and ecological performance, combined with economic factors like shareholder value and market position become the net measure of success.

Where do green buildings fit?

Just like products and services, companies see environmentally-responsible real estate and workplaces as an important part of a triple bottom line strategy.

Why are buildings crucial to sustainability:

There is a wide misconception that the benefits of green buildings begin and end with increasing a company’s operational savings and employee satisfaction and performance. Though it’s true that sustainable buildings directly impact these outcomes, the social implications of environmental issues caused by the construction and operation of buildings reach well beyond its occupants:

  • Buildings are the single largest consumer of energy produced by fossil fuel powerplants and therefore the biggest contributor to carbon emissions – beating out transportation and manufacturing.1
  • In the U.S., buildings account for 74% of electricity consumption, 39% of total energy use, 40% raw material use and 30% waste output.2
  • Inefficient buildings trigger variable operating expenses like spikes in energy use, maintenance issues and costs to change.3

Real estate development has a tremendous role in global climate change, material consumption and waste output. Therefore, it has a direct influence on environmental health, quality of life and the social fabric of communities.

In the end, it is not just about minimizing the eco-impact of buildings – it is about creating a better business climate, sustainable culture and social climate.

If every person on Earth consumed resources like the average American, we would need over 5 planets to support the population.

Environmental Standards and Certifications: A Roadmap for Corporate Change

The movement toward sustainable business operations is driving standards, legislation and certifications. There are now over 450 eco-labels globally.9 These voluntary and involuntary guidelines shape programs for materials chemistry, indoor air quality, lifecycle improvements, carbon taxation and chain of custody certification – just to name a few.

Buildings are no exception. There are more than a dozen well-known green building programs in use throughout the world. Please see the Addendum for a list of these programs.

The world’s first sustainable building certification program was launched in 1990 by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a UK government- funded research entity. The BRE Environmental Assessment Method, known as BREEAM, is a gauge for sustainable design and construction through environmental performance standards. According to its web site, BREEAM has certified over 110,000 buildings and has over 500,000 registered projects mainly in Europe and the Gulf regions.10

Today, the LEED®11 (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System is among the best known and most followed green building model in the United States and a number of countries around the world. Inspired by BREE- AM, LEED was launched in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the nation’s foremost coalition of leaders from every sector of the building industry. LEED is a measurement system for key areas of real estate performance including site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and sustainable innovation.

Over the past decade, the growing awareness of energy issues, environmental stewardship and sustainable incentive programs has resulted in record expansion for USGBC. They have experienced over 200% growth in their national membership, project registrations and certifications, and professional accreditation programs.

Programs like LEED and BREAAM have proven to be powerful market drivers for sustainability. They have put real estate center stage and provide facility targets for corporations and institutions. The myriad of sustainable resources and programs born from these building standards are providing organizations with packaged solutions to help meet sustainable operational goals.12

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There are currently 30,000+ LEED projects in 114 countries. USGBC reported in August 2009 that international LEED registered projects had risen from 8 in 2004 to 1,120 in 2009 – equating to 27 percent of the total square footage registered for LEED certification.13

In 2001, Steelcase was awarded the first LEED certification for a manufacturing facility – its Wood Plant in Michigan.

Changes to LEED V3

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) enhanced the LEED® Green Building Rating System in 2009 to include an expanded focus on reducing energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of native forests has significantly increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) trap solar heat in the atmosphere and consequently temperatures on earth are rising. This rise in temperature is not only threatening the very foundation of ecology, it has the potential to threaten social and economic foundations regionally and globally.

Since buildings directly account for 38% of CO2 emissions in the U.S.14, experts ranging from the United Nations to the World Health Organization agree sustainability strategies should focus on the two largest sectors impacting GHGs – the energy required to design, construct and operate buildings and the transportation to and from these buildings.

Bulding Huge Impact

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The production of power is the largest source of CO2 emissions. However, buildings in both the commercial and residential sector, account for the largest portion of GHGs that affect climate change.15

It is with this new evidence and urgency that USGBC launched LEED Version 3 (LEED V3) on April 27, 2009. All projects registered after June 27, 2009 are evaluated under this new version.

LEED V3 includes a:

  • Simplified rating system (referred to as LEED 2009)
  • Faster and more user-friendly project tracking system (LEED Online)
  • Quicker, better managed certification and accreditation process (Certification Model)
LEED 2009
Advancements to the Rating System
LEED Online
Faster, Smarter + A Better User Experience
+ Certification Model
GBCI + Certification Bodies

Source: U.S. Green Building Council

LEED 2009: Advancements to the Rating System

LEED® 2009 includes three major technical enhancements to the rating system:

  1. Prerequisite & Credit Alignment
  2. Credit Re-weighting
  3. Regional Priority Credits (RPCs)

Prerequisite + Credit Alignment

USGBC consolidated, aligned and updated all existing credits and prerequisites for consistency and clarity across all LEED rating systems. Previously, each individual rating system evolved independently. Additionally, credit interpretation rulings (formal guidance from USGBC on credits) were reviewed and any precedent-setting language was incorporated into the new prerequisites
and credits.

USGBC merged the previous rating systems into three main categories: Green Building Design & Construction (BD&C), Green Interior Design and Construction (ID&C), and Green Buildings Operations & Maintenance (O&M).

In addition to the three new rating categories, the other most visible change to LEED is the migration to a 100-point scale. Under the new system, all LEED rating categories will have a total of 100 possible points and a consistent set of points to qualify for certified, silver, gold and platinum ratings.

New LEED Version 3 Certification Levels

New LEED v3
Certified 40-49 points
Silver 50-59 points
Gold 60-79 points
Platinum 80 – 100 points + 10 “extra credit” points

Credit Re-weighting

The LEED credits were assessed and prioritized by their potential impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, LEED awards more points for credit strategies that result in greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon dioxide emissions – deemed as urgent priorities by USGBC. This credit re-weighting did not fundamentally change or eliminate any credits; it only changed the point spread.

The credit categories of Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency and Energy & Atmosphere were given significantly more importance (weightings) while Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality remained very similar. The extra credit opportunities were expanded including an additional point for Innovation in Design and the addition of Regional Priority credits. Below are examples of those changes. Please see the Addendum for detailed charts of changes to the LEED point structure.

Building Design & Construction Interior Design & Construction Building Operations & Maintenance
Category Change Change Change
Sustainable Sites +12 credits +14 credits +14 credits
Water Efficiency +1 prereq. +5 credits +1 prereq. +9 credits +4 credits
Energy + Atmosphere +18 credits +25 credits +5 credits
Materials + Resources +1 credit no change -4 credits
Indoor Environmental Quality no change no change -4 credits
Innovation in Design +1 extra credit +1 extra credit +1 extra credit
Regional Priority +4 extra credit +4 extra credit +4 extra credit

Changes to the Extra Credit System

USGBC has doubled the “extra credit” point opportunities in LEED V3. A total of ten points can be achieved through a combination of Innovation in Design points (6 points possible) and a new category, Regional Priority (4 points possible). As a result, 110 points are possible under the V3 rating system.

Innovation in Design

The Innovation in Design (ID) category motivates participants to exceed the standard requirements and pioneer green building strategies. There are a possible six ID points in LEED 2009, increased from five points in the previous version.

The ID extra credit points may be achieved through a combination of two strategies – Innovation and Exemplary Performance. The strategy for obtaining ID points is determined by project teams. ID points are unique to each project – meaning a point for a strategy on one project does not guarantee the same result for a separate project.

Innovation points (1 – 5 points possible)

A point is awarded for significant environmental performance using a strategy not addressed in the project’s registered rating system. Only one point can be awarded per innovation strategy.

  • ID Innovation Strategy – Example 1
    Use a credit from another rating system. If the project is registered under the BD&C rating system as a New Construction or Core and Shell project, submit for Low-Emitting Furniture (IEQc 4.5) specified in the ID&C rating system.
  • ID Innovation Strategy – Example 2
    The team could develop an innovative approach that is not in any reference guide, such as sustainable education about green buildings.
  • Innovation Point (ID Credit 2) – 1 point possible
    At least one principal participant of the project team is a LEED Accredited Professional.

Exemplary performance points (1 – 3 points possible)

One point may be earned by doubling the credit requirements. Within each reference guide there are specific details listing how a credit can achieve exemplary performance.

  • ID Exemplary Performance – Example 1
    20% recycled content is required to achieve the Recycled Content credit. However, an additional credit could be obtained if the total recycled content value is 30% or higher.

New in 2009 – Extra Credit: Regional Priority Credits (RPCs)

Regional Priority Credits are new to LEED 2009. They offer extra incentive for project teams to address environmental issues that are identified as local/regional priorities by USGBC’s regional councils, chapters and affiliates.

When a project is registered with LEED, it is automatically assigned extra credit opportunities based on the project zip code. If the project achieves the region-designated credit in the standard five main credit categories, it automatically receives an additional point for its regional priority. There are a total of four extra credit RPCs possible.

  • Regional Priority – Example
    In rural Michigan, a regional credit may be obtained through achieving the Sustainable Sites Credit 6.1 and 6.2 to minimize the amount and improve the quality of stormwater entering into the Great Lakes.

A state-by-state listing of credits sorted by zip code is available here.

Steelcase contributed to innovation points awarded to a Fortune 500 company’s LEED project. The project utilized Steelcase’s Cradle-to-Cradle products and a Steelcase-developed sustainable education program.

LEED Online: Faster, Smarter + Better User Experience

The second major change in LEED® V3 is the launch of a faster, more user-friendly LEED Online project web site. It is the tool that project teams use to manage the LEED certification process. With its improved design, the online system fosters better communication between project teams and certifying bodies. It also incorporates the changes in the LEED 2009 rating system.

Improvements include:

  • New functionality – tools to sort and group multiple projects, improved team member administration, visual process of status and timeline
  • Additional support for review and submittals – embedded support throughout the process, enhanced communication within the web site, automated project data entry and data checks to save time.

Learn about all the new features of LEED Online by viewing the online demo here.

Certification Model: GBCI + Certification Bodies

The final change to LEED® is the addition of an improved certification model. Prior to the release of LEED V3, the USGBC managed the entire LEED process from project registration and certification to professional accreditation. The USGBC appointed an independent, non-profit organization, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), to help improve capacity, speed and performance and to make the process more third party. Together with partnering certification bodies, the GBCI manages LEED certification and accreditation. USGBC’s role is now focused on providing support through education programs and resources for certification and accreditation.

The LEED Professional Accreditation system significantly changed under LEED V3. The GBCI has introduced a tiered credential system with more stringent requirements and a Credentialing Maintenance Program (CMP), which is designed to continue professional development to maintain and advance knowledge of sustainability. The new program has three distinct levels of excellence for a professional to pursue: LEED Green Associate, LEED AP and LEED Fellow.

LEED Green Associate

The LEED Green Associate is a designation for non- technical professionals who want to demonstrate a basic knowledge and skill in understanding and supporting green design, construction and operations. To be eligible for the LEED Green Associate exam, individuals must provide documentation of one of the following:

  • Previous involvement with a LEED Registered Project
  • Employment or previous employment in a sustainable field of work
  • Engaged in or completion of a green building education program LEED Green Associates must participate in the CMP earning 15 continuing education credits hours during a two-year period.

LEED Accredited Professional

The LEED Accredited Professional credential is a step beyond LEED Green Associate. It is for individuals who wish to signify an extraordinary depth of knowledge in a specialty area of green building practice. Unlike before, LEED APs will be required to specialize in Building Design & Construction, Interior Design and Construction, Operations and Maintenance, or Homes and Neighborhood Development. The LEED AP test includes the LEED Green Associate exam as well as a specialized exam in the area of practice.

To be eligible to take the LEED AP exam, individuals must provide documentation of professional experience on a LEED project within the last 3 years. It must be verified through LEED Online or employer attestation.

LEED APs must participate in the CMP earning 30 continuing education credits hours during a two-year period following the date of their awarded credential.

LEED Fellow

The GBCI is developing the LEED Fellow credential that is intended for an elite class of leading professionals who are distinguished by their years of experience and contributions to the green building field. The LEED Fellow program has not been released and is currently under development.

What happens to existing LEED AP designations? LEED APs accredited under previous systems are grandfathered in and can continue to bear this credential without the required CE hours. However, if a specialty designation is desired, a professional must go through the new credentialing system.

Steelcase Contributions to LEED

Impact of LEED V3 on Interior Furnishings

Furniture, like other green interior products such as flooring and millwork, contributes to credits for LEED® in the Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality categories. The point totals in these categories were not significantly changed.

Steelcase’s contributions to LEED have not been reduced in the LEED V3 rating system but the overall impact of interior furnishings has been reduced. The new 100+ point system expanded the number of points in the other categories including Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, and Energy & Atmosphere categories, plus the addition of the Regional Priority credits.

Steelcase products can impact and help achieve LEED certification in the categories of Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation in Design.

The charts on the following pages outline Steelcase’s direct and indirect contributions to a project’s pursuit of LEED Certification across the Building Design & Construction, Interior Design & Construction and Operations & Maintenance platforms.

Potential Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

The impacts of sustainable buildings are documented in reports by the U.S. General Services Administration4, World Business Council for Sustainable Development5 and the Environmental Protection Agency6 and more.7 Their findings show the direct benefits of buildings from a social and environmental perspective as well as business and profitability.

Society + Environment

  • Preserve natural resources
  • Protect ecosystems and environmental health
  • Improve human health
  • Reverse climate change
  • Minimize contributions to greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduce water consumption
  • Reduce waste output
  • Minimize strain on local infrastructure
  • Equitable distribution of world resources


  • Improve employee performance through satisfaction
  • Improve occupant health
  • Maximize asset value
  • Reduce energy use
  • Optimize lifecycle performance
  • Enhance indoor environmental quality
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Positive exposure for environmental actions

Major Point Changes

Sustainable Sites
USGBC is promoting new urbanism defined as “giving people many choices for living an urban lifestyle in sustainable, convenient and enjoyable places, while providing the solutions to peak oil, global warming, and climate change.”16 Summed up, it is the densification of neighborhoods to enable public transport and walkable amenities. The available points under Sustainable Sites increased to encourage more sustainable modes of transportation thus reducing energy consumption and vehicle emissions.

Water Efficiency
Americans use 408 billion gallons of water per day17 or 1,330 gallons per person which is straining the supply in some parts of the country. Beyond the direct consumption issues related to this volume of water, significant amounts of energy are required to withdraw, treat, convey, consume and dispose of this potable water.18 In recognition of this, the Water Efficiency credits incorporate a new prerequisite and significantly increase the potential points within this area of the rating systems.

Energy + Atmosphere
Energy is generated through the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas and coal, which release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The Energy & Atmosphere credit category more than doubled in weight for LEED-BD&C and tripled for LEED-ID&C. The focus on credit strategies that reduce energy consumption (and the resulting emissions) has increased the relative importance of this category.


Sustainable business practices have shifted from market differentiation to expectation as clients demand green products and services, and environmental legislation and regulations are implemented. It is this market shift combined with a substantiated connection between sustainability, profitability and long-term growth that is driving companies to evolve their business model to incorporate sustainable business strategies.

It is estimated that over 60% of companies expect that their customers will ask them to provide their carbon footprint by 2010.

They are looking beyond LEED – going outside the walls of their operations and buildings – demanding sustainable practices from partners and suppliers.

Here is a summary of research on sustainable business strategies19 to consider:

Create a sustainable action plan

  • Create a sustainability policy that will truly impact and influence upstream and downstream operations
  • Commit to a continual assessment of policies and practices to make the appropriate adjustments to your triple bottom line criteria
  • Create a decision framework that helps you to optimize economic, social and environmental factors
  • Use recognized sustainability certifications and eco- labels to guide preferred or mandatory purchasing criteria for products and services
  • Create a carbon footprint reduction goal and build an implementation and communication plan to help you achieve it; Tactics: (a) carbon offsetting- the purchase of credits to fund the production of clean energy such as wind farms to offset carbon footprint; (b) reduce energy use through efficient facilities, manufacturing processes and technologies; (c) invest in alternative energies

In 2006, Steelcase committed to reducing its overall environmental footprint by 25% by 2012, the company’s 100th anniversary.

Partner with sustainable suppliers

  • Create and practice a strategic sourcing program that not only informs buying decisions but signals corporate priorities in the marketplace
  • Ensure social and environmental criteria related to supplier attributes and operations are routinely included in the evaluation of supplier bids and proposals
  • Use suppliers that make a positive difference to society, including fair trade, co-operative, social enterprise and other social-purpose businesses
  • Encourage suppliers to manage their operations in ways that foster sustainability – help them wherever possible

Steelcase is a Corporate Champion in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Green Suppliers Network – helping many small and mid-sized manufacturers incorporate green processes into their operations.

Make your real estate efficient

  • Evaluate your real estate portfolio for opportunities to increase efficiencies both in space and system performance
  • Consider LEED or other green building standards when renovating or building new
  • Update inefficient buildings with energy efficient designs and systems
  • Build a space that supports human and environmental health and inspires your people

While these strategies are not intended to be comprehensive, they represent action steps organizations can take to incite long-term changes and achieve an integrated bottom line, sustainable business model.


  1. Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States,” US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2007.
  2. “Green Building Facts,” U.S. Green Building Council, accessed October 16, 2009:
  3. “Investment Returns from Responsible Property Investments,” Pivo and Fisher, Boston College, University of Arizona and Indiana University, 2009.
  4. “Assessing Green Building Performance: A Post Occupancy Evaluation of 12 GSA Buildings,” GSA Public Building Services, 2008.
  5. “Energy Efficiency in Buildings,” World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2008.
  6. “An Introduction to Air Quality,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2008.
  7. Ibid. 2.
  8. “The UK interdepedence Report,” New Economics Foundation, 2006.
  9. “Who’s deciding what’s green?” Big Room Inc., accessed November 16, 2009:
  10. “BREEAM Around the World,” BREEAM, accessed November 16, 2009:
  11. ‘LEED’ and related logo is a trademark owned by the U.S. Green Building Council and is used with permission.
  12. “LEED Projects Grow RapidlyOutside the U.S.,” U.S. Green Building Council, accessed October 16, 2009: USGBCInTheNews.aspx?ID=4169
  13. “LEED Projects Grow RapidlyOutside the U.S.,” U.S. Green Building Council, accessed October 16, 2009:
  14. “ Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook,” U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2008.
  15. “ Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2008,” U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2008.
  16. “New Urbanism,” LLC, accessed October 16, 2009:
  17. “ Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000,” U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 2000.
  18. “Energy Demands on Water Resources: Report to Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water,” U.S. Department of Energy, 2006.
  19. Multiple resources: (1) “The Lean and Green Supply Chain,” U.S. Department of Energy, 2000. (2) “Building Green from Principle to Practice, “ Natural Resource Defense Council, 2009. (3) “Acceleration of Eco-Operation: Achieving Success and Sustainability in the Supply Chain,” BPM Forum, 2009.

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