Sustainability & LEED

Share Now

This articles is about sustainability and green buildings and LEED, which is a rating system used to rate green buildings.


Russell gives an overview of sustainability and LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) rating system including:
1. What is sustainability?

2. Why get a building sustainability rated or certified?

3. What is LEED and why it is used?

4. What is a LEED Green Associate and LEED AP?

5. What are the LEED rating certifications

6. The LEED rating types.

7. Overview of the 8 LEED point system categories:

Listen to the podcast episode here

What is sustainability?

There are four parts to sustainability. And don’t forget, buildings account to nearly 40% of all greenhouse gases. So that is a big thing. So 40% of all the damage in the planet is caused by buildings. So that’s why this thing is such a big deal and the government are pushing in all these standards.

So sustainability has 4 aspects:

  1. Water efficiency. A lot of people don’t think that you should save water, something not many people think about. But that’s really important when you design a building to save water.
  2. Energy efficiency, to save energy in the building or make energy, like solar panels and stuff.
  3. Health and well-being for humans. It’s not just saving energy and water. It’s it’s becoming is making the building more healthy. Designing it so the as clean and healthy when you construct it. And it’s not damaging the environment, not just damaging environment, but not damaging humans as well.
  4. Efficiency  (money). If something’s more expensive to build or construct, then usually it’s bad for the environment because you’re using things that damage the environment, transport, and you’re getting it from somewhere or making it bad that that’s usually money, not all the time, but most of the time. So that comes down to efficiency as well. Efficiency is saving money is why you want to design something not really expensive because that’s usually not. If you are going to design a building that costs a lot of money if it’s expensive most of the time.


Why get a building sustainability rated or certified?


When you have a green building, some people say,

“I’m not interested in ready to build and that just costs money. I’m just interested in making it sustainable and green.”

You could have the most sustainable building in the world, but where’s your proof that the building is sustainable and a green building? There is no proof.  If you don’t get it rated, there is proof. It’s like when you’re an architect, if you have got no proof that you’re registered architect, you are not an architect. Simple as that.


@architectrussell Anlot of benefits getting a project rated to show hiw sustianable the building is. #HPRadicalReuse ♬ Sunrise – Official Sound Studio

If you got no proof, that person has certificates, taken degrees and everything, then they have not got the qualifications. It’s the same with a green buildings if you do not get the building rated as a green building by a reputable rating system. Then as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a green building really, is it? So you need some proof.

“A rating system proves and verifies that a building or project’s architect, contractor,  consultants or whatever, fulfilled their promises that the building was designed and operated sustainably.”


Sometimes it’s not, but it’s been designed sustainably and it can be operated sustainably as well. That is why you should get a green building rated.


Rating Systems & LEED

There are many green building rating systems. The most famous two are this BREEAM, (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) which is the British one. That was the original one, which was founded in the UK in 1990 by the Building Research Establishment.  And then there’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and there a lot more nowadays from different countries. There’s one in Singapore called Green Mark and now there’s one in South Africa, there’s one in Australia called  Green Star. So all these countries are getting different rating systems because it might vary from country to country.

LEED is the most widely used rating system in the world. There’s more rated LEED buildings than any other rating system in the world. That’s why I chose to use LEED. You can use whatever rating system you like, as long as it’s a good one that has a well respected reputation. They are pretty much similar. But some of them are easier than others to get rated.


LEED Accreditation (Educational Qualifications)

Don’t get LEED Certification confused with the qualifications to be LEED knowledgeable. There’s two qualifications to be LEED knowledgeable also known as LEED Accreditations.

  1. LEED Green Associate. You take an exam.
  2. LEED AP, which is Accredited Professional which you have to take a slightly harder exam.


LEED Green Associate

LEED Green Associate

LEED Accredited Professinal

LEED Accredited Professinal

LEED Green Associate, proves that you got  knowledge and understanding of green buildings principles and the LEED rating system.

The LEED AP on the other hand recognizes you have more advanced knowledge of green buildings and you’re capable of actually submitting all the paperwork to get it rated with the USGBC.  Although anyone can submit a buildings to be rated. So that’s kind of a specialist. I don’t think architects really need to be an AP because that means you’ve proven that you can do all the paperwork and submit all the criteria for the building, which I’ll go into in a later blog. You don’t want to be do that when you’re an architect unless you want to specialize in it. I would not want to get roped into specialist submitting all the paperwork to the US Green Building Council. However it is worth doing if you can ot validate your sustainability knowledge.


LEED Building Certification Levels

US Green Building Council are the people who run LEED, it’s a non-profit organization, so they’re not making money out of it. If you go to the US Green Building Council website , you get the LEED information, all that stuff. There’s a list on the website of all the certified building. When you get a building rated, there’s different rating systems:


There area four rating certification levels, depending on the points you get when you design the building and constructed.


  • LEED Certified – 40 to 49 points to get it.
  • LEED  Silver, which is between 50 and 59 points.
  • LEED gold – 60 to 79 points, g, which is one I’ve got a couple of times and then the
  • LEED Platinum, highest one is 80+  points, which is the highest LEED rating certification for a building.

I remember BREEAM had  ‘good’ or ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’

LEED Platinum - the highest rating

LEED Platinum – the highest rating

The 8 Categories of LEED

If you follow the below principles below you will be on the the right track to get a green building.  I kind of use them like building regulations now and I tick off all these things as I go.

Below is a brief summery of each one. I will go through each one in more detail in a later blog post.

1. Location & Transportation.

So you probably think the building design is the most important, but it’s not always. The location of the building is also important. You get points for the site being next to a train station or next to local transport or next to other  facilities like, laundries or churches or shopping malls. If the site is in a good location, then you get LEED points for that. So you can get LEED points even before you start to design the building.

Bycycle Storage

Bycycle Storage

So because the site location is near transportation, then you are obviously not using and polluting the environment by using cars to go to the site. More sustainable methos like public transport and electrical vehicles and so on are in this category as well.

2. Sustainable Sites

The second one is sustainable sites, which is reducing pollution. When you construct a building, you should plan controlling soil erosion, waterways, sedimentation, dust and all these things.  You need to do something called called the Sedimentation Control Plan, which makes sure things like the vehicles coming to site do not create a mess and dust- things like that.  It’s basically protecting the site environment and making sure people are not damaging nature and wildlife when you mobilise on site as well- things like that.



3. Water Efficiency

This is all about saving as much water as you can in the building and collecting rainwater. Also, Using efficient water fixtures to stop the water coming out of the tap too fast, saving potable water as much as you can, those kind of things, or saving water in the garden. So that’s water efficiency.


@architectrussell Save water, buy the correct sanitary fitting #savewatersavelife #sanitarytoilet #toilet #showers #tap #leed #environment #green #architect #savewater ♬ original sound – Architect Russell

4. Energy and Atmosphere.

This is one of the most important sections. Energy and Atmosphere is making sure the building reduces the environmental and economic harms of excessive energy by using minimum level of energy efficiency for the building and the systems it uses as well. You need to get an energy model, and get someone to assess the energy, so the buildings uses minimal electricity or air conditioning or heating. The energy used is compared that with a standard building, an average building. The process is comparing and you get more points compared to that of an average building of that size and nature. Compare the design to a typical building, and how much more you save energy compared to a typical building.

You can get an external consultant to do an energy modelling.

5. Materials & Resources

Now this is to reduce waste that is generated by the building occupants and stop landfills happening, recycling garbage during construction and when the building is  in use and then selecting materials as well, that have a certificate proving that they’re sustainable. I found that very difficult in Tanzania, in Africa. It is challenging  getting building products that have a certificate, saying that they’re sustainable, they come from a sustainable source and all this stuff.

If the materials come from using a lot transport, then it’s not good. So local materials and sustainable, recyclable materials are better.

6. Indoor Environmental Quality.

So this is a lot of things like VOCs (Volatile, Organic Compounds), things like paints and adhesives. They have this chemical and when it’s released, it can damage humans health when people breathe it in. So you’ve got to make sure you select products that don’t have these. You can get special paints that use them and like furniture can release this VOCs as well, which is kind of weird.

@architectrussell Check VOC levels #voc #humanhealth #interiors #sealants #paints #coatings #chemicals ♬ Hardcore Rap Beat Instrumental – Aesuno

And then there’s other things like filters on the air conditioning and a lot of requirements to do with air and dust for the building occupants.

That’s what I said at the beginning. Sustainability is to do with health and well-being. So that’s where indoor environmental quality comes into this a lot. Indoor environmental quality also includes things like views as well and sunlight etc.

7. Innovation

You get a few points if you do something a bit innovative on the project, if you do something thats not done before using new technology to make it more sustainable. You get points for that as well.

8. Regional Priority

They have something on the US Green Building Council website that tells you basically if the region you’re building in is in a priority.  If  the location is in the priority area, then you get extra points.


Types of LEED Rating Systems


There are different types of buildings you can get rated. It depends what kind of building you’re going to get rated. If you  have a school, you’re going to choose LEED BD+C: Schools. Some of these sections will be more important than others. It’s just a basic overview. Yes, all of them.

LEED for Building Design and Construction (BD+C)

  • LEED BD+C: New Construction and Major Renovation.
  • LEED BD+C: Core and Shell Development.
  • LEED BD+C: Schools.
  • LEED BD+C: Retail.
  • LEED BD+C: Data Centers.
  • LEED BD+C: Warehouses and Distribution Centers.
  • LEED BD+C: Hospitality. 
  • LEED BD+C: Healthcare.


LEED for Building Design and Construction (BD+C)  is the common one, which is above.

It doesn’t really matter. To be honest, I’ve done Core and Shaell a few times, which can be used for an office building, and because you have tenants move in, you just get the core and shell rated. You don’t really worry about what the tenants are going to like when they move in and do the interiors, so you don’t get that rated.  It probably would be easier to do shell and core as well, because if you did it under schools, you would have all these specific requirements. However, you are supposed to use the 60%-40% rule, where depending if the building is 60% school you should use that rating type (ie Schools). But if you want to do that, that’s fine. New Construction and Core and Shell are probably popular ones, there’s even ones for hospitality and stuff like.

So I hope you learn from this one a little bit and I’ll see you in the next one.


📐Russell M. Henderson is a practicing RIBA Chartered Architect based in Tanzania, East Africa.

🎥Russell (Architect Russell) also makes videos on YouTube , TikTok  Instagram & Skillshare  sharing thoughtful, honest and pragmatic knowledge while working and living abroad.

Architect Russell Uncensored is podcast talking about an architect’s life unfiltered. The education of 7 years to controversial topics such as RIBA and ARB, to unusual architect experience abroad like in Bangkok and Tanzania. This is content never before released on any platform and you can only get it here first. The truth through the eyes of Architect Russell, unfiltered and uncensored.

Learn More:

Architect Work Experience in UK

Architect’s Life in Bangkok, Thailand Podcast

African Vernacular Architecture- Be Practical

Climatically Driven Architecture in Dar Es Salaam

Architecture of Brazilia: Architect’s Trip of a Lifetime

Share Now