You’re on your way to increasing the value and environmental integrity of your project. This guide will lead you through the process.
LEED certification involves four main steps:
If you need assistance at any time, please call or email us.
Note: Are you working on projects within the LEED Volume Program? Check out our LEED Volume Program supplement, which works in conjunction with this guide to give you a full picture of the LEED Volume Program.
Before you begin, you’ll want to make sure that your project meets all of the LEED Minimum Program Requirements, the minimum characteristics that make a project appropriate for pursuing LEED.
Building projects pursuing LEED 2009 certification must:
Building projects pursuing LEED v4 certification must:
Visit the LEED Credit Library to read the specifics on Minimum Program Requirements. LEED 2009 projects should also read the Supplemental Guidance to the Minimum Program Requirements.
The content in this guide applies to all LEED 2009 and LEED v4 commercial rating systems. For guidance on LEED Homes and Midrise certification, visit the Guide to Certification: Homes.
Now, onward to registration: visit LEED Online, the online portal through which you will submit your application for certification, as well as access a variety of tools and resources, provide the registration information related to your project, submit payment and sign the certification agreement (the project owner must do this last one). Once you’ve finished, your project application will be accessible in LEED Online.
From here, you can assemble your project team and the documentation process begins!
Individuals on your project team will be called on to fill certain roles throughout the LEED certification process. Here’s a rundown of who’s who so you can select your team wisely:
Owner: The owner of the project is the person (or entity) who has the authority to hold and control the real and personal property associated with your project, and accepts (or authorizes the acceptance of) the certification agreement. While there may be multiple owners for a particular project (if so, please submit a Confirmation of Primary Owner’s Authority Form), we ask that you identify a single individual to administer the certification process. Big takeaway: the owner has ultimate control over the LEED certification application, meaning that the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI: the organization responsible for administering LEED certification) will respond to the owner regarding the administration of the project over any other member of the project team.
Agent: The agent is the person (or entity) who is granted actual authority by the owner to register the project and accept the certification agreement. If you are using this option, remember to upload a signed Confirmation of Agent’s Authority Form.
Project Administrator: This team member acts as a project manager, overseeing the LEED project as well as which project team members are responsible for certain tasks, credits or prerequisites. The project administrator plays a key quality role by checking that the LEED submission is complete and accurate before submitting the project to GBCI for review, and accepting the review results once the review is complete. Note: the individual who initially registers the project will automatically be granted the role of the project administrator, but the owner may transfer this role to another team member at any time.
Deadline for registration
In order to optimize an integrated design process, which is a core part of LEED, we encourage you to register as early as possible – ideally, during the design phase for LEED BD+C and LEED ID+C rating systems, and early in the planning and facility assessment phase for LEED O+M projects. View the LEED registration close and certification close deadlines.
Recertification (LEED O+M only)
If your project has already been certified under LEED O+M, in order for your certification to remain current, we require you to recertify your project within five years of the previous certification. Your project is eligible for recertification after 12 months and every 12 months thereafter, and we encourage you to register for recertification as soon as possible. For more information, view the Recertification Guidance.
If you are planning to bring more than one building located on a single shared site and under the control of a single entity (for example, a corporate or educational campus, government installation or commercial development) through certification, you may register your project as a campus or group project to streamline the documentation you’ll need to submit for review. Please note, however, that individual building registration and certification fees apply to campus and group projects. Depending on the campus approach you select, you will pursue a slightly modified registration process, as compared to one-off project registration.
Campus credit approach: This approach enables you to streamline the documentation process by earning “campus credits” – prerequisites and credits that can be applied to all LEED projects on the master site. You will need to register a “master site,” which includes a general narrative of the overall campus projects and a schematic site plan, in addition to registering each individual project on the site.
Campus group project approach: In this approach, you’ll register the group of projects on the site as a single LEED project that will then receive a single LEED rating and certification. To be eligible for this approach, LEED BD+C and LEED ID+C projects must be under the same construction contract and be constructed at the same time, and LEED O+M projects must be under the same ownership and management, share the same performance period and have substantially similar space types. For this approach, your team’s campus project documentation must demonstrate that the group of projects collectively meets the credit requirements using a “group credit.” You may use a campus group project certification independently or in combination with campus credits documented under a master site review, through the campus credit approach above.
Now comes the fun part: you’re ready to collect and submit the appropriate documentation via LEED Online so that GBCI may review your project. Working with your project team, you will identify LEED credits to pursue and assign them to project team members. Your team will then collect information, perform calculations and analysis, and prepare documentation demonstrating your achievement of the prerequisites and your selected credits.
Once your application is prepared, upload your completed materials into LEED Online and make sure to perform a rigorous quality check of your entire application before submitting for review. We suggest that you open each form and check that you have included all required information, and open each file upload to verify that you have uploaded the correct document. Cross-check credits and prerequisites to make sure that you have reported common data points, such as gross square footage, occupancy and total material cost consistently. Want more tips? Here are some characteristics common among high quality submissions:
All finished? Ready, set, submit! Don’t forget to pay your certification review fee - and remember, your review will commence once your payment has cleared our system.
LEED O+M projects
You may choose to extend the performance period for any prerequisite or credit to a maximum of 24 months preceding your certification application, in case you need more time to establish performance. All performance periods must overlap and come to a conclusion within one month of each other. Please be sure to submit your completed application for review within 60 days of the conclusion of the performance period.
The recertification performance period includes the entire time since the previous certification and must be at least a year in length, but may be up to five years in length. You’ll need to track and record building performance data throughout the entire recertification performance period.
Campus credit approach: If your team is pursuing this approach, be sure to document all campus credit information within the master site.
Campus group project approach: For this approach, your team’s group project documentation must demonstrate that the group of projects collectively meets the credit requirements using a “group credit.” You may use our group project certification independently or in combination with campus credits documented under a master site review, through the campus credit approach above.
After you’ve submitted your application and paid the review fee, GBCI will conduct a thorough technical review. But don’t kick back yet – you’ll need to be an active participant throughout the process.
While the type of review you’ll undergo will vary depending on the specific needs of your project and the rating system under which you are certifying (more on that below), the process is the same:
Part 1: Preliminary Review
Part 2: Final Review (optional)
Part 3: Appeal Review (optional, appeal fees apply)
Through the standard review path, you will submit your entire application (all credits and prerequisites) once you’ve completed your project.
You may choose to pursue split review if you are certifying under a design and construction rating system. To do this, you’ll submit part of your application at the conclusion of your project’s design phase (design credits and prerequisites), and the rest at the conclusion of construction (construction credits and prerequisites), completing two rounds of reviews. The split review is designed to help your team determine if your project is on track to achieve LEED certification at its preferred level. Please note that only credits and prerequisites identified as design credits can be submitted during the design review, and that your application must be submitted before your project is substantially completed.
This is an optional review pathway available for a fee for LEED BD+C: Core & Shell projects that is focused on your intended design and construction strategies. We offer precertification to help your project attract tenants and help you determine which credits and prerequisites your project is likely to achieve during the full review.
In a time crunch? Contact GBCI at least five business days (please allow longer if you are paying by check) prior to submitting an application to request an expedited review to cut your review time in half (reduced from 20-25 business days to10-12 business days per review phase). Please note that there is an additional charge for this service, and GBCI’s ability to fulfill your request depends on their current review capacity. If GBCI can accommodate your request, they will confirm availability and provide a custom review schedule for your project.
Having difficulty fulfilling a rating system prerequisite or credit? Have you thought of an alternative way to interpret a credit or path to fulfill it? We’ve established inquiries so that you can gain clarification before you register your project or as you’re working through your LEED application. All inquiries are filed through LEED Online (unless you haven’t registered yet – in which case, please reach out to GBCI) and should address only one credit or prerequisite. Here are your options:
Credit Interpretation Ruling (CIR): A CIR allows you to obtain technical guidance related to a particular credit or facet of the LEED rating system. Our review team will let you know if your interpretation of a particular credit or prerequisite is consistent with published rating system requirements. When it comes time to submit your application for review, you will need to provide documentation demonstrating fulfillment of the CIR and indicate the approved CIR within your application for certification. You may file an appeal if you are not satisfied with the result of your CIR using the process above. Keep in mind, also, that CIRs are not precedent setting; your project team can only utilize the ruling for the project under which the CIR was submitted.
LEED Interpretation: Administered by USGBC, LEED Interpretations focus on the evolution of the LEED rating system and are published periodically in the form of official addenda. They are developed through a deliberative process involving LEED committees and are not conducted within the standard 20-25 business day timelines. Like Project CIRs, LEED Interpretations provide answers to technical inquiries about applying LEED in situations not already addressed by the rating systems, reference guides and MPRs. They differ from Project CIRs in that, as USGBC issued addenda, these rulings are precedent-setting and applicable to all projects registered in the future. As in the case with all addenda, projects registered before a LEED Interpretation is published may voluntarily elect to follow these revisions. You can access published LEED Interpretations online in our searchable addenda database.
Deadline for submitting for review
For LEED BD+C and LEED ID+C rating systems, you will need to submit for your construction phase review (preliminary standard review or preliminary construction review) no later than two years after your project is substantially completed (the date on which your building receives a certificate of occupancy or similar official indication that it is fit and ready for use). LEED O+M projects are required to submit for review within 60 days of the end of their performance period. If you decide you no longer want to pursue LEED certification for your project, we understand. Please contact GBCI so that they can close your application and maintain accurate records.
Campus credit approach: We recommend that you complete the master site review prior to submitting any associated, individual or group projects for review, since the campus credits earned through the master site review will then become available to your individual or group projects associated with it. Review processes for the master site and the individual or group projects proceed as outlined above. You have the option to select standard or split reviews for design and construction rating systems.
If you feel that the results of a review appeal or a CIR appeal are incorrect and wish to challenge those results, you may do so by contacting GBCI.
Upgrading your version of LEED Online
We’re constantly working to improve the LEED certification experience for you, and upgrades to LEED Online that provide a smoother user experience are a key part of those efforts. Check below to see which upgrades are available.
We recently launched LEED Online for Campus, created specifically for campus projects. If you’re currently registered as such a project and utilizing LEED Online version 3, please contact GBCI and they will guide you through the process of re-registering in LEED Online for Campus. Once the upgrade has been completed, GBCI will issue a refund of the registration fee associated with the project that was cancelled out in LEED Online version 3. Unfortunately, if you’ve already submitted your campus project for review, you’ll need to stick with the version of LEED Online that you registered with – your project cannot be transferred.
You’ve made it to the finish line: accepting your certification is the final step in the LEED review process. Once your final application review is complete, your project team can either accept or appeal GBCI’s final certification report. If you’ve achieved certification: congratulations from all of us at USGBC and GBCI!
Once you’ve accepted the final certification report, the project will be deemed “closed out” –meaning that you will no longer be able to appeal the certification level or review decisions for specific credits or prerequisites, so please double (or triple) check that you have achieved all prerequisites and targeted credits before accepting the final certification.
While all LEED-certified projects are a cut above the rest, each is assigned one of four levels of certification to acknowledge the degree of achievement. The number of points that your project earns determines the level of LEED certification that your project will receive.
Once you’ve earned certification, it’s likely that you’ll want to tell the world. You should. LEED certification benefits your business’s bottom line and underscores your sustainability efforts. It’s a cause for celebration!
Our public relations guide for LEED-certified projects can help you do that. You’ll also receive a formal certificate of recognition, and can choose to order LEED plaques and certificates. Learn more.
(Psst… did you know that USGBC Platinum-level members receive 20 hours of dedicated public relations support from USGBC’s in-house communications team? Learn more about Platinum membership.)
Your work with LEED is something to be celebrated – and communicated to the world at large. Achieving LEED certification gives you the opportunity to share your project strategies, photos and insight, and play a pivotal role in educating other project teams.
We use your project data for the greater good: to educate and provide resources for LEED project teams and others around the world, showcase your strategies, and share the size and power of the green building movement.
LEED-registered and certified projects are, by default, considered “public” projects, and thereby included in USGBC’s public LEED project directory. A listing in this directory allows the general public and members of the media to look up your project listing and its related details.
Here’s a full list of the data and project elements that may be listed in the project directory:
Project directory information
All “public” projects also benefit from publicity opportunities: we may utilize your project data to create case studies highlighting your project’s features, reference your project on our website or to the media, or create other derivative works.
Information that may be used for articles, project profiles, other features:
You are free to opt-out of the LEED project directory and publicity opportunities as a “private project” at the time of registration: specific instructions on how to do so are available in LEED Online. All private projects that earn certification will be prompted once more to transition to public status (we can’t help ourselves, we love sharing good news!). You will need to re-confirm your “private” status at that time, if you wish to retain it. Please note, confidential, or private LEED-certified projects are not authorized to use the LEED certification logos.
Deadline for achieving certification
Each rating system will remain open and available for certification for at least six years after the rating system registration close date. To certify your project under a specific rating system, you must submit for certification by that rating system's certification close date, also called the sunset date. If you have difficulty meeting this deadline, please reach out to GBCI—they’ll work with you on a solution for your project. View the LEED registration close and certification close deadlines.
Expiration of LEED certification
If you’ve earned certification for your LEED O+M project, you must recertify within five years of the previous certification.
Revocation of LEED certification
In rare situations, LEED certification may be revoked. We’ve created the Certification Challenge Policy to ensure that all LEED project submittals and subsequent reviews by GBCI team members are done so with integrity, accuracy and truthfulness. A certification challenge may be initiated by GBCI or by any third party within 18 months of a project’s certification. In line with the policy, you’ll need to retain all project documentation related to your certification, and the achievement of prerequisites and credits, on-site at your certified project for two years after receiving certification, to ensure that this information is available in case of a challenge.
This Certification Challenge Policy has been put in place to protect the integrity of the LEED certification program as a credible, accurate, and industry-recognized system for evaluating the design and construction of sustainable buildings. GBCI intends this policy to function as both a quality check on GBCI LEED reviews, as well as an instrument designed to detect and remedy incidents of intentional or inadvertent misrepresentation which result in the inappropriate award of LEED certification. This policy is not meant to serve as a vehicle for the adjudication of disputes between outside parties. Accordingly, this policy and the certification challenge process detailed herein do not replace any applicable judicial or other alternative dispute resolution processes that third parties may have available to resolve such disputes between themselves. Complaints that might warrant initiation of the Certification Challenge Process should be submitted to email@example.com.
To the extent a project is subject to revocation of LEED certification, such project will be removed from the LEED certified project database and may no longer be referred to as a LEED certified project. GBCI shall identify the project’s certification as having been revoked. Additionally, if GBCI revokes certification of any project for which a Platinum-level certification was previously awarded, and for which the project owner received a rebate of any or all certification fees, the owner of such project shall be liable for refunding all monies so received to GBCI. Further, the owner of such project shall immediately terminate all use and display of any LEED trademarks, associated logos, and other intellectual property licensed by GBCI.
LEED certification provides an exceptional value for your money: So, how much will it cost to certify your project?
Registration fee: There is a flat registration fee calculated on a per-project (building) basis that you’ll pay up front at the time of registration. If we haven’t received your payment within 60 days of your registration, we’ll assume you changed your mind and go ahead and cancel the registration.
Certification fee: The certification fee is charged on a per-project (building) basis and based on the size of the project and the rating system under which the project is registered. Certification fees are due when you submit your application for review. After all that work you did to submit your documentation, don’t forget to send your payment! Remember, GBCI will not begin your review until payment in full has been received and cleared our system (thank you!). Also, please note that certification fees are based on the fees published at the time the project is submitted for review.
Other fees: Other fees related to expedited reviews, appeals, and other optional aspects of the LEED certification process may apply, should you pursue these avenues.
Member discounts: USGBC Silver, Gold and Platinum level member organizations benefit from discounted LEED registration and certification fees. Discounts are available based on the membership status of either the owner or the project administrator for a given LEED project. Visit the fee charts page below for more information on available discounts.
USGBC offers a number of resources and tools to support you during the process of LEED certification.
Pilot Credit library
Regional Priority Credit lookup
LEED Online: v4, v3
Legal agreements: LEED Certification Agreement, Confirmation of Agent's Authority, Confirmation of Primary Owner's Authority, Change of Owner Agreement