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LEED Certified Buildings in the US: Top 10 States in 2020

LEED has become one of the most popular green building certifications around the world, used in 181 countries as of early 2021. The first version was launched by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998, and the rating system has been used in over 2 million residential projects and 106,000 commercial projects globally. The USGBC has been constantly raising the bar for green building performance, and the most recent version of the rating system is LEED v4.1, launched in 2019.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic raised awareness about the importance of healthy indoor spaces. While the LEED rating system focuses on energy and environmental aspects, one of its performance categories is fully focused on the indoor environment. Of the 40 points required for a LEED certified building, 16 can be claimed for Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), which covers areas like:

  • Indoor air quality
  • Tobacco smoke control
  • Low-emitting construction materials
  • Thermal comfort
  • Interior lighting quality and use of daylight
  • Noise reduction

The other performance categories in the LEED rating system are Location & Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Innovation, and the recently added Safety First category – focusing on COVID-19 prevention measures.

Each year, the USGBC publishes a list of the top 10 states with LEED certified projects. Since the states vary in size and population, they are ranked by certified square feet per capita, to have a fair comparison. Massachusetts topped the list in 2020, with over 19 million gross square feet in 76 LEED projects. In total, the top 10 states achieved 1,171 certifications, covering over 281 million square feet of construction.

Which Are the Top 10 States With the Most LEED Projects?

The USGBC published its annual top 10 states list in February 2021, covering projects that received LEED certifications in 2020:

StateLEED Sq.Ft. per CapitaProjectsTotal Sq.Ft. Certified
1) Massachusetts2.917619,034,129
2) Washington2.827418,957,253
3) Illinois2.619433,475,682
4) Colorado2.356411,826,927
5) New York2.2810844,172,684
6) Maryland2.238812,898,921
7) California2.1241778,912,603
8) Virginia2.059716,404,078
9) Texas1.6613941,749,345
10) Nevada1.34143,623,852
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For example, California has the largest number of LEED certified projects for 2020. However, it is also the most populous state, ranking 7th in certified square feet per capita.

LEED projects in the top 10 states are led by over 100,000 green building professionals, who hold credentials from the USGBC. California is also the state with the most LEED professionals, with 26,905 credential holders as of February 2021. The two other states with more than 10,000 accredited professionals are New York (12,575) and Texas (10,474).

The LEED certification is available for a wide range of building types. However, 60% of the certified projects for 2020 were office buildings, healthcare facilities and educational institutions.  Many certifications were also awarded for distribution centers, multifamily projects, retail developments and warehouses – representing 20% of LEED projects in the top 10 states.

The LEED rating system offers several certification pathways, adapting to different types of projects: Building Design & Construction (BD+C) for new projects and major renovations, Interior Design & Construction (ID+C) for fitout projects, Operations and Maintenance (O+M) for existing buildings, Neighborhood Development (ND) for multi-building developments, LEED for Homes, and LEED for Cities and Communities.

How LEED Can Contribute to COVID-19 Prevention

Since 2020, building projects can also earn LEED credits for COVID-19 prevention measures. The USGBC created a new performance category called Safety First, where a building can earn up to 7 of the 40 points required. These points are available for projects that are undergoing the LEED certification process, and also for buildings that were already certified.

The USGBC also published a global economic recovery strategy for COVID-19, and many of their activities and procedures have transitioned to an online format: green building conferences, project certifications, and exams for LEED professionals.

A certified green building will typically have a higher upfront cost than a building that uses traditional construction methods. However, the total ownership cost of a green building is lower, since it conserves resources like energy and water. Also, a healthy indoor environment can help occupants reduce their medical expenses.

Source US Green Building Council

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