Reid Murdoch Building

Every once in a while, you may enter into a new Chicago building and see a sign by the entrance that says "LEED." We know that it must be something good to proclaim it at the door, but what exactly does it mean? And what does it mean for Chicago specifically?

LEED stands for Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design and is a certification by the U.S. Green Building Council that a building efficiently uses energy and has been designed to be environmentally responsible. The non-profit LEED organization trains architects, interior designers, and many professions involved in building to understand how to apply sustainability to buildings. Most any Chicago architect is proud to have the LEED symbol on his or her building, especially since we are one of the leaders in the world in this movement of environmentally sensitive constructions.

For years Illinois has been leading the nation with its number of LEED-certified buildings. Regarding per capita LEED space, the only region of the country that beats Illinois is Washington DC. Naturally, may of these buildings of Illinois are indeed in the state's most populous city - Chicago. Several renowned architecture firms of Chicago take on commissions across the world to spread their expertise. Chicago firm Perkins+Will, for example, has the most LEED accredited professionals of any design firm in North America.

But what exactly does it mean? First of all, buildings are evaluated for LEED certification based on features like air quality; access to alternative forms of transportation; and efficiency of plumbing, heating and cooling. There must be systems for reducing waste and pollution. And, of course, the use of sustainable building materials for walls, floors, insulation, furniture - pretty much anything helps in getting certified, too.

A building material is "green" when they come from easily renewable plant materials like bamboo, recycled metal or stone, and other kinds of materials that are not toxic, reusable, and recyclable. 

The Rookery by Frank Lloyd Wright

Secondly, an LEED-certified building can be new or old. If it's an older building, it means that it has been updated for efficiency. In fact, The Rookery (above) is the oldest LEED gold certified high-rise building that exists. 

And let's be clear, it does have nothing to do with LED, which is a kind of light. And just so you can be surely in-the-know, "LEED" is pronounced rhyming with "feed" rather than speaking the letters. 

Beyond LEED, Chicago has many mandates that promote sustainable design. Under Chicago's Sustainable Development Policy, you can't get any financial or zoning assistance from City Hall without features like green roofs or LEED certification.

City Hall green roof
Fittingly, Chicago's City Hall has its own green roof

Ultimately, on top of knowing that these buildingS minimize the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills (which are primarily filled with building materials), LEED offers some other bonuses. Government incentives may give funds, and tax credits can be available, too.

Now next time you see the LEED, you know that it has nothing to do with light-emitting diodes, and everything to do with Chicago architecture. 

Photos: Reid Murdoch Building by Jaysin Trevino via flickr