The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification program, developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1993, is a rating system for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of environmentally responsible buildings. By 2015, more than 80,000 buildings had received LEED certification for their efficient use of natural resources.
Beyond the environmental benefits, LEED certification often comes with federal, state, or local financial incentives, including zoning allowances, tax credits, and speedier permitting. The program uses a points-based ratings system that categorizes certifications in four tiers: Certified (40-49 points); LEED Silver (50-59 points); LEED Gold (60-79 points); and LEED Platinum (80 points and up). Points are given based on steps taken to reduce a building’s environmental impact; the more points a building receives, the more efficient it is.
Today, LEED certification has gone global, with buildings securing the coveted designation in every corner of the globe. The following are 10 of the most impressive examples of energy-efficient buildings on earth.
1. Willis Tower, Chicago (LEED Gold)
Formerly the Sears Tower, which held the title of the tallest building in the world for a quarter-century, Chicago’s iconic 108-story skyscraper received LEED Gold certification in 2018. Undergoing a $500 million renovation at the time, Willis Tower made a number of significant updates to reduce its carbon footprint, including installing high-efficiency lighting systems, improving the building’s HVAC system, new air media, fan gearboxes, and fan blades on the building’s 4 cooling towers, and installing low-flow units on over 450 sinks, 650 toilets and urinals, which Willis Tower owner and manager EQ Office says will save 11 million gallons of water consumption annually.
2. TAIPEI 101, Taipei, Taiwan (LEED Platinum)
One of the tallest LEED-certified buildings in the world is TAIPEI 101, which towers 1,285 feet above the Taiwanese capital. The megastructure received its LEED Platinum certification in 2011, the highest level possible to attain through the program. Not only was the building designed to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, it was retrofitted with energy-efficient upgrades that reduced its overall energy consumption by 33.41 million kilowatt hours (kWh), resulting in a savings of more than $2 million per year. Improvements to its water consumption save approximately 7.4 million gallons of water per year.
3. The Empire State Building, New York City (LEED Gold)
Another famous skyscraper which has attained LEED certification is New York’s Empire State Building, which was certified LEED Gold in 2011. Thanks to 55 million kWh in carbon offsets purchased by Anthony Malkin of the Empire State Building Company, the building is carbon-neutral. In 2012, the Empire State Building underwent a series of renovations to make its internal systems more energy efficient. The upgrades paid dividends, saving nearly $5 million in energy costs in 2011 and 2012.
4. Facebook Headquarters, Menlo Park, California (LEED Platinum)
The home of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp is a sprawling megacomplex in California’s Bay Area, but efforts to incorporate sustainable design elements helped it earn the highest possible LEED certification, LEED Platinum. The social media giant says its HQ is powered 100% by renewable energy, thanks to the 3 megawatts generated by rooftop solar panels. It also says it’s installed the most efficient heating and cooling systems available, and monitors building performance through high-tech building management systems.
5. Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, China (LEED Platinum)
The unmistakable Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building and the second-tallest building in the world, takes the crown as the tallest LEED-certified structure on the planet, receiving LEED Platinum status in 2015. Improvements including intelligent building control systems helped pave the way for the twisted skyscraper’s Platinum certification, its lighting system alone saving over $556,000 in energy costs. China is the second largest market for LEED certification in the world, after the United States, with 118 million gross square meters of space participating in the program.
6. The Crystal, London (LEED Platinum)
Serving as a permanent exhibition about sustainable development, The Crystal, located on Royal Victoria Dock in east London, is an 18,000 square meter living example of what’s possible with sustainable building technology, billing itself as one of the most sustainable buildings in the world. The uniquely designed structure is part of an urban landscape meant to showcase sustainable development practices and green building technologies. It also hosts the world’s largest exhibition on the future of cities. The building’s energy management system is produced by Siemens, and it includes a wide range of energy-efficient features like self-shading facades, solar panels, and ground-source heat pumps which warm the building using 100% natural sources.
7. Two International Finance Center, Hong Kong (LEED Gold)
One of Hong Kong’s most iconic and recognizable buildings,s design helped it achieve LEED Gold certification in 2013. The 1,352-foot tall skyscraper is designed with almost column-free floors and low-e glazing on windows, which maximizes the amount of natural light the building receives while simultaneously lowering solar heat gain, reducing reliance on electricity for lighting and air conditioning.
8. Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia (LEED Platinum x2)
The Vancouver Convention Centre is one of the largest convention centers in Canada, and was the world’s first convention center to be LEED Platinum-certified twice, first in 2010 and again in 2017. The second was achieved during a comprehensive re-evaluation of the building’s operations and key systems, during which it worked with stakeholders, clients, and retailers to maximize efficiency. It earned its Platinum certification for excellence in waste management, energy efficiency, indoor water use reduction, and facility maintenance and renovations.
9. TaiKoo Hui Guangzhou Towers, Guangzhou, China (LEED Gold)
The TaiKoo Hui Guangzhou Towers have not one, but two LEED Gold certifications, one for each of the complex’s structures, the first projects in Guangzhou to receive the distinction. The buildings are heavily kitted out with green technology, including indirect lighting systems with adjustable illumination levels, double-glazed low-e glass curtain walls, a nano-photonic air system to enhance indoor air quality, a gray water system providing recycled water for its toilets, and CO2 sensors to optimize air quality while avoiding energy waste.
10. Soldier Field, Chicago (LEED Certified)
Rounding out our list we return to the Windy City, with the Chicago Bears’ home stadium, Soldier Field, the first existing NFL stadium to receive LEED Certified status, which it reached following an extensive renovation project in 2003. A significant amount of the work that went into being LEED certified involves recycling. Soldier Field recycles nearly everything, from aluminum, to cardboard, to delivery pallets, to glass, to office paper, to lost cell phones and eye glasses. Just about every bit of waste produced by the 61,500 capacity stadium stays out of the city’s waste stream.