The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED National Rating System was developed to promote construction of high performance sustainable buildings. It is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. While it is perhaps better known for its energy conservation components, the system also has water efficiency requirements. Projects pursuing LEED certification must meet certain prerequisites. Points are earned in several credit categories and, based on the number of points achieved, a project receives one of four LEED rating levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

LEED Plaques 3

LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council comes at a variety of levels based on the scale at which they address various sustainability performance benchmarks.

The system can be used for all types of buildings, and for new construction and renovations to existing buildings. There are different performance measures for each construction category. Project types of most interest to land use planners are Project Design and Construction and Neighborhood Development.

For new construction, LEED Water Efficiency credits can be earned for innovative wastewater technologies, use of water-efficient indoor fixtures, water efficient landscaping and irrigation, and for landscaping that uses no potable water or uses no water at all. Points are awarded for water use reductions above a 20% reduction baseline, with more points awarded the greater the water use reduction up to 40%. For commercial buildings, credits can be earned for efficient process water use, such as that used by ice machines and food steamers.

Some communities have used the LEED program as a template for local programs. The Cochise County voluntary residential green building certification program awards credits to homebuilders for incorporating green features, including resource, energy and water efficiency. Because of local water resource concerns, credits are given for installation of a number of water conservation measures, including rainwater harvesting systems, graywater reuse, on-demand hot water systems, pervious pavement, and high efficiency irrigation systems. The program has four certification levels that allow the builder to advertise the home as a Green Building Program certified home at the demonstrated level of certification.

Case Study: REI Distribution Center, Goodyear, Arizona

In 2016, REI was awarded Platinum certification for its distribution center in Goodyear Arizona as well as being certified as Net Zero Energy. The facility is the second largest Platinum-certified distribution or warehouse facility in the nation. One of REI’s objectives was to set a new standard for the industry and to share the design to encourage and make it easier for other companies to adopt the technologies they implemented.

REI Distribution Center in Goodyear -

REI Distribution Center in Goodyear, Arizona. Photo Credit: PKA Structural.

In addition to installing a solar system with a five-year payback period to power the facility, a non-evaporating cooling system was installed that will save millions of gallons of water a year. In addition, the facility has low water use landscaping that is irrigated with an underground irrigation system and restrooms with waterless urinals and low flush toilets.

But the most innovative feature is that the distribution center was the first project to participate in a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) pilot credit program that recognizes Water Restoration Certificates (WRCs) as a way to earn points toward LEED certification. WRCs are a market-based approach developed by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) that allows businesses to quantify and offset the water footprint of their building by partnering with conservation groups to implement water restoration projects. USGBC developed the pilot program as an opportunity for large-scale sustainability impacts off-site. The USGBC worked with BEF to transform WRCs into a LEED pilot credit.

REI’s WRCs fund water restoration efforts on the Verde River to enhance flows and create recreational uses. These efforts were led by two organizations active in river restoration work, the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River Greenway. Projects include establishment of a conservation easement that allows a local farm to stay in operation, avoiding future subdivision; new recreation access points on the river; new irrigation infrastructure and upgrades that reduce water withdrawals from the river; and removal of invasive plants and restoration of natural vegetation.

Model Program

Information about the Net Zero Energy and LEED Platinum REI Distribution Center can be found here.

The U.S. Green Building Council can also be a helpful source of information; link to their web site here.


U.S. Green Building Council
Phone: 1-800-795-1747

Additional Resources

Start typing and press Enter to search