Architecture, Construction, and Sustainability

Green Building Council prepares to launch version 4 of LEED

July 26, 2013
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The U.S. Green Building Council this month approved a significant update to its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

LEED version 4 received the support of 86 percent of the more than 1,200 USGBC voters. The updated version will be formally launched in November at the Greenbuild Conference; however, projects can continue to register for LEED 2009 until June 1, 2015.

This is the third significant update to the LEED certification program since it was first launched in 2000.

Despite passing by a large margin, the update is receiving criticism.

“With each change it’s difficult, and there are some folks who are concerned that maybe this time it is stretching the market too far,” said Keith Winn, president of Catalyst Partners and founding member of the USGBC.

“You have to bear in mind that this is a leadership standard and it was originally intended to transform the marketplace and keep people challenged. I think now the status quo is LEED Silver and maybe even LEED Gold, but this new version is looking ahead to challenge people to do even better.”

Winn noted three main changes in LEED version 4: integrative process credits, increased energy thresholds and changes in the materials and resources category.

Integrative process credits represent a new category developed to ensure that each aspect and project team is fully integrated.

“To achieve these higher levels of efficiency in the building, it really requires an integrative team approach where architects, engineers and building owners have to work very closely together to make sure, when they put the whole package together, it is highly integrated,” Winn said.

“If an architect designed the building with skylights and windows, they have to be carefully placed in order to get adequate day lighting in the building, and the lighting engineer has to be sure their fixtures respond to the changes of daylight in the space with controls and placement. So it really requires, from a design standpoint, that everything be carefully put together.”

Through the integrative process category, there now is guidance and a way to document and demonstrate integrated design efforts that are undertaken successfully.

“Energy thresholds have changed,” Winn said.

Previously, LEED required new construction projects to be 10 percent or more above the Michigan Energy Code, but significant improvements have made it so that many projects are easily achieving 15 percent to 20 percent better, with some even reaching as high as 40 percent to 60 percent better. Winn said he is aware of one project that is reaching for net zero.

As a result, the new version of LEED will include a much higher energy bar.

Winn said virtually no major changes have occurred in the category of materials and resources since LEED launched in 2000, making this aspect of the new version particularly important and challenging.

For the most part, the category has focused on credits for products manufactured locally, for being manufactured sustainably and for their recycled content. Under LEED version 4, projects will need to undertake a more in-depth look at product lifecycles and chemical composition.

“In the new version of LEED, the materials area is going to have environmental product declarations, which include lifecycle inventories, product category rules, lifecycle analysis and corporate sustainability metrics,” Winn said. “It really gets into a much more comprehensive measure from cradle-to-cradle, really, of the lifecycle of a product.”

There will also be a credit for avoiding dangerous chemicals — something that has been controversial in the past but has continued to gain support from designers, specifiers and building owners who want full disclosure on products they are using.

“That is a significant change,” Winn noted.

The USGBC also has worked to improve and streamline the certification process and expects people will be happy with the improvements it has undertaken.

“This version, when it launches in November, will have an updated LEED online,” Winn said. “All the reference guides, all the support materials, training accreditation tests and everything will be ready, and there will be streamlined tools and processes. I think people will find it much easier to certify and document their projects, even though achieving the credits is going to be more challenging.”

LEED version 4 also has been developed so that it is fully integrated with all of the versions of the rating system and with international standards.

To those who remain skeptical, Winn said he is optimistic the new version of LEED will be embraced.

“I personally believe they are wrong and that the market will adapt and eventually catch up. With the momentum behind the leadership in the green building community right now, I think we will be successful.”

He added, “I think our membership has always been progressive and willing to move forward in the marketplace with new ideas, and a lot of colleagues I’ve worked with across the country are reaching to work on LEED Platinum projects, Living Building challenge projects. They are always stretching to go forward.”

LEED-certified projects can be found in more than 140 countries, and Winn said 40 percent of the current projects being certified are international projects. He expects the program will continue to accelerate marketplace changes, not just in the building industry but also in the manufacturing and engineering industries.

“It’s had a pervasive impact and will continue to have an impact for a lot of years to come because of the significant amount of energy and resource that buildings consume. … I think we are still just getting started.”

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