ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager

Is LEED still relevant?

A panel of industry leaders discuss the impact of LEED and required improvements.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
by Cheryl Mah

LEED has become synonymous with green in the mainstream building industry over the last decade, but is LEED still relevant? While the voluntary green building rating system has been a successful market transformation tool, it has its limitations.

Today, competition has increased with many other green building systems being used, according to Andree Iffrig of DIRTT Environmental Solutions. She said there are also new codes which are narrowing the gap between what it means to build to code and build to LEED so it is timely to consider whether or not LEED is living up to its reputation.

A panel of recognized industry leaders discussed the impact of LEED, required improvements and whether it is still relevant at the sustainability keynote session during Buildex Vancouver 2016.

Working for a manufacturer, Iffrig cited the benefits of lean principles and recommended applying them to LEED because incremental change will not meet the 2030 Challenge of carbon neutral buildings.

“We could reduce the complexity of the [LEED] system, diminish waiting times and approvals, promote flexibility,” she explained. Further benefits include saving money and moving the focus away from “chasing credits.”

She said four ways to improve LEED would include: building modeling, lifecycle costing, performance data reporting and smarter construction.

Helen Goodland of Brantwood Consulitng agreed that new processes have to be adopted from manufacturing to deliver building performance improvements because the construction industry has reached the limits of what is possible with traditional methods .

Industrial methods are key to delivering transformational environmental performance, she said, citing farmers as an example where automation has successfully optimized yield of crops.

“We need to fundamentally re-tool the R&D in our industry before we go to the next level. I don’t see any rating system helping us with that,” said Goodland, noting that in Europe there is a range of incentives for innovative business solutions and in the UK, BIM is mandatory for all projects over $50 million pounds.

LEED is not perfect, stressed Sebastian Garon of Sebastian Garon Architecture + Design. It was never meant to be perfect – it was meant to be improved over time, he said. He also agreed LEED will not deliver the drastic changes at the pace required to reach a truly sustainable environment but it is “part of the solution.”

He believes the rating system needs to be less complicated and more focused on quantity and achievements versus administration. “LEED has had a tremendous impact on the industry. LEED is the carrot while the codes…bylaws are the stick. We need a combination of tools, programs and regulations in which LEED plays its role.”

LEED also must be part of a balanced approach to energy performance and sustainability, according to Graham Twyford-Miles from Stantec. He focused on the need to close the gap between predicted and measured energy performance of buildings. (Energy performance reports are currently not mandatory under LEED.) Closing this gap requires a rethink of how project teams are structured, he said, recommending energy modelling must be a design tool used from the outset.

“LEED has admittedly had less significant impact on existing buildings. We need legislation to support mandatory benchmarking disclosure of existing building data,” he said, noting more than half of the building stock that will exist in 2050 has already been built.

Eden Brukman of Concenter Solutions talked about the positive impacts of LEED, noting almost 20 years ago there was no framework or common reference point for building green. But over the last decade, LEED has been getting a lot of attention – both positive and negative.

Simplification would improve its effectiveness and LEED v4 is starting to incorporate some of the elements necessary to keep LEED relevant, she said. But for it to be relevant, the system has to be approached in an entirely different way.

Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Design Quarterly.

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