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The next version of LEED

LEED v4 improves environmental outcomes
Monday, June 24, 2013
By Cheryl Mah

The newest version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system is set to push the envelope in transforming the market to achieve improved environmental outcomes.

LEED v4 is expected to change the way designers and project teams integrate, plan, execute and operate green buildings.

“We’re moving it from a system that’s intended to reward doing less damage to something that is really more deeply transformational … more regenerative,” said Joel Ann Todd, chair of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED steering committee.

Todd was one of two USGBC members that spoke about the development and technical changes for LEED v4 at the 2013 CaGBC National Conference and Expo held in Vancouver.

Since its launch in 2000, LEED has undergone several iterations. LEED v4 is considered to be the most fundamental revamping of the rating system to date.

The rating system has been instrumental in pushing the building industry towards a more sustainable paradigm, not only in North America but globally.

“LEED is now a global standard … and used in more than 120 countries,” said Todd. “Everyday 1.6 million square feet of building space is certified around the world.”

LEED v4 builds on the fundamentals of the past with changes in three main areas: new market sectors, increased technical rigor and streamlined services. Market sector improvements will see adaptations for buildings such as data centres, warehouses, existing schools and retail. Increases in technical rigor include changes in referenced standards and minimum thresholds.

Development of LEED v4 has been a long process with extensive stakeholder engagement over a couple of years. The changes are based on a balancing act between the need to increase the technical rigor of LEED with what the market is ready for.

“If we put out a rating system that’s really challenging and hard, and no one’s doing it, we’re not transforming the market,” noted Todd.

Engagement has been at the core of the LEED development process. More than 100 projects are currently involved in a beta testing program to explore the new version to help improve implementation and provide feedback on support resources such as reference guide content and LEED online forms.

New goals for the rating system have guided revised LEED credits. The goals include enhancing individual human heath, building a green economy, and promoting sustainable and regenerative material cycles.

“These are the things that we want our projects to be good at,” she said, citing climate change is the highest priority.

Another goal is to encourage a more integrative process on projects in order to achieve better environmental outcomes. Todd said while many in the industry already practice an integrative approach, “too many projects are using the LEED scorecard as a checklist.”

“It’s the least effective and the most expensive way to do LEED. And the most expensive way to do a project,” she stressed.

By far the biggest change to the rating system is in materials and resources. The focus is now on a life cycle approach – “a more holistic approach” – to materials and products so project teams can make more informed decisions that will have greater benefits for the environment and human health, explained Brendan Owens, USGBC’s vice-president of LEED technical development.

He acknowledged challenges currently exist in the marketplace. For example, very few North American companies engage in environment product declarations.

But he expects the market to evolve to provide that missing product information, citing VOC content as an example. It was not available 10 years ago and is readily available on paint products today, he said.

A fundamental change that permeates many sections of the rating system, especially water and energy, is the emphasis on measurement and performance.

“We’ve raised the technical rigor of the rating system in a very important and necessary way … with the provision of infrastructure to measure consumption and performance,” said Owens.

In the energy category, the reference standard for both existing buildings and in the building design and construction system (BD&C) has been updated. The minimum Energy Star score for an existing building has changed from 69 to 75, while ASHRAE 90.1-2010 will be used as the baseline standard for energy efficiency in BD&C.

Documentation has also been significantly simplified, said Owens, with forms reduced from the 2009 version by 80 per cent.

The goal is to provide practitioners with a system that is intuitive, transparent, simple and flexible, he said.

“We are also moving to a web-based reference guide to make it more user-friendly.”

Another improvement includes clarifying the re-certification requirements.

“We want to stress LEED certification is not a one time event,” said Todd. “It is ongoing performance and we want people to commit to continuing to perform at their highest level.”

Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Construction Business magazine.

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