As we noted here a few weeks ago, the draft for a new version of U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program was released for public comment and review. In general, as a LEED Accredited Professional, what I saw in the program looked good. The changes that are proposed will make improvements to the system. Below is a discussion of changes we can look forward to in the next generation of LEED.
LEED is not a single rating system, it is a family of rating systems. When most people think of LEED, they are probably thinking of LEED-NC, which is LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations. But there are also LEED-EB (Existing Building Operations), LEED-CS (Core and Shell for multi-tenant buildings), LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors build-outs), as well as specialist versions of LEED for schools, hospitals, and more. LEED-NC is the verion I am most familiar with and the version I have reviewed here. One goal for the reorganization of LEED is to help harmonize the different ‘flavors’ of LEED to make it easier for designers and builders to work within a consistent framework. This should be beneficial to the system throughout.
The new LEED draft version is less drastic a change than I initially expected it to be. This is not a reinvention of the wheel, but a refinement of how the credits are valued in order to increase the emphasis on items which have greater beneficial impact. The existing credit items from LEED-NC 2.2 are all there, and there are basically no new credits (though that’s not entirely true, and I’ll get into that a bit later; it’s not as confusing as it sounds). The final name of the new system is also interesting. Some documents refer to it as LEED version 3, while others call it LEED 2009. I think that, like the building codes (which incorporate the year they were produced in their title), USGBC is moving to use the year in the title, so henceforth, I will refer to the new system as LEED 2009.
Reorganized Points System
The thresholds in LEED 2009 are higher. More points are needed to reach each level of certification, as compared to LEED 2.2. The number of available points has risen from 69 under LEED 2.2 to 110 under LEED 2009. Reaching LEED Certified is now 40 points or more, Silver is 50 points, Gold is 60 and Platinum is 80 points. However, the total number of available points is higher, and, significantly, a number of credits now gain multiple points.
Most surprising were the Sustainable Sites credits for Development Density & Community Connectivity (SSc2) and for Alternative Transportation, Public Transportation Access (SSc4.1). These are now worth a combined 11 points, versus 2 points under LEED 2.2. This greatly increases the emphasis on urban projects, and building in connected, accessible downtown makes a major step toward LEED certification.
Water Use Reduction 20% is now a prerequisite for LEED. A 20% water use reduction used to get you a point under LEED 2.2 (and earlier). This seems like an example where the industry has pushed far enough along that what was innovative has now become standard. Almost all manufacturers are producing low-flow fixtures, and it is not difficult at all to obtain this level of improvement. So the point thresholds are now 30% and 40% reductions (which are now worth two points apiece).
There is a new category of credits available under the proposed system, but they are not new credits. Rather, it is a bonus system, and four points for regional bonus credits are also included in this additional category. This allows for the “regional authority” to designate targeted credits that are of particular importance for a region, and, in effect, give double credit for projects that meet those credits. For an area where heat island reduction was identified as an important goal, for example, it would be possible to get two credits.
Along with this, the USGBC is trying to promote the activity of regions and individual chapters in developing the system. The regional bonus credits will be targeted by zip code, although the USGBC is encouraging the regional groups not to be too fine-grained in assigning different priorities to different areas; that would make it difficult for architects, builders, developers, and other professionals to be familiar with the requirements. However, it does allow prioritization for cities to be different from the priorities for outlying areas. Each group of zip codes will have six local priorities identified, and up to four of those can be selected, giving the project up to four additional points for concentrating on areas the regional authority has indicated as priorities.
A fifth point is available for Innovation & Design Process (rather than four points previously) to promote more new ideas and alternative methods for improving green buildings.
LEED is still far from a perfect system, but no checklist is ever going to replace having an intelligent and committed team, including the owner, designer and builder, who all want to create a green building. Those who expect LEED to be a complete method to guarantee the creation of good, green buildings will continue to be disappointed in what LEED is (and what it omits). Those who look at LEED as a tool that can help to push the community forward in accepting and recognizing better buildings will appreciate some of the improvements this new version incorporates.