GREEN BUILDING:

LEED revision tightens standards with new credits, categories

The first of two public comment sessions opened this week on changes proposed for the U.S. Green Building Council's rating system for sustainable and energy-efficient buildings.

The update to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system will build upon a 2009 revision. The proposed changes, put together by USGBC's technical advisory committees, include three new credit categories and a variety of reworked and new credits and prerequisites. They touch each of the rating system's sections, including building design and construction, operations and maintenance, and LEED for homes.

The draft revision also includes a "pilot credit library" for the first time, or a collection of credits that are being tested for possible inclusion in the final version of the revision, due out in 2012.

"I'm really excited to see what's in store for the future of LEED," said Tristan Roberts, editor of BuildingGreen.com, a publication that tracks green building information for professionals and policymakers.

One of the biggest changes is a new performance credit category, addressing what has been one of the more controversial issues surrounding LEED. The system was set up in the late 1990s for the design and construction of buildings and not the building's actual performance.

"A lot of the LEED points were based on the design of the building rather than the actual operating performance of the building," leading to "promises of efficiency that weren't delivered," said Clinton Andrews, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey and part of the university's Center for Green Building.

In 2009, when LEED was last revised, it required mandatory disclosure of energy use but did not include it in a separate section. In the revision's performance section, a newly constructed building can gain credit by installing an advanced energy metering system and committing to share energy usage data with USGBC for at least five years from the date of occupancy.

"You get the LEED plaque when the project is done, but you're getting it with the understanding that you're committing to these things," Roberts said.

Putting these types of credits in their own category highlights their importance, said Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED technical development at USGBC. LEED would collect and report this data anonymously through its Building Performance Partnership.

Another significant change is the addition of an "integrated process" category. An integrated approach means that rather than having an architect give drawings to an engineer who then passes the plan to a contractor, "everyone's sitting together and figuring things out and looking for opportunities to improve the performance of the building," Roberts said.

The LEED update outlines a specific set of requirements for the process by which a building is built, requiring a certain number of team meetings and stakeholder input events.

The third new section in LEED, called "location and transportation," contains credits that had previously been elsewhere but puts new emphasis on the fact that location plays a role in determining a building's efficiency.

"It looks like it's going to be a good document," said Mary Ann Lazarus, director of sustainable design at HOK Group Inc., a global design firm. "[It's] moving us along the road a bit and introducing some things that we have done and tried to do where we can but aren't necessarily part of every LEED project. But now they're going to be."

Thinking about chemicals, climate

Public comment on the draft will be open until Dec. 31, longer than the typical USGBC comment period. This was done intentionally, Owens said.

"One of the things we've heard in the past, a fair and unfair criticism but something we needed to address, the public comment that has been run on LEED in the past has been sort of pro forma," Owens said, encouraging people to comment.

The organization will also be getting feedback from projects that have opted to try test credits, which include for the first time a "chemical avoidance in building materials" credit, something that has been pushed for by healthy building interest groups. The pilot credit "acknowledges and supports contemporary and accepted knowledge about specific chemicals of concern that should be avoided." Chemicals to be avoided are phthalates and flame retardants.

According to Owens, more than 200 projects intend to participate in at least one of the 41 pilot credits.

The update on a whole includes stricter requirements for credits -- for example, a credit that required a building have a view has been changed to require a quality outside view, or one of vegetation, animals, water or people. The entire rating system is still expected to be based out of 100 points.

Environmentalist Denis Hayes, CEO of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation, said that USGBC could go further.

Hayes said his organization is designing a building to go beyond the highest level in LEED. He said that sooner or later, the United States is going to put a price on carbon, but there are "today only a dozen buildings that have been constructed that will be attractive in a new energy era."

"As USGBC modifies any of its standards, the objective I think in every case ought to be to make them a little bit tougher and a little bit more environmentally rigorous," he said.

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