Take the LEED

Take the LEED

A decade ago, LEED was nothing more than a misspelling for a heavy metal; today, it is the unmistakable leader in green rating systems. In the span of eight short years, demand for LEED certification has skyrocketed and the U.S. Green Building Council can barely keep up. The USGBC predicts that more than 10,000 projects covering 3.5 million square-feet had already been LEED certified as of the start of the month, with dozens more signing up every day.

To help address this demand and other issues facing the program, the USGBC spent the last two years developing LEED 2009, a major reorganization that seeks to streamline and standardize the rating system to a more adaptable, accessible model. On May 20, the USGBC released LEED 2009 to the greater green public, seeking comment on the improvements to be made. 

“It is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Brendan Owens, vice president for LEED technical development, said. “But the shift that has been put into the rating system has been done in a very sensible way. We don’t want to lose any of our momentum.”

The most prominent change to the system is the weighting of the points that govern a project’s certification level. A favorite example at the USGBC is the bike rack and the solar panel. Whereas in the past, each might have received one—seemingly though far from arbitrary—point, under the new system, each is weighted empirically for its innovation and impact. In this case, the panel becomes worth considerably more.

The system also puts greater emphasis on addressing specific problems rather than seeking specific solutions. Instead of pushing technologies that reduce carbon, for  example, carbon reduction becomes the goal, and it is up to the designers to reach it. This new approach also allows the USGBC to put greater emphasis on certain goals, such as carbon reduction over air quality or vice versa, as the community and environment demand.

To address specific regional concerns, bonus points have also been added to satisfy the various issues facing different areas of the country. Though no decisions have yet been made—the USGBC is still consulting with local chapters—the idea is that the Southwest could focus on water conservation while the Southeast would be more concerned with hurricane protection.

Owens stressed that, despite all the changes, the idea is not to reinvent the wheel with LEED 2009. “It doesn’t make you relearn the whole system,” he said. “Everything you know about LEED is still valuable.”

In the past, the entire credit system was revamped, though that meant relatively few changes compared to now because of all the new programs that have sprung up. With ever-growing demand for more specific programs—LEED for airports, LEED for arenas, LEED for aquariums—a central bank of shared points has been created with complementary ratings for specific sectors. To further this accessibility, the system will also be updated on a regular schedule, not unlike many local building codes.

The exact details remain fluid because the USGBC wants to hear what professionals think. The current comment period closes on June 22, at which point USGBC will consider the suggestions, revising the system accordingly, then releasing it again for comment from July though August. A final vote on the changes will come in late October or early November. LEED 2009 will then be incorporated into a larger LEED Version 3, which includes improved online filing and changes to the certification process, which are still being determined.

Colin Cathcart, principal of green pioneers Kiss + Cathcart, could not be more thrilled. “I’m cheering them on wholeheartedly,” he said. “This is exactly what I’ve been begging them for for years, instead of this one-size-fits-all system.”

LEED 2009 Resources:

Public Comment Ballots
Letter from Rick Fedrizzi and Scot Horst
Executive Summary [.PDF]
Webcasts (coming in June)