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USGBC creates new LEED pilot credits in response to COVID-19 pandemic

The USGC, through four newly available LEED credits, aims to assure those returning to work in commercial office buildings that the air they breath, the water they drink, and the surfaces they touch are safe. (Alice Butenko/Unsplash)

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced the creation of a quartet of new pilot credits for both previously LEED-certified building projects and projects currently undergoing LEED certification that each uniquely responds to the issues of building safety and occupant health during (and in the wake of) the COVID-19 pandemic.

The so-called Safety First pilot credits, generated as part of the USGC’s broader Healthy Economy strategy, deal with cleaning and sanitation, workplace re-occupancy, indoor air quality/HVAC operations, and water safety/plumbing operations. All LEED 2009, LEED v4, and LEED v4.1 projects are eligible to earn the credits, which are subject to refinements as new public health information becomes available and feedback is received. All credits are worth one possible point.

The USGBC stressed in a June news statement that as restrictions are lifted and buildings slowly but surely reopen across the country, “… businesses and government must rebuild people’s trust and demonstrate how the estimated 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. are focused on health and committed to positively impacting communities moving forward.” The four credits are specifically designed to help gain that trust from a largely wary public.

The Safety First: Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space credit is available to facilities that “create a policy and implement procedures that follow green cleaning best practices that support a healthy indoor environment and worker safety. It also mandates “procedures and training for cleaning personnel, occupant education and other services that are within a management team’s control.” As the USGBC has noted, existing cleaning products and procedures are effective in mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Aligned with the American Institute of Architect’s Re-Occupancy Assessment Tool, the Safety First: Re-Enter Your Workspace credit can be earned by facilities that assess and implement building reopening management and operations plans that safeguard against the potential spread of COVID-19 within the workplace. Said plans should, at a minimum, include access control, social distancing, touchpoint reduction, workforce preparation, and other elements.

The Safety First Building Water System Recommissioning credit requires building teams to devise and implement water quality management plans that help to reduce exposure to degraded—and potentially dangerous—water. In many buildings left unoccupied for weeks or months at a time, stagnant and useable/drinkable water has emerged as a paramount health concern. In addition to creating a management plan, facilities must “coordinate with local water and public health authorities, communicate water system activities and associated risks to building occupants, and take steps to address water quality from the community supply, as well as the building.”

Lastly, the Safety First: Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19 credit requires building teams follow various CDC guidelines to “ensure indoor air quality systems are operating as designed and determine temporary adjustments to ventilation that may minimize the spread of COVID-19 through the air.”

“These new credits are a first step in helping the building and construction industry demonstrate its commitment to sustainable strategies as part of building a healthier, more resilient future,” said USGBC president and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam in a statement. “Supporting environmental and occupant health is a critical part of supporting community health and, as we look ahead, we know LEED and the USGBC community will play a role in delivering solutions that lay a better foundation for our economic and environmental well-being.”

In addition to the USGBC’s new Safety First LEED credits, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) opened enrollment last month for its new WELL Health-Safety Rating, an evidence-based, third-party verified rating that builds off of maintenance- and operations-focused features of the existing WELL Building Standard. Described as a “rating to meet the moment” the WELL Health-Safety Rating is applicable to a wide range of different buildings and space types whose owners are looking to demonstrate, via a prominently placed seal, that they are committed to protecting the health of any and all individuals using said space.