Q&A: Best Practices in LEED Certification

DENVER — In the past year alone, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has updated its LEED certification program and introduced a tool to help certified buildings benchmark their efficiency.

As global demand grows to reduce carbon emissions, LEED has spread tremendously internationally, with more countries embracing consistent and proven standards to help projects become more sustainable and energy-efficient. However, the green building industry is constantly evolving, so how can professionals keep up, and what’s on the horizon for LEED? Green Building News spoke with Scot Horst, chief product officer for the USGBC, to help answer these questions.

Q: LEED v4 (an update to the LEED rating system following LEED 2009) launched in November 2013. What has the industry response been to the new version?

Horst: There are several hundred projects that have signed up for LEED v4 in a number of countries, but people are also happy doing the version of LEED that they know now. So, we continue to have a lot of people signing up for LEED 2009, but then we have a lot of manufacturers who have been responding [to LEED v4] by doing environmental product declarations and getting Cradle to Cradle certified or doing health product declarations. We also have a lot of practitioners entering the market offering lifecycle assessment services.

Overall, the people that have done LEED v4 like it a lot. They see it as a better system. I think the tools that we provide with LEED v4 are easier to use, and they provide a better support mechanism.

Q: The USGBC announced on Oct. 29 that it will allow LEED users to register projects under the LEED 2009 rating system until Oct. 31, 2016, giving LEED users additional time to prepare for LEED v4. What are the factors that prompted the USGBC to make that decision?

Horst: It depends. It’s not necessarily that [LEED v4] is more rigorous, even though it is in certain aspects. I think it’s just unknown to a lot of people. Learning a new version takes time, it takes resources, and it takes a slightly new learning curve. Then, there are things like the new materials credit and the bar being raised on the energy prerequisite, which are actually challenging to people because they aren’t quite sure exactly what they need to do.

But that’s not why we extended the availability of LEED 2009. What we’ve heard is that for a lot of markets that are using LEED for the first time, especially in developing parts of the world, they are just now getting uptake with LEED. We’re allowing flexibility for these different markets in the world and for everybody to be able to use the system that they’re used to. What we’re seeing happening already is that people will use LEED v4 as a mark of leadership for the next few years

Q: Tell me about the LEED Dynamic Plaque. How is it benefiting LEED users?

Horst: The LEED Dynamic Plaque is currently only available for projects that are already certified. It’s a system that helps you keep your certification up-to-date. The plaque is a performance-based recertification guide for all LEED buildings. We want to make the plaque reflect performance in buildings, not just the fact that you got a lot of [LEED] credits. That is still really important because that’s where we define best practice in a lot of ways, but what comes out of best practice? What are the outcomes? That is what the plaque is about.

Q: There seems to be frustration with the LEED Dynamic Plaque’s inability to track things such as cleaning supplies and furniture. How do you plan to address these concerns?

Horst: Think of it as version 1.0 — we’re measuring what we can. So you have to ask yourself, where does a green chemical impact your health in the building? Where can you measure it? It’s not in the fact that you bought the green chemical, it’s in whether or not it’s putting volatile organic compounds in the air, and we are measuring that. It actually measures more than you might think.

Q: What do you see as the future of LEED?

Horst: We’ve established a platform for sharing best practices around the world by having the consistent platform of LEED credits. What we’re seeing is, through our work with the LEED international roundtable, we’re finding ways that people are doing building and operations and maintenance work in different parts of the world that allows us to share that and put it into the LEED system.