New LEED standards mean healthier, greener buildings on the way

LEED logo
via USGBC

The U.S. Green Building Council announced the fourth major update to LEED, its third-party green building certification program. LEED stands for "Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design" and uses a point system to rate buildings, both new constructions and retrofits. The new version was announced yesterday at the Greenbuild conference, held in Philadelphia.

LEED v4 aims to set higher standards for green buildings and streamline the certification process. The newest version is intended to address the sometimes contradicting criticisms of LEED, a topic addressed at a Greenbuild session.

To counter the criticism that LEED isn't rigorous enough, USGBC is placing a greater focus on data collection. In the past, LEED hasn't fully collected and analyzed data on things like energy and water savings, reduced runoff or air quality. "This is one of the things that frustrates advocates," said Rob Watson, founder of LEED. "Data or the lack thereof is the biggest hindrance to sustainability."

New emphasis on building performance management will also help the long-term success of LEED certified projects. Building owners will be encouraged to maintain their buildings better, so that investments in green tech reach their full potential in the energy savings or other benefits. To help projects reach a higher standard of sustainability, LEED v4 also introduces new "impact categories," which are climate change, human health, water resources, biodiversity, green economy, community and natural resources.

While some want stricter standards, others feel that LEED is too complicated and unattainable. Although the point system may not be less complicated, LEED v4 will entail less paperwork. "I think LEED is attempting to simplify," said Pamela Lippe, President of e4 and an early member of USGBC. The forms will also be more transparent, and USGBC is working towards better consistency across review teams. There will also be better online tools that can help calculate points automatically.

Another highlight of LEED v4 is new adaptations for types of buildings not previously included, including data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail and mid-rise residential projects.

LEED v4 is currently being applied to 122 beta projects, and there will be a longer overlap between the current and new standards than in previous iterations.

Lippe also emphasized the need for better communication between building practitioners and USGBC, which she said had been "a bit of a black box" in the past. LEED v4 hopes to offer faster review times and better customer service. "We want to ensure that it continues to improve," said Watson.

Learn more about the details of the LEED v4 here.

Tags: greenbuild | LEED