All Articles Leadership Inspiration Why LEED v4? To push the envelope, of course

Why LEED v4? To push the envelope, of course

4 min read


LEED v4 contains “relatively dramatic changes,” Doug Gatlin, vice president of market development at the U.S. Green Building Council, said at a news conference at Greenbuild 2012 in San Francisco. LEED v4 is in its fifth comment period, and there is quite a buzz — and some negative feedback — going on.

Launched in 2000 by the USGBC, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System was created as a way to provide third-party certification that a building was built “green.” It bills itself as a “voluntary, consensus-based standard to support and certify successful green building design, construction and operations.”

Since 2006, there have been few significant technical changes, Gatlin said. However, USGBC wants to continue to push the envelope and help architects and builders create even greener buildings. LEED v4 offers more useful tools and simpler reporting processes to reduce inefficiencies in the system and remove barriers and red tape, says Gatlin. The latest draft version also focuses on relatively significant increases in performance requirements in the areas of energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water use and the performance of green-building materials.

And there’s the biggest point of contention — those green-building materials.

In essence, LEED v4 offers credits for building-material transparency. A project gets credits if its building materials present a quantified environmental impact. Credits are also available for products that have made their raw material suppliers and extraction locations public. And, credits are available for building materials that have an ingredient label that details the chemicals used in them.

Scot Horst, senior vice president of the USGBC LEED program said “the point of writing the [material] credits is to incentivize better decision making. LEED doesn’t push anybody; the materials credits are all voluntary … When people have the opportunity to achieve a credit, it helps them achieve a sale. So, the market is pulling more than pushing. Specifiers and architects go out and say, ‘I want healthy materials.’ Well, here are the credit requirements that help us understand this and meet this need.”

Not all see it that way.

LEED v4 is the sole green-building standard that the General Service Administration endorses at the moment, and the federal government is the single largest user of the standard. That makes it a “monopoly,” says the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition, a lobbying group that formed to challenge LEED v4.

The newest draft “proposes several dramatic changes that are intended to reduce or eliminate the use of trusted, proven and beneficial products of chemistry used in building and construction products, without regard to American jobs or costs to taxpayers,” according to the American Chemistry Council.

Horst and the USGBC disagree and say the organization is just adding an informational tool to the credit process. “With v4 , we’re trying to help people know whether there is something that can harm them,” Horst said. “Right now, we don’t know that. It doesn’t mean there is something bad.” He explained that in Sweden, the chemical components of building materials are public because residents wanted to know, not because it was mandated. “We’re trying to create something like this — an industry that shares information so you can make decisions,” Horst said.

The comment period on v4 runs through Dec. 10.

If the voices at Greenbuild are any indication, LEED will not be going away.

“Will we disturb the special-interest hornet’s nest?” Rick Federizzi asked at the opening plenary session. “Yes. Bring it on. To the critics, cynics, doubters and scoundrels, we’re ready to make the case for green buildings and communities. We can show them an economy recovering through retrofits,” he said.

Federizzi ended the presentation by proclaiming, “We are right” — a refrain that was repeated in most of the educational sessions I attended.