Since 2010, the U.S. Green Building Council has been working on the next iteration of the LEED green-building rating system, dubbed LEED 2012. recently spoke with Scot Horst, USGBC senior vice president, LEED, about the last stages of system development.
What would you say are the top goals of this update and how does it compare to the 2009 update?
The top goal is continual improvement. In LEED 2009, what we did were more-structural changes. What we were doing was trying to get smarter about how we lay the system. What you see in 2012 are some more of the technical updates.
We know that there are examples of buildings with a net-zero impact in certain areas and the question is how to get buildings to that point and beyond, to where buildings are producing more energy than they use, cleaning the water, and making people healthier. We have a road map of how we want the rating system to do that. These updates are the next step on that road map.
This evolution seems to tie into one of the notable modifications to the system, which is the addition of three credit categories: Integrative Process, Location and Transportation, and Performance.
There are two things happening here. One is that we know there are things that have worked in different rating systems, like in LEED for Neighborhood Development where we have credits that have taught us about where buildings are and how people get to and from them. The Location and Transportation section is an outgrowth of that knowledge, to bring that to the rest of the rating systems and LEED in general. We learned a lot from the monitoring-performance requirements in LEED 2009, where we said that if you don’t know how your building is performing, how can it possibly be a green building? The Performance category is a growth of that and the next step to what we hope will be a complete performance system.
The second thing is that, when you look at this rating system, you can look at it like it is code development and you’re just updating a document. But you can also look at it from the future, which is how I spend most of my time. How do we look back from a future goal and pull the rating system toward a vision that’s not just an update of the past?
The other category, Integrative Process, is one of three challenging ones because we know you can do a LEED building without doing the process the right way. The question is: Can we write credits that will encourage people to consider an integrative design process in a better way so that they see that green features don’t work when they’re just additives? The only way you can do this right is if you are properly sizing systems. That means the design professionals, building occupants, and management professionals need to work together in a much better way.
Monitoring building performance continues to be a struggle for the industry. Proposed performance prerequisites address water and energy use; and projects will have to report data to the USGBC. How will this data be collected?
One of the key things that will be happening over the next year—and this isn’t just connected to LEED 2012—is that we’re making the entire system a recertification system. There’s a huge value in saying you’re going to design and construct something, there are things you need to do, and we’ll verify the building. Now we all agree that’s not good enough, especially in this market where there is less new construction and the real focus is on existing buildings.
We want your connection to LEED to become a relationship that keeps making connections from the beginning of design to occupant satisfaction. The recertification that happens in LEED Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance will be part of the whole system. What we want to do is build out the ability to reflect the performance data and automate that as much as possible.
Have you seen the work we’re doing on LEED Automation and connecting third-party applications to LEED Online? Our goal is to leverage the market to build tools that will help us automate performance information so that recertification becomes easier. It would give us a really robust way of dealing with this. It’s something we need so badly. It’s an exciting time because it feels like we can really play an important role here.
Is the Building Performance Partnership that was announced in 2010 being tied into this initiative?
That program was initiated to help us learn what we needed to do to get people involved and to find out what the big challenges are and how we start to address them. The goal is that the BPP program goes away and becomes part of the recertification program. You can look at that as a voluntary program right now where we give you a report card based on your energy data, what you said you were doing, or what you said you were going to do. We want to build those out so that they’re automated and we want to build out performance indicators. It’s a way of becoming an outcome-based system instead of an input-based system. Right now we write credits, ask you for input, and tell you whether you achieved the credit. We haven’t focused on the outcomes as much, and that’s what this performance work is about.
Will this impact buildings that already have LEED certification?
We’re going to focus on providing value to the date on the plaque. We aren’t going to take plaques off of walls or decertify anyone. If someone has a LEED plaque from 2003, we won’t take it off, but it’s like a Zagat review. If you go to a restaurant and the last time it was reviewed by Zagat was in 2003, you probably won’t think that’s the best place to have dinner. With our new logo and plaque, we’ll be featuring the certification date more than we did.
The proposed updates also include modifications to the Materials & Resources section, with the addition of three credits: Avoidance of chemicals of concern in building materials; responsible sourcing of raw materials; and use of products with environmental product declarations. What drove the development of these additions?
The Materials section needs to be seen as a whole. It’s a big update, as these credits have been pretty much the same since they were first conceived. We’re trying to help people understand how to optimize materials based on alternatives. It’s different from saying there are good materials and bad materials. We’re saying there are trade-offs that occur when you choose materials and we want to help you understand those trade-offs so you can optimize your decisions.
We’re using life-cycle assessment (LCA) to do that. LCA is a way of saying, “Here are impacts that happen when you make this choice.” You’ll see that concrete impacts carbon, and steel impacts water, and then can decide—and this is not scientific—which matters more, carbon or water. We want to get people thinking at a higher level about materials. We’re trying to increase the use of environmental product declarations and move the market to this next level of transparency.
Now, there are things that LCA doesn’t do well, such as measuring toxicity, health impacts, or the impact of material extraction on ecosystems. That’s what those credits are about. The responsible sourcing of [raw] materials credit is recognizing that when we take things out of the Earth, we don’t have good ways of measuring that impact.
We’re working hard on the chemicals of concern credit because we know it’s not right to just have a big list. There are missing pieces in the LCA approach and we need to address them through other credits, with this specifically looking at the missing piece of health impacts due to toxicity. It you look at buildings right now, people say it’s energy that matters, but what you miss is that a huge percentage of all the toxic materials in our environment are from the manufacture of materials that go into buildings. We want to address that. It’s tough because there are no easy ways to do that.
What is the LEED 2012 timeline now?
We expect at some point, probably early January, for a third public comment to be open. And then hopefully we will close everything and do a ballot.
Is late 2012 still the goal for releasing the system?
Additional information on the proposed system updates and the third public comment period, as well as a video of the LEED 2012 master session from the 2011 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo are online at usgbc.org.