Move over, LEED v4. The latest version of the sustainable rating system isn’t the only way the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is advancing its standards these days. Along with the updated certification program, the USGBC also introduced a working prototype of its LEED Dynamic Plaque at Greenbuild 2013, in Philadelphia (Fast-forward to 50:55 of this video of the announcement for the reveal).

Designers, rest easy that you don’t have to prepare for another accreditation. Instead the LEED Dynamic Plaque is about benchmarking and comparing post-occupancy building performance on a global scale, says Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED. The plaque’s main objectives are “separating [sustainable design] strategies from the results and outcomes … and then having the same [scale] to measure [building performance],” he says. Though the strategies provided in the LEED reference guides are important, Horst says, the USGBC wanted “to measure whether they’re really working.”

What is the LEED Dynamic Plaque?
Physically, the plaque is a freestanding and digital scoreboard that is displayed on an existing project’s site. Designed in collaboration with IDEO, based in Palo Alto, Calif., its clean interface shows the project’s latest scores in five performance categories—energy, water, waste, transportation, and human experience—and the project’s total score, from 1 to 100. Though the categories are associated with those in the LEED rating systems, the LEED Dynamic Plaque’s scoring system does not correlate directly with the LEED credits in the reference guides.

Instead, the plaque is a way “for people to re-certify [their projects] without having to track all the information and all the credits that are in ‘LEED for Existing Buildings,’” Horst says. The plaque can be installed on any existing LEED-certified building, regardless of which rating system it initially followed. Facility managers can enter building performance data into the USGBC’s online dashboard manually or automatically, and as frequently as they want to; the USGBC will require owners to submit building data for verification at least once a year, Horst says. The USGBC is currently in discussions with building-management-system providers to automate the data entry process into LEED ED, Horst says.

The Scoring System
The software, hardware, and scoring algorithms behind the scenes are what the USGBC and its team of developers and designers have been working on for the past 18 months. Built with an open API to allow its integration with other energy-monitoring services, the software is built on top of LEED Online, where designers of prospective LEED projects log their credits. The database contains information for the approximately 60,000 LEED certified projects worldwide, and will allow owners to compare their building’s current and past performance, and its performance on equal ground to that of their peers. “Being able to make meaningful comparisons is something lacking in the market,” Horst says.

Though energy and water usage are inherently quantitative metrics, some categories required the USGBC to convert quantifiable metrics from qualitative information. For example, the human-experience category requires occupants to rate their satisfaction on a zero-to-10 scale. But until the sample size of responses becomes statistically significant, Horst says, the difference between a satisfaction rating of 5 and 8 is nebulous.

The USGBC installed a pilot LEED Dynamic Plaque at its Washington, D.C., headquarters, which was certified Platinum in LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED CI) in 2009. The project went from a LEED CI score of 94 to a LEED Dynamic Plaque score of 77 because the organization lacked post-occupancy data such as the space’s VOC levels and a survey of its occupants’ commuting methods. Armed with this information, the project’s score rose to 81, which puts the USGBC’s HQ in LEED Dynamic Plaque Platinum territory.

LEED Certifications are Preserved
The USGBC’s pilot installation highlights two key points about LEED Dynamic Plaque. First, regardless of the building’s current performance, the Dynamic Plaque score will not usurp a building’s attained certification level. “We will never take plaques away,” Horst says. A building certified as Gold under LEED New Construction v1.0 will always be LEED Gold certified, he says, “but what we hope is that all the LEED v1.0 buildings will recertify and try to up their scores significantly.”

Second, LEED DP will not tell owners how to get a better score. “We have tons of credits and strategies in place that people can go to,” Horst says. “But we don’t tell them what they have to do to get there.”

Though the pricing model was not finalized at time of publication, Horst says that building owners will likely pay a subscription fee for the plaque, software, and monitoring services. “We’re trying to keep the barrier of entry really low,” Horst says. As part of the fee, the USGBC will also help users set up the plaque.

And the Data Goes Where?
Information entered into the Dynamic Plaque dashboard will pile on to the mound of building data that the USGBC has from its LEED rating systems. Building owners can opt to keep much of the details to themselves, but the USGBC will share the building’s most recent level of certification, similar to how they share the scorecards of LEED certified projects, Horst says. However, he hopes that building owners will want to publicize their project performance, spurring competition and enabling the public to access the information via mobile devices in the future.

The USGBC hopes to have 25 LEED Dynamic Plaques on building walls by the first quarter of 2014, and several thousand by year’s end, starting in the United States.

For skeptics of sustainable design who point to energy-intensive, LEED-certified projects such as Bank of America building, in New York, and to studies debating the performance of allegedly green buildings, LEED Dynamic Plaque may help shed light on what happens after the etched glass certification plaques are shipped. The plaque also represents the direction the USGBC thinks green building is heading, and will streamline the current process of recertifying buildings through the Green Building Certification Institute, the USGBC’s third-party reviewer. “The plan over the next few years is to make LEED completely a recertification program,” Horst says. “That means that every building is an existing building … and every existing building re-certifies because buildings are alive.”