With great adoption comes innovation in LEED certification

Posted by on Jul 1, 2014 in News

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Originally published in the Tampa Bay Business Journal

In early July the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that the organization’s members — including industry professionals, manufacturers, educators, other green building leaders and other key stakeholder groups — had overwhelmingly passed LEEDv4, its latest update to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

Impressively, this bustling third-party, independent and industry-leading green building organization garnered member votes from all 50 U.S. states (and the District of Columbia) as well as 46 countries and territories. Clearly, the ‘U.S.’ in USGBC is more a designation confirming the geographic genesis of the USGBC, rather than the boundaries of its use.

The passing of this latest version of this stringent but widely adopted third-party certification did not come easy, however, as the development of the certification guidelines included ample public comment periods (six), iterative refinement and ultimately a vote (the initial name of the new version was LEED 2012).

This process openly welcomed input from a wide range of individuals and industry stakeholders—and received ample criticism from a few notable industry groups such as the American Chemistry Council (which represents the chemical industries) that fear some of the new LEED “credit” opportunities and requirements related to material composition health and product declarations are similar to a nutrition label for food. Other industries, such as the American Forestry Foundation, have widely been battling the “Certified Wood”and “regional material” credits contained within LEED, stating that they do not promote small and local forest/wood products.

It should be noted that these critics are focused on credits that are not mandatory, but rather optional credits. They offer an opportunity to earn points that add to your overall LEED score.

Given the incredible strength of industry adoption, and innovation that the USGBC’s LEED certification has benefited from since its launch in the year 2000 (cue Conan O’Brien’s late-night skit) – and the speed to which the design and construction industry has adopted its merits and requirements as more typical practices – there is a lot to celebrate, as well as evaluate, in regards to the development of its next phase of innovation in LEEDv4, which is set to launch this fall.

The USGBC and its LEED certification have helped owners, developers, designers and contractors utilize industry accepted, and third-party validated, standards of design and construction methods that make buildings more environmentally friendly, healthy and efficient for their operators and users – lowering utility costs, improving indoor health, reducing water use and maximizing building performance, among many other benefits.

In addition to certification, extensive educational opportunities have been provided through professional accreditation of individuals, in-depth reference guides and other opportunities to advance knowledge and present thought leadership in terms of innovation in sustainable design and construction.

This has not only impacted projects seeking LEED certification, but has also driven the marketplace towards more LEED-like standards, even in non-certified projects.

Change is never easy. But without a periodically updated, and robust, standard of performance related to the sustainability, efficiency and health of the built environment, the hurdle will remain too low given the realities of market-driven innovation.

With its next iteration of LEEDv4, the USGBC is preparing to roll out the standards and technical guidance that the green building movement will follow over the next 10 years and beyond.