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News:

Tumult Grows Over LEED Rating System Update

By Nadine M. Post
This story first appeared in Engineering News-Record.
July 20, 2012

Members of the buildings sector are applauding the U.S. Green Building Council's decision to delay the release of the next version of its popular green-building rating system, called LEED. In the meantime, debate rages on over the content of the draft revision. Consequently, USGBC is holding an unprecedented fifth public comment period on the latest draft, from Oct. 2 to Dec. 10.

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The delay follows a torrent of comments, some 22,000 so far, that greeted the fourth draft. "The percentage of changes since LEED 2009 went too far, too fast," says Scot Horst, senior vice president, LEED, for the Washington, D.C.-based USGBC. "Nobody wanted to change yet—not just the stodgy old guard [but] even people who use LEED." In response to the delay, LEED 2012 is now called LEED Version 4. The LEED v.4 ballot has also been delayed, likely until June 1.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Certification is based on a 100-point system of credits: Certified is 40–49 points; Silver is 50–59 points; Gold is 60–79 points; and Platinum is 80 points and above.

USGBC says there are 40,000 projects certified in 130 nations and 1.5 million sq ft of building space certified daily.

SUPPORT FOR DELAY

Special-interest groups, long concerned about the potential impact of the rating system's credits on their market share, support the delay and continue to campaign "to fix" LEED. Among these groups is the American Chemistry Council. ACC has concerns about the LEED development process and LEED credits that discourage use of products with content deemed harmful to the environment.

The ballot delay "should be the first step of many to correct serious problems" in LEED development, said a joint statement, issued on June 20, from 26 groups representing building product manufacturers, including ACC.

To promote their cause, many of the groups and others, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, have formed the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition. The new group, announced on July 18, wants green building codes, standards, rating systems and credits developed in conformance with "full ANSI- or ISO-type consensus processes." It also wants LEED credits based on data supported by science. Further, it wants performance-based, rather than point-based, ratings.

Though LEED is not an ANSI standard, Horst maintains it is "a true consensus standard." Initially, developing the 12-year-old LEED as an ANSI standard would have taken too long, he adds.

ACC also is concerned about LEED credits that discourage use of products that contain certain chemicals, most of them plastics. Among these are insulation that contains foam board or spray foam; floor tiles and roofing membranes; wire/cable jackets and pipes that contain vinyl and other chemicals; certain adhesives and sealants; and polycarbonate-based LED lighting, skylights and canopies.

In response, Horst says points associated with the use of those products do not keep a building from LEED certification or even LEED Platinum status. "These points are credits, not prerequisites, and completely optional," he says.

ENERGY STAR CONCERNS

BOMA International, which represents building owners and managers, is also supporting the delay of the new LEED, says Karen Penafiel, BOMA's vice president of advocacy, codes and standards.

BOMA is particularly concerned about proposed changes to a prerequisite for certification under LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB): a minimum score of 75 out of 100 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR building energy-use benchmarking program.

USGBC's goal is to align LEED EB with ENERGY STAR. In LEED 2009, the minimum ENERGY STAR rating is 69.

More than 90% of LEED EB-certified projects earned an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or above, according to USGBC. For the others, USGBC launched a pilot program that provides an alternative path to certification. For example, Pilot Credit 67 allows projects to meet even the current LEED prerequisite—an ENERGY STAR score of 69— by improving energy performance by 20% over previous energy use, demonstrated by a year of data.

The pilot is open to as many as 500 projects. Two projects have registered since the program began in March. Information about the pilot is available at www.usgbc.org in the website's LEED section.

BACKLASH AGAINST GSA REQUIREMENTS

The controversy over LEED has spilled over into the federal buildings sector. In late 2010, the U.S. General Services Administration—which has more than 361 million sq ft of space in 9,600 federally owned and leased facilities—began requiring LEED Gold for all new federal buildings and major renovations. For GSA's leased properties, LEED Silver is still the requirement for new construction of 10,000 sq ft or more.

ACC and other groups are up in arms over the GSA requirements, which are based on LEED 2009. Among other things, they maintain the requirements give the USGBC a monopoly.

"GSA should recommend the use of more than one rating system," says Keith Christman, managing director of plastics and markets for the Washington, D.C.-based ACC. And GSA needs to use a rating system that is an ANSI standard.

GSA is mandated to evaluate rating systems every five years. It is currently reviewing three green building certification systems: LEED 2009, Green Globes and the Living Building Challenge. Because LEED v.4 is not issued, GSA has not evaluated its content.

As part of the review process, GSA is convening key federal portfolio holders to evaluate and make recommendations on the role of green-building certification systems in advancing high performance in the federal real estate portfolio. An ad hoc review group, co-chaired by GSA and the Depts. of Energy and Defense, will develop findings taking into account interrelationships among green-building certification systems and recently promulgated green-building standards; metrics to inform building-performance tracking and reporting; and the cost effectiveness of implementing green measures.

Two public listening sessions have been held to date. The review group's draft findings will be shared later this summer through a notice-and-comment period in the Federal Register.

Following public comment later this year, GSA, DOD and DOE will develop a formal recommendation on how green-building certification systems can be used to facilitate high-performance buildings in the federal sector.

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