LEED Still Leads Though For How Long Is Unclear
By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting
As I write this column, the extended deadline for comments on the LEED 2012 3rd public draft has expired. The US Green Building Council began development of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating program in 1995 and released LEED v.2.0 in 2000. The goal of the USGBC with LEED was to transform the green building construction market.
With each new version of LEED there have been new categories, new credits, and different point distributions. The only consistent things that new versions brought us were complaints and opposition from the construction industry. It is true that new versions were always sent out for public comment. The process used by USGBC includes industry consensus but is not subject to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved rules and procedures for updating the rating program. Hence, comments from industry may or may not be acknowledged or acted on by the reviewing organization.
The earlier versions of LEED attracted many skeptics due to the emphasis being placed on modeled energy reduction. In some cases the predicted energy usage was far from the actual energy consumption. But LEED adapted to the concerns and recognized the deficiencies in the earlier programs. With later versions of LEED the priority of commissioning and recording actual energy consumption were introduced.
The initial versions of LEED also raised questions about the Indoor Environmental Quality category’s impact. This category included provisions for air quality, daylighting, connecting building occupants to nature, thermal comfort and acoustics. There were anecdotal stories about improved health and happiness in LEED certified buildings. And eventually studies and statistics were introduced confirming that buildings that improved indoor environmental quality through the LEED rating program did result in better healing rates, test scores, or productivity of the occupants depending on the type of building category.
LEED has always managed to stay ahead of the curve and “stretch” the design and construction industries. Just meeting code is not good enough for a LEED-registered project. Early in the LEED development process, USGBC indicated that they were targeting the top 25% of buildings for LEED certification. Just when new provisions like reporting recycled content were becoming comfortable, new versions of LEED changed the provision or moved the prescriptive credit into a performance based credit approach.
There have always been those who doubt that the LEED program will survive. Some say it will be replaced with green codes, or different green building rating programs. Others say that it will disappear because it is a voluntary program.
At the risk of sounding like I am an employee of USGBC, I believe that LEED has and continues to transform the green building construction industry. What it ends up looking like down the road is not certain. But it remains a formidable rating program and is growing internationally as well. The fact that it is a voluntary program does not seem to be discouraging local jurisdictions and government organizations from mandating its use in certain types of public building projects. It may be cumbersome, labor intensive with the forms, expensive to register projects, and time consuming for awarding certification, but it is an inconvenient truth that LEED is here to stay or morph into some other transformational program.
The complaints and concerns heard from industry have always been associated with LEED versions and have not gone away even in this third public comment period of LEED 2012. The proposed 2012 version is one of the more radical and complex changes from previous versions. There are brand new categories, realignment of points and weighting, emphasis on Life Cycle Assessment and transparency, and goals that include improving the health of building occupants as well as improving the impact on neighborhoods or communities. This goes well beyond the first LEED version’s goal of improving the environmental footprint of a building.
Over the years we have seen changes in the emphasis of energy and other issues related to the design and construction of buildings. Energy remains a very important category in LEED 2012, but Water Efficiency, Sites, and Indoor Environmental Quality have received increasing weight and importance in the program.
In the proposed LEED 2012 draft, there are significant changes to the Materials and Resources category. Prescriptive credits for recycled content, recyclability, and proximity to jobsites have been replaced with more performance-based credits that allow for Life Cycle Assessment methodology being used as an option to qualify for points. Even the type of materials subject to the proposed credits are being separated into “permanently installed non- structural” building materials in contrast to structural materials.
Looking at the 3rd draft of LEED 2012 one can see where LEED-registered buildings that use metal for roof and/or wall systems can qualify for points in a variety of credits and categories. Those credits include:
SS Credit: Heat Island Reduction
WE Credit: Outdoor Water Use Reduction
WE Credit: Water Metering
Building Reuse and Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment
MR Credit: Material Life Cycle Disclosure and Assessment
MR Credit: Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern
MR Credit: PBT Source Reduction – Lead, Cadmium and Copper
EQ Prerequisite: Minimum Acoustic Performance
EQ Credit: Low-Emitting Interiors
EQ Credit: Daylight
EQ Credit: Acoustic Performance
One credit in particular has received much attention from the metal construction industry, as well as from many other competitive industries. That is the MR Credit for Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern. This credit addresses what have been referred to as “red lists” of chemicals that reportedly are toxic or unhealthy to humans in certain concentrations. The LEED draft is proposing limits to the amount of building materials that contain a certain level of these listed chemicals. On the surface this may sound like a commendable credit. However, there is controversy surrounding the scientific rigor, or lack thereof, that went into establishing the list of chemicals to avoid. This is in light of the fact that OSHA and EPA already monitor toxic chemicals or materials, as well as the industry’s use of Material Safety Data Sheets for most building materials that already call out components of concern.
For now, all the comments on the LEED 2012 draft have been submitted and the reviewers have started their daunting task of reading them. In several months we will know what the final version looks like and a balloted vote among USGBC members will then take place.
Al Gore brought us “An Inconvenient Truth” to explain the theory of human-induced climate change. USGBC is now about to unveil another inconvenient-but-true green building rating program. It is very likely that the bar will once again be raised to stretch industry and transform the marketplace. What lies beyond is yet to be seen.
Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). Scott can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (610) 966-2430. You can also visit him on the web at www.greenmetalconsulting.com.
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