LEED Finally Lives Up to Its Promise
February 4, 2019
As Malcolm Gladwell illustrates so well in his bestselling book Outliers, nothing great emerges fully formed. Just ask the inventor of WD-40 about his previous 39 formulations.
LEED 4.1 is such an achievement. The current working drafts of LEED for Building Design and Construction (BD+C) and LEED for Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) are truly outstanding.
LEED has arrived
Despite its remarkable market success over nearly two decades, as a standard LEED has been flawed in various ways. That’s not intended as a criticism of anyone involved with developing it; we were doing the best we could. It’s just that the simplifications and proxy criteria that were needed to make LEED palatable to a broader market weren’t necessarily great indicators of best practice. The decision to bring it to market as a tool for market transformation despite those flaws was brilliant.
But now, 40-plus iterations later (if you count all the market-sector variants, international adaptions, and ballot drafts), LEED has arrived. The way carbon emissions are now integrated into the energy points and addressed in the materials credits, for example, creates a strong incentive to make decisions that were previously just hinted at. WSP’s Josh Radoff shares my excitement about the changes in a LEEDuser blog post, and we highlight the major changes in our news analysis.
The materials credits maybe the biggest story here. LEED v4 took a bold step forward with incentives for using products with environmental product declarations (EPDs) and ingredient transparency at a time when that kind of reporting was nascent in the U.S. It helped jump-start a whole cottage industry around those reports, but it had unrealistic thresholds and extra requirements that put some of those points out of reach for most projects. Version 4.1 fixes all that with thresholds that are much lower in some cases and more flexible in others. It removes entirely a couple of reporting pathways that the market still hasn’t figured out, like the idea of transparency in raw material extraction practices. I’m sad to see that last one disappear entirely; hopefully it will be back in the future.
Not yet built to perform
Version 4.1 is still not perfect—far from it. It’s still just a design and construction assessment, for one thing. We have yet to effectively connect BD+C and ID+C certification to a measure of actual performance, something that the current Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) and recertification via the Arc platform have yet to solve. But it’s pushing in that direction, with more and better credits for installing water use meters, for example. And the new LEED Zero certifications are a promising new approach.
Is it too late?
It’s sadly ironic that this great rating system has emerged at a time when interest in LEED seems to be flagging, at least in North America. The combination of a frustration with some parts of LEED v4 and the fact that LEED is no longer a shiny new object attracting media attention have taken their toll.
I hope that owners and designers working on new buildings and renovations will give it a fresh look. And that the program’s administrators at Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) will dedicate the resources needed to train and engage highly qualified reviewers, to ensure a good user experience.
LEED is back, and it’s better than ever. Now we just have to get the mainstream building industry using it, before it’s too late for the planet … and for the people who call this planet home.
For more information:
U.S. Green Building Council