LEED: Redefined

by: Smith and Howard

April 28, 2014

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The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently released the fourth generation of its renowned energy efficient building design. The updated framework dramatically expands the types of structures that may qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and includes a comprehensive suite of Web-enabled project management and assessment tools for contractors. Let’s take a closer look at “LEED v4.”

New sectors and categories

Created by the USGBC in 1998, LEED is a set of uniform building and maintenance standards that have been used primarily in new commercial construction — particularly office buildings, civic structures, academic complexes and manufacturing facilities. Each project is awarded an overall score based on criteria such as:

  • Water or energy efficiency,
  • Indoor air quality, and
  • Environmentally conscious material use.

Based on the total points awarded, a project is then deemed to be LEED Platinum, Gold, Silver or Certified by the USGBC.

In LEED v4, the USGBC expanded its guidelines to incorporate structures that are increasingly common in today’s economy — including data centers, warehouses and distribution centers. In addition, the USGBC added new standards for school and retail rehab projects, as well as midrise residential projects. According to USGBC officials, “LEED v4 addresses 21 different market sector adaptations — each reviewed by market leaders either owning or designing or operating those space types — to identify and address the unique needs of each market.”

The latest LEED also includes new criteria for judging projects. The USGBC now recommends that, along with assessing water efficiency and green material usage, green builders test new construction and rehab projects to determine whether they impact climate change, human health, water resources, biodiversity, green economy, or community and natural resources.

New tools

In addition to expanding the scope of its environmental certification, the USGBC added a number of important features and updates to the new release. These include:

Simplified documentation. LEED certification can be a bureaucratic nightmare for many builders. The USGBC attempted to alleviate some of the paperwork in its new release by consolidating paperwork and overhauling its databases. The organization also eliminated many proprietary forms in favor of standardized industry formats.

Revised reference guides. The USGBC completely revised its LEED certification reference guides for builders, architects and consultants in the new release. These updated guidebooks are now available online and include video tutorials, presentations and other Web-optimized content.

Online tools. A new USGBC Web portal offers credit calculators and other online tools. According to the organization, these new tools were designed to increase “transparency to provide LEED users a better understanding of the equations behind the calculations.” 

Quantum leap

USGBC officials describe LEED v4 as a “quantum leap” from previous versions. They also predict the new release may unlock “synergies within the building system, providing solutions for optimizing performance, and ultimately achieving better environmental, economic and social outcomes in our buildings.”

Whether your construction company has worked on dozens of LEED projects or is considering bidding on its first, these changes are well worth checking out. Green building is many things — including risky for the unprepared. But it’s not going away.

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