When the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) created the LEED green building program in 2000, no one could have known that this idea would turn into a global movement with more than 1.5 million square feet certifying to LEED every day. Today, LEED has grown to more than 184,000 LEED credentialed professionals and over 51,000 projects participating in LEED, making up 9.7 billion square feet of construction space.
The hallmark of LEED and its ability to affect market transformation is its continuous improvement cycle. Fueled by input from the green building community, USGBC and hundreds of volunteers have worked to evolve LEED as our understanding of building science, the emergence of new technologies, the needs of the marketplace, and the deepening of our environmental priorities change.
The result, LEED v4, is a technical update to the rating systems that offers a new global perspective, an improved user experience and a better focus on building performance. This past November, USGBC launched LEED v4 at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Philadelphia.
PAINTING THE PICTURE OF LEED v4
What does LEED v4 look like? With LEED 2009, the primary changes were foundational, such as rating system alignment, the development of LEED Online v3 and updates to the professional credentials and certification process. LEED v4 builds on these changes to improve the clarity, functionality and interconnectivity of the LEED program while focusing on additional improvements described below.
NEW MARKET SECTORS
The building industry now uses LEED on a wider variety of project types than ever before. From stadiums to convention centers, commercial offices to hospitals, each space type has unique needs and challenges when using LEED. LEED v4 addresses 21 different market sector adaptations — each reviewed by market leaders either owning, designing or operating those space types — to identify the unique needs of that market and appropriately address those needs within revisions to LEED v4. LEED v4 provides new solutions for the following sectors:
- Existing schools
- Existing retail
- Data centers (new and existing)
- Warehouses and distribution centers (new and existing)
- Midrise residential
IMPROVED ENVIRONMENTAL OUTCOMES
LEED v4 emphasizes the potential for projects to contribute positively to their communities and to the planet. USGBC developed new impact categories that serve as the driver for determining the technical requirements of the rating system and reposition the LEED development trajectory from encouraging buildings to “do less bad” and instead “do more good.”
With a focus on performance outcomes, LEED v4 is structured to help LEED users have a better understanding of how to manage their buildings’ performance to ensure they are reaching their full performance potential. Performance is addressed in technical changes within each credit category:
Location and Transportation. For the first time in the building and construction rating systems, Location and Transportation is called out as a separate category. The purpose is to reward projects within relatively dense areas, accessible to a variety of transportation options and on sites with development constraints.
Sustainable Sites. Sustainable Sites emphasizes the vital relationships among projects, ecosystems and ecosystem services. This category drives site performance by encouraging restorative environmental solutions (on- and off-site) that take advantage of ecosystem services and preserving habitat and biodiversity.
Water Efficiency. Expanded in scope, the Water Efficiency category addresses total water use in LEED buildings. Requirements encourage projects to seek efficiency in water operations most heavily used by the project. Requirements for building level water metering ensure that LEED projects will be able to effectively monitor and improve their water use during operation.
Materials and Resources. The LEED v4 Materials and Resources section relies on a life-cycle thinking approach to building, product and material selection. This approach organizes the credits into four areas: reuse, assessment and optimization, human and ecological health and waste management. This revised Materials and Resources credit category better defines the environmental priorities throughout the LEED project development process and offers organized, actionable credits around new concepts while maintaining effective requirements established in previous versions of LEED.
Indoor Environmental Quality. The credits in the Indoor Environmental Quality credit category have been grouped into four areas: indoor air, light, sound and experience. This category focused on improved performance by recognizing strategies such as air testing and taking a systems approach to material selection to minimize volatile organic compounds in a space. For the first time, LEED for New Construction and LEED for Commercial Interiors include a credit for acoustical design, which can have a major impact on occupant comfort and performance.
LEED IS GLOBAL
Today, LEED is used in more than 145 countries. In a world full of green building rating programs, LEED stands at the front of the line, representing the global standard for green building best practices around the world.
The development of LEED v4 has provided a great opportunity to further the mission of USGBC on a global scale. In the new rating system, project teams will find greater flexibility and recognition of regional context by allowing for regional and local equivalencies to typical referenced standards. Project teams will also experience a greater ease of use through integration of metric units into all tools and resources.
THE USER EXPERIENCE
USGBC has worked with more than 100 projects testing LEED v4 through the LEED v4 Beta Program to refine the program tools and resources. The result has been significant improvement to the overall LEED v4 program:
Reference Guides. The reference guide has been restructured to focus on the most useful information for project teams: behind the intent, step-by-step guidance, examples and further explanation. The improved presentation will help project teams focus on the successful implementation of LEED credits.
Documentation. USGBC focused on simplifying the work for project teams so they can focus on achieving credits rather than documenting them. The documentation forms have gone through more than 18 months of development and several rounds of review to ensure that the documentation process does not create an unnecessary burden for project teams.
Visit usgbc.org/leedv4 for all LEED v4 program news and resources.
Chrissy Macken is USGBC assistant project manager for LEED v4.