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The LEED v4 Ballot: The Case For and Against

Still trying to figure out to vote for your firm? Or just an interested bystander? Here’s how we see the pros and cons of the v4 ballot.
Nadav Malin
June 21, 2013

 Our LEED v4 debate wasn't exactly "presidential," but it helped us sort out how we wanted to vote as a company on LEED v4. 

Mashup – Andrea Lemon

As an educational opportunity for our entire staff and a way to sort out our thoughts on how BuildingGreen (publisher of LEEDuser) should vote on LEED v4, Tristan Roberts and I staged an impromptu debate during our weekly staff meeting. We flipped a coin to decide which of us would argue pro or con, and went at it with opening statements, rebuttals, and questions from the floor.

In the end most of the staff, including both Tristan and I, felt BuildingGreen should vote in favor of approving the draft, but it wasn’t a slam dunk. I led off with the arguments in favor of approving the draft.

Arguments in Favor of “Yes” on LEED v4

With powerful forces in politics and industry lining up against LEED, the standard needs our support. A vote against the new version would very likely embolden the American Chemistry Council and its allies who are lobbying congress and many state legislatures to ban LEED from public sector projects.

The new standard raises the threshold of achievement in many important ways, which are critical to retaining LEED’s standing as a leadership standard. These include reinforcing the connections between good intentions and actual performance, with the new Integrative Process credit and building envelope commissioning option, and tougher requirements for energy and water efficiency, for example. Given the “grade inflation” we’ve seen, in which more and more projects are now achieving the once-exclusive LEED Platinum rating, it’s high time to reset that bar—before LEED becomes “EED.”

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Lots of work has gone into improving the rating system requirements, and on the whole they are much better in terms of aligning actions with desired outcomes.

The overall alignment of requirements across the rating systems is greatly improved, allowing for the addition of new project-type specific compliance paths while keeping the overall program manageable.

In addition to the rating systems themselves, there are many other aspects of the LEED program that strongly affect the user experience. USGBC has been doing a lot of work on LEED's “Balance of System” components. If the rating systems themselves are like PV panels, then LEED online, the Reference Guides, and the credit forms, are the inverters, mounting racks, and safety switches—the “balance of system” in PV parlance—that are needed to make the system work.

The Reference Guides and credit forms have been through multiple iterations already in the v4 beta process, for example. Problematic documentation requirements that didn’t add a lot of value, like requiring project owners to log into LEED Online to sign off on specific measures, have been removed. The new online Credit Library is also a powerful new resource that teams will find helpful. This level of preparation for a version launch is unprecedented in past LEED roll-outs—and bodes well for the success of the new system.

Arguments for “No” on LEED v4

Then Tristan responded with arguments against:

A few new credits in the Materials & Resources (MR) category contain requirements that are untested and, in some cases, not even clearly defined. USGBC has promised to be transparent in defining these requirements, and putting substantive issues out to ballot as needed, but it after six public comment periods it would be nice if they had the rating system better defined.

The key MR requirements are now structured around four new credits:

  1. Building life-cycle impact reduction: This credit includes the so-called “whole-building LCA” approach, that seeks to replicate for structural engineering what energy modeling does for mechanical system engineers. It’s a great goal, but faces some serious hurdles, as Paula Melton describes in her recent article.
  2. Building product disclosure and optimization – environmental product declarations: The environmental product declarations (EPDs) part of this credit is already working—many industry are now working hard to develop product category rules so that companies can produce EPDs. The concrete industry is setting a great example. But the “multi-attribute optimization” path seems to anticipate the availability of some certification programs that are not yet defined or adopted, so it’s hard to say exactly how it will work.
  3. Building product disclosure and optimization – sourcing of raw materials: A range of reporting mechanisms are cited for documenting responsible extraction practices, but none of them were created for the purpose to which they’re being used here. This credit will clearly require some additional clarification over time.
  4. Building product disclosure and optimization – material ingredients: This is the ingredient transparency credit that seems to have the American Chemistry Council so concerned. While it’s pushing in a good direction, it has too many options, some of which are poorly defined.

Moving beyond these challenging MR credits, many others now include language with much more detail and apparent complexity than before, which makes LEED feel less accessible.

Some of the new requirements, especially those in prerequisites, raise the bar on entry-level projects in ways that could discourage adoption. For example, there are now three prerequisites in the Water Efficient category of the Building Design and Construction rating systems (up from one in LEED 2009), and the Minimum Energy Performance prerequisite is much more stringent. Tristan made the argument that the choice to focus on a minimum Energy Star score for LEED-EBOM projects rather than allowing a percentage improvement option is a mistake that will exclude too much of the existing building stock—the buildings we need to involve now in reducing carbon emissions.

Overall documentation requirements appear to be more onerous than before, which introduces yet another barrier to LEED adoption—although this could just be a factor of their novelty, and once the tools are in place and the requirements become more familiar, the documentation work may not be any greater.

We noted during the debate that many of these concerns may be addressed by the time registration for LEED 2009 closes, as that date was extended last year until the middle of 2015.

How the Ballot works

Only staff at USGBC member organizations who opted in to the LEED version 4 “consensus body” can vote. The consensus body can’t be dominated by any one interest group, as defined by the Board of Directors. Each member organization gets one vote, which is divided proportionally if multiple people at the organization vote.

A simple majority (50% +1) is required in each of the voting body categories for the ballot to pass.

According to the official rules in Appendix II of the LEED Foundations Documents: A ballot is approved by the consensus body if:

       a. A majority (more than 50%) of the members of the consensus body casts a vote, including abstentions; and

       b. A minimum of two-thirds of votes cast are affirmative votes; and

       c. A majority of votes cast by members of the consensus body in each interest category (producer, user, general interest) are affirmative votes.

If you’re in the consensus body, you have until June 30 to cast your vote.

What other considerations did we miss in our debate? How are you approaching this decision?


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June 24, 2013 - 8:21 pm

As indicated in my previous comments on LEEDuser, the 'USGBC Approved Program' is the big dealbreaker for me. The USGBC chose not to respond to my questions about it, and although I've heard from several people that they will not make any 'substantive changes' without member approval, I remain mistrustful. There are other issues that bother me, like the ACC influence in the MR Credits, but the 'USGBC Approved Program' looks like a very serious mistake to me.

The consensus process has been on a downhill slide since the Committees who used to write the Credits were disbanded. Staff took over the Credit writing, with 'input' from the TAGs, and final approval by senior staff (this process description is directly from staff). In the past couple of years they've added special advisors quietly selected by staff from the membership and the trade associations. Despite the best of intentions, the staff who are in charge of writing the Credits are simply too inexperienced on a practical project process level, lack the depth of technical knowledge needed, and are susceptible to undue influence from the dark side to take LEED to the next level in a workable version.

So now, in a effort to bypass those pesky members and streamline the process, we have 'USGBC Approved Program'. Surprise! Excluding the members from the development of the Credits and decisions about these god-knows-what programs will seriously harm the brand, but more importantly, it undermines the consensus process that LEED was built on. AND, inexplicably, they are sabotaging consensus while they are under intense attack for not having a consensus process. Do they think the other guys won't notice?

Voting yes because we feel sorry for them does not seem wise to me. I don't think we can fix it later. To me, voting yes is hastening the demise of LEED. I don't want to help them hurt the brand, and I don't want to willingly give up my power as a member.

For me - it's a solid NO. It won't be the end of the world if v4 doesn't pass this time. They'll have to fix it. It could be so much better if they would invite the members back into the Credit development process. Just imagine....

June 25, 2013 - 1:30 pm

Thanks, Tristan. Sorry I generally take things too seriously and can be literal. The humor is appreciated even if I missed it.

June 25, 2013 - 1:26 pm

BIll, that was an interesting component that I had not been aware of. I see the pros and cons for it... like this debate.

Michelle, I did not intend to imply in any way that all "no" votes are about hating. I was simply trying to clarify the USGBC policy, and the video I linked to tickles my funny bone... much needed.

June 25, 2013 - 1:19 pm

Tristan, most people take a simple approach to things and don't always fill out every line in a form. I'd just like the lazy "Yes" vote to carry the same weight as the lazy "No" vote.

June 25, 2013 - 12:39 pm

Thanks Peggy for the insight on the credit writing process. We spend so much time implementing and interpreting LEED requirements in the field and keeping up with the changes that I haven't been able to stay on top of the organizational issues behind their creation. We've been doing this for 10 years, and I can say that overall I would agree that staff seem to have less practical industry and field experience than in previous years. I have been naively thinking that only GBCI was experiencing this culture shift and honestly did not realize the checks and balances on USGBC staff writing the requirements provided by the Committees basically is no more. So your comments explain a lot, thanks.

And thanks Bill for the voting advisory.I had no idea that a No vote could be ignored based on the reason. Interesting.

And Tristan, rest assured that if my firm decided to vote No on the v4 draft rating system, it would have nothing to do with "hating" the USGBC. If anything, quite the contrary. Isn't that the idea behind consensus and democracy? You guys had a debate right? Argued the pros and cons? And you probably didn't all agree on every point despite your group outcome. Striving to acknowledge legitimate concerns and reach reasonable compromises that advance our mutual cause is what this is all about right?

June 25, 2013 - 11:38 am

That's right, Bill. "No" votes need a reason more than just hating on USGBC to be counted as valid—since it's a vote on the v4 draft.

June 25, 2013 - 10:03 am

Just remember to give a reason "related to the draft" when voting no, or it'll be ignored.

"15. Each member of the consensus body shall vote one of the following positions:
a. Affirmative
b. Affirmative, with comment
c. Negative, with reason
d. Abstain
16. All negative votes without reason or with reason not related to the draft shall count toward quorum but shall not be factored into the numerical requirements for consensus."

June 24, 2013 - 6:09 pm

I have also voted as a qualified YES. While I have serious concerns over some of the changes made in the commissioning prerequisite and credits, overall those items related to MEP are improvements. While I understand the concerns and controversy over the MR credits, it has surprised me that one of the major changes in v4, and one that in my opinion will have significant impact on the standard, is the change to ASHRAE 90.1-2010.

Everyone sees this as a normal and appropriate change in the standard, which it is, but few understand how fundamental this is going to change our thinking to both meet and exceed the energy performance. As part of a presentation we are preparing for GreenBuild this year, we have been looking at a v2.2 project that we did the energy modeling on, and will be seeing the changes as we move to v2009 and finally to v4. Our initial work while not surprising, is enlightening. We will have a lot of work to do to “recover” the energy savings that many projects have been able to achieve.

June 24, 2013 - 12:01 pm

Morning gentlemen,
Thanks for the debate presentation. A very good idea. FYI there's a lot more specific info provided above on the No side. Without your preface, I would have interpreted the debate as tending negative. Your comments on the work spent on "improving requirements" and "the user experience" are hard to evaluate without being able to review the documentation requirements that you note in the MR comments apparently still need some work after 6 iterations.

Two things would be helpful to me. Since the Yes argument sounds more like general rhetoric than the specifics cited in the No argument, a further bit of narrative expressing why your office ended up on the Yes side would be valuable. I'm left feeling like you're just hoping many of the concerns expressed will be resolved by mid-2015 when 2009 sunsets, that implies by our beta testing, rather than expecting v4 to be ready for prime time. After all this concentrated time and effort and a new platform already in place, why?

Most helpful would be a current v4 rating system draft to read and review, rather than the credit library scenario your link provides. It is time consuming and inconvenient to access them one at a time. I've queried the USGBC also. Is there a cohesive document?

June 24, 2013 - 4:18 pm

I have struggled with how I would vote for a long time, and have evolved from a strong NO to a qualified YES. In the end the need to support LEED and USGBC and to support continuous improvement as a fundamental principal took precedent over any particular issues I may have with specific credit requirements, unfamiliar reference standards and details yet to be worked out. My YES vote is testament to my faith that the details will be worked out (and that the membership will make sure of it), that we will get used to the new standards (the same way we got used to the original ones) and that as a matter of principal we must keep working to improve the rating system. That even if it is not perfect right out of the box, we will use the parts that work and fix the parts that don't. All this rumination is made somewhat easier by the long transition period we have been given to continue to use "the devil that we know" (LEED2009) until 2015. My YES vote also assumes that because of the increased rigor of v4 (and the potentially increased cost and agita of certification) that there will be a fall off (perhaps a significant falloff) in the number of projects seeking formal certification and that this is the price we pay for leadership. And I would rather USGBC take the high road toward market transformation than the low road of increased market share.

June 24, 2013 - 2:23 pm

Hi Laura,
Bless you, I have tremendous difficulty finding resources on the new site. Everything is buried so deep. Thanks.

June 24, 2013 - 1:04 pm

Here is the link to the balloted version of the language, scorecards and a summary of changes for each rating system. I had a hard time tracking it down too.

June 24, 2013 - 9:50 am


With all due respect, nothing we do or don't do with regard to v4 will make a difference to the ACC and its allies. Until the Council opts to forgo any consideration of chemicals of concern, they are out to destroy LEED, period. The ACC is on the wrong side of history and will go down fighting, having allowed/caused the exposure of millions of innocent people to very hazardous materials in the meanwhile.



June 28, 2013 - 5:44 pm

I've testified before some state legislative committees against a lobbyist from ACC. They're very far from mainstream... not sure we're in the same debating universe. (I'm happy about that.) If LEED v4 isn't approved it will make the ACC happy.

We beat them in Connecticut when we added a deposit to water bottles. They got involved because it involved plastic. The lobbyist had some very creative arguments against this legislation and a lot of free time apparently :)

June 28, 2013 - 1:46 am

Every version is a step in the right direction. Sure the details may not be worked out at the time of release, just like they were not worked out in past versions, but once adopted, product manufacturers and service providers adapt to the changes with better products and services. By the time everyone is forced to adopt LEED v4, ASHRAE 2010 will be years past anyway so most AHJs will have adopted it or something more stringent. Particularly now when cities and counties are adopting 189, IGCC, and/or CalGreen as code, LEED needs to stay at the forefront, and push the envelope much further than these codes to maintain its relevance. Renee