LEED v5 Preview #1: New Structure Hits All the Right Notes
This is the first post in a series on LEED v5. Part Two provides an overview of the O+M draft. A later series will dive deeper on O+M. Part Three looks at energy and operational carbon in BD+C and ID+C. Part Four is about the proposed EQ approach.
LEED v5 could change everything. But will it?
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) soft-launched a radical structural overhaul to all the LEED rating systems at Greenbuild 2023 in Washington, D.C. The organization has also released a full draft of LEED v5 for Operations and Maintenance: Existing Buildings (O+M).
We’ll be sharing the highlights—and digging deep on the O+M draft—here on LEEDuser over the coming days as the organization unveils more details.
An invitation to criticize
LEED v5 right now isn’t a thing yet; it’s just concepts and drafts. But the philosophy behind it is clear, and USGBC is already bringing certain details into focus.
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Melissa Baker, senior vice president at USGBC, emphasized at the first rollout session that the organization must get critical feedback in order to move forward. “We need to get it right,” she said, encouraging the audience to “listen with an open mind, and think critically about where we are and where we need to go.”
She later added this request: “Try it. Test it. Break it so we can fix it.”
The cocktail: ½ climate action, ¼ quality of life, ¼ ecology
Determining credit weightings is always the first order of business with a LEED upgrade, and the proposed weightings make climate—both decarbonization and resilience—a full half of the rating system.
One quarter of the weight is on “quality of life,” which is a catch-all term for a variety of goals, encompassing social equity and health and well-being, including IAQ, passive survivability, and material health.
The final quarter, “ecology,” isn’t just about site and landscape, though those are the heavyweights here. As currently presented, it will intersect with ecotoxicity and other pollution associated with materials as well.
Integrative process meets credit integration
If it sounds like these three goals intersect and overlap in a dozen places, that’s because they do. And it’s by design.
Baker and three LEED Steering Committee chairs (past, present, and future) presented a matrix with the three core goals down the left side and five principles up top, with examples of how credits will fall into the 15 boxes. The five principles are:
- Health and well-being
This matrix came out of conversations at the Steering Committee level along the lines of “if we only give equity two points, are we really being equitable?” explained Lance Davis, past chair the committee. They soon realized, he added, that “this is the wrong way to think about the credits. … What we’re working on should be integrative designs, so points should be an integrated system.”
Davis elaborated: “equity is flowing through multiple points. It’s not necessarily individual points on equity” but is instead incorporated into credits on water, resilience, indoor environmental quality, and elsewhere throughout the rating systems.
Finally, the prerequisites have been broken down into a continuum of actions project teams can take:
- Data reporting and management
- Minimum performance requirements
This new structure works in service of encouraging integrative planning and processes among team members—whether it’s for existing buildings or new construction, explained Melissa Baker later in an interview. “We are building on that idea of an integrative process and bringing people to the table early,” she said. So for example, for building design and construction (BD+C), there are planned prerequisites for assessing both the whole-life carbon footprint and the resilience of a project, which will mean the prerequisistes are “much more purposeful” in encouraging what Baker called “an amped-up integrative process.”
What will this do the scorecard?
Knowing intuitively that all this intersection and integration with multiple overlays might look intimidating or even unmanageable, USGBC has worked on two different scorecard views for teams to use, depending on their goals, their audience, and what stage of the process they’re at. “It’s not just about the hows, not just the traditional credit categories,” said current Steering Committee chair Sarah Talkington. There’s also “the why … underscoring the importance of what we’re doing and why these things are so critical as we’re making decisions.”
One view shows the credits broken down by the three core goals—climate action, quality of life, and ecology.
The second shows a traditional view by credit category. (The speakers received some strong feedback about the need to number credits to make life easier for consultants, but it’s unclear whether this will happen.)
Timing of rollout and sunsets
After a decade without a rating system ballot, USGBC is straining to develop LEED v5 on an tight timeline—although rapidity is all relative when it comes to a consensus standard. And there could be hiccups, as happened 12 years ago, when USGBC had to change the version name to LEED v4 instead of LEED 2012 because it wasn’t ready to ballot until 2013.
Baker also made a commitment to five-year development cycles in the future, which she hoped would reassure those concerned that v5 version might not look as aggressive on decarbonization as some people might prefer (more on this in a forthcoming piece). This five-year cycle, she said, will align with Paris decarbonization targets. It was unclear whether LEED would align with other standards, such as the forthcoming building-sector guidance from the Science Based Targets initiative.
Asked about sunset dates in a later interview, Baker said the goal would be to align those with the five-year cycle such that adoption of the newer versions could happen more quickly than it may have in the past. At the same time, she added, there will likely be exceptions due to the realities of design and construction timelines.
Living up to the vision?
Time—and a possibly gnarly consensus process—will tell how successfully LEED v5 lives up to its promise. But the structural changes appear to be bringing together threads on integrative process, social equity, and dual-purpose climate action (both mitigation and adaptation).
Davis characterized the changes being proposed as the outcome of this newly articulated statement at the onset of development: “The vision of USGBC is that buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation.” He added, “That’s all life—not just North Americans, not just human beings, and within a generation.”
We’ll soon see whether LEED v5 can make that vision a reality.