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Removing Barriers to LEED: The Origins of LEEDuser

After ten years online, LEEDuser has become an institution. And there’s a good reason we’re still here: you.
Nadav Malin
May 2, 2019

The Vision

Nadav Malin, BuildingGreen president

Nadav Malin, LEED Fellow, Hon. AIA

President, BuildingGreen, Inc.

Photo: BuildingGreen
LEEDuser grew out of a very simple inspiration: LEED shouldn’t be so hard!

In 2008, LEED was rapidly gaining traction in the marketplace, but most people felt they needed have to hire a dedicated LEED consultant for every project, jacking up the cost significantly.

We saw LEED as a really amazing tool, but one that turned people away because the user experience was rough. We wanted to democratize access to it, as a means of driving more green building projects. And we wanted to end the idea of a LEED consultant as an unnecessary specialization (and focus instead on the sustainability related outcomes and meaningful elements of the process).

Well—maybe not end LEED consulting entirely. We felt that LEED consultants have a place: for especially complicated projects with tricky LEED implementation issues, and for building owners and architects who just weren’t interested in figuring it out for themselves. That leaves a whole swath of relatively straightforward projects with engaged teams that shouldn’t require dedicated LEED expertise. For these projects, LEED certification can be pretty straightforward and affordable.

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People should be able to manage the LEED certification process without their own LEED expert, but that doesn't mean that they wouldn't have questions and the need for templates and sample documentation. What if they could get that guidance from other LEED users, backed up by a team of volunteer LEED experts, for a small annual fee?

The Strategy

Good ideas are easy to come by; realizing them is a whole different story. Fortuitously, three separate threads came together to make LEEDuser possible:

  1. LEED 2009 user support needs: in 2008, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was preparing to launch LEED 2009, a.k.a LEED v3, with some significant changes from the version that had been in place since LEED first went public in 2000. Staff at USGBC recognized that users would have a lot of questions and that they didn't have the capacity to handle them all internally. So they reached out to us and others about the potential of partnering on a LEED help system, and ended up supporting the initial design and development of LEEDuser with some funding and marketing support.
  2. The power of online forums: we at BuildingGreen had seen the potential of digital communities to share resources and expertise thanks to early email list-servs that dated back to the late 1990s. In fact, Michael Totten, an early ecotech visionary, called our Greenbuilding list “the online forum with the best signal-to-noise ratio in the entire industry.” With that experience as context, BuildingGreen founder Alex Wilson and president Nadav Malin were literally sitting around a campfire in the Adirondacks when they got excited about the potential for user forums based on LEED credits.
  3. LEED consultant knowledge management: while we at BuildingGreen were talking with USGBC and dreaming about crowdsourced LEED support, our friends at YR&G (now part of WSP USA) were putting together a wiki of LEED resources and guidance. They were building it as a way to share their expertise internally, while also imagining it as a tool they could sell to clients.

These three threads came together to create LEEDuser. The WSP team provided the lion’s share of the premium content, while BuildingGreen led the design and development of the site, with USGBC support. We also tapped our large network of LEED experts: LEEDuser wouldn’t have been nearly as successful over the years without the tireless engagement of LEEDuser experts.

The Wisdom of Saying No

It can be tempting when designing a new tool to try to make it all things to all people, and we had plenty of ideas about what LEEDuser might do. But we held tight to a pretty narrow focus that, in the end, has served us well.

For example, we didn’t try to make it into a project management tool. Others were already trying to do that, and most of those are long gone. We also resisted trying to create an interactive, dynamically generated checklist of strategies—we had done that already in the 1990s with a CD-ROM called Green Building Advisor, and knew enough to resist the temptation. We kept it simple, functionally speaking, with advice, templates and online forums. That was a smart move.

The Future

Now, with a decade of experience behind us, we’ve rebuilt LEEDuser from the ground up to take advantage of what we’ve learned. We found, for example, that searching for past activity on some of the more active forums was a challenge. The new LEEDuser makes that a breeze. We’ve also made the FAQs more prominent and are pulling in updated credit language and addenda from USGBC in real time (or almost real time!).

But the core of what made LEEDuser such a hit from the moment it launched hasn’t changed

  • A great network of LEED users sharing their questions and experiences, including some fans who swear by LEEDuser and make it part of their daily routine
  • Premium content with tips and guidance from experts that cuts to the chase and tells you what you really need to know to achieve each credit successfully (and avoid wasting time chasing down blind alleys)
  • Templates and actual sample documentation from certified projects to give teams a jump-start with their own submittals

We’re working now to update the premium content on LEEDuser with LEED 4.1 guidance, as the conversations on the forums are starting to take off. Come join us as we work continue with the mission of making LEED accessible to more and more of the real estate market, and take on the ecological and social challenges of our time.

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