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USGBC Exploring A New Kind of LEED Plaque

The concept plaque, a digital, data-driven “performance dashboard,” would keeping a building’s LEED certification up to date with its actual performance.
December 18, 2012

The LEED performance dashboard—still only a concept 

Image – USGBC
LEED v4 got most of the attention at the November 2012 Greenbuild conference, but another LEED concept was unveiled that could, over time, have as much or more impact on how we perceive and interact with the LEED Rating System. While all aspects of the concept are in development, including the name, USGBC’s senior vice president for LEED, Scot Horst, unveiled something he’s calling the “LEED dynamic plaque,” and that he’s pitching as the future of LEED performance tracking and recertification.

Horst underlines that the plaque concept is under development—it’s not even ready for a pilot, although he hopes that USGBC’s LEED Platinum headquarters will be first in line—and USGBC has not formally announced the project, he laid out some features at Greenbuild, and in interviews with LEEDuser (including a live expo floor event hosted by GreenSource) that make it clear what we can expect.

Horst emphasizes that the focus of the plaque is monitoring how well LEED buildings perform over time—like a dashboard—and giving owners, occupants, and observers another tool to engage with that, and a reason to pay attention. While this isn’t USGBC’s first attempt at engaging existing buildings with their ongoing performance—LEED for Existing Buildings was launched in 2004, of course, and reporting of ongoing energy and water data has been required since 2009—it is the most ambitious concept to date in the way it aims to leverage both the public appetite for mobile apps and social media status updates, along trends in public policy toward transparency and disclosure of building performance.

“This is the validation program,” Horst told LEEDuser. “It says whether what you’re doing is working—it validates whether you are a green building and keeps you on track.”

Any building that is already LEED-certified would be encouraged to enroll. While newly constructed or renovated buildings have long been encouraged to enroll in LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM), they haven’t done so in droves, perhaps not seeing enough benefit in exchange for the financial costs and time investment. Similarly, LEED-EBOM projects are required to recertify within five years, and while USGBC just released its most complete recertification guidance to date, recertification requires more fees and forms—in exchange for a new plaque on the wall. USGBC is looking for a more dynamic model.

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According to Horst, the dashboard would focus on monitoring energy use, water use, waste production, transportation use, and occupant satisfaction—metrics that are at the core of a building’s environmental impact, and that can change frequently—for better or for worse. More static environmental features, like the existence of wildlife habitat, or of light pollution reduction techniques, would be assumed as part of a baseline.

Because LEED rating systems cover so many static features that are difficult to monitor in a dashboard setting, Horst says that projects would use regular LEED rating systems like LEED-NC and LEED-EBOM to enter the LEED system, and then use the performance dashboard to stay updated.

The dashboard could display in a lobby (with an online version likely available as well). To populate the dashboard with accurate, meaningful data, USGBC would collect information via something being dubbed the “LEED box.” Whether it turns out to be a literal or metaphorical, the box would gather real-time feeds from energy and water meters, and use apps or social media tools to voluntarily survey occupants on things like commuting patterns. USGBC would then validate this data and use it to update the plaque. Similarly to how USGBC’s Building Performance Partnership (BPP) has worked, it’s likely that the dashboard would have alerts for building operators when performance data seems headed in the wrong direction.

Wondering how all this will look and feel? This video from Greenbuild shows the dashboard in action—skip to 40:44 if you’re pressed for time. USGBC has had help from IDEO, the design firm, in developing the concept, and their thoughtful attention to the interface and graphic presentation shows.

While Horst hopes that the dynamic plaque will bring more validation of LEED buildings that are doing things right, and attention that might help the laggards, he emphasized to LEEDuser that “We’ll never take plaques away—we’ll only update plaques.” In other words, any LEED hardware you earn through certification won’t be affected by the dashboard data. However, Horst does hope that the market will perceive a greater value to the dashboards, and that buildings with static, dated plaques will want to join the program.

While the possibilities of this new plaque are exciting, LEEDuser will watch its development to see how some intriguing questions are dealt with, like the following. Please post your own thoughts and question below.

  • What rules or logic would the dashboard program follow to translate live data streams into LEED point totals on the dynamic plaque? While the concept is straightforward, in reality there are many unique situations and obscure rules that complicate this process during LEED certification. How will this process be both streamlined enough to function in the dashboard context, but also be accurate, and fair for different building types?
  • The dashboard is meant to treat certain environmental features as static, while others will require updated data. But in reality, there are no static environmental features—reflective roofing gets dirty, and gets replaced, track-off mats wear out, and habitat-providing plants get mowed. Will the dashboard be able to keep up with these measures?
  • Will the dashboard, and the ongoing engagement with LEED and USGBC that it represents, do anything to encourage increased performance, and consideration of new environmental features or programs? For example, would a project certified under LEED-NC, which has no green cleaning component, be encouraged to adopt the kind of green cleaning measures required in LEED-EBOM?
  • As LEED becomes more stringent over time through rating system development, will buildings in the dashboard program have to improve performance to maintain scores and certification levels?
  • It appears that the logic and scoring underlying the dashboard could be seen as representing a “meta” LEED rating system. If so, what is the development process for this system? Will USGBC publish the rules and open them up for comment?

Again, please comment with your thoughts and questions below.

Update, 12/20/12: After reading this post, Scot Horst told me that he's calling it the "LEED dynamic plaque," rather than the "dynamic dashboard"—as I originally quoted him. I have updated the post.


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