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What’s Next for LEED? Climate and Equity Will Be Central

Carbon and social issues dominated a recent presentation about the future of LEED—and there’s talk of partial certification.
Sarah Buffaloe
June 14, 2022

Last week during a USGBC Live event in Washington, D.C., we got a glimpse of what the technical development staff and LEED Steering Committee are thinking about for the future of LEED. You can gain your own insights from the recently published presentation found at USGBC.org

Several things seem clear.

There will be a renewed focus on carbon, including embodied carbon

Laurie Kerr, Principal Climate Advisor at USGBC, spoke at length about the goal to “decarbonize buildings swiftly,” stating that any and all projects have opportunities to be executed today. I was excited to see the focus on embodied carbon. Perhaps we will see an alternative LEED path to measure “total carbon” as an expression of operational carbon emissions combined with embodied carbon reductions.

All eyes are on existing buildings

Repeatedly we heard concern regarding the efficiency of existing building stock. No matter how many new buildings or spaces are being built, the majority of carbon emissions come from existing buildings.

During a LEED Convene and Connect event, Don Anderson, GBCI Board Chair, made a compelling argument that there is a huge opportunity to bring the lowest-performing buildings to at least a median performance level by executing relatively simple measures. This may indicate a direction to measuring portfolio performance, as opposed to individual buildings.

Potential shift to portfolios vs. individual buildings

Anderson specifically spoke about the scale issue with certifying individual buildings. This was a theme in comments made by Josh Jacobs, immediate past chair of the LEED Steering Committee. This topic seems to relate to the steering committee’s request for “more flexibility” and “more entry points” in the public presentation slides.

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If USGBC wants to target lower-performing buildings, there is a recognition that not all those buildings can or should go for full LEED certification. Discussion occurred about utilizing Arc’s Performance Certificate program or some new partial certification program

Issues around equity, resilience, and health still top of mind

There continues to be a wide acceptance of the fact that LEED does not address issues of equal access to healthy and resilient spaces effectively. These issues were present in all presentations and discussions, and it seems they will continue to be.

Time to move on

With the LEED 2009 sunset date at the end of this month and more than three years since registration for LEED v4.1 opened, it is clear that USGBC is keen to continue the evolution of the LEED green building program. During the conference the sense of urgency to impact the climate crisis was clear. However, USGBC continues to wrestle with the desire to set ambitious targets in order to lead the market transformation we desperately need, while acknowledging the need to bring (or drag) a larger swath of the market along with it in order to have real impact. This is a fundamental tension that is likely to continue as long as LEED does.

While the exact magnitude of change and timeline for the next version of LEED are as yet unannounced, the renewed focus presented at USGBC Live bodes well for retaining and even strengthening the meaning behind the LEED plaque.

LEED has a history of driving market transformation, and it will be interesting to see if this next step in the program will effect change with both the urgency and the accessibility that are woven throughout the principles laid out for the future of LEED.

Date updated: 
Tuesday, June 14, 2022

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