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USGBC Moves to Improve LEED v4

LEED v4.1, a new iteration of the green building rating system will be piloted in 2018 with the goal of smoothing over rough spots
November 16, 2017

The latest version of LEED, LEED v4, became mandatory a little over a year ago. That was just after the U.S. Green Building Council’s 2016 Greenbuild conference. This year at Greenbuild, USGBC announced that it is fast-tracking development of a new iteration, LEED v4.1.

“LEED v4 has been out a long time,” says Corey Enck, director of LEED technical development at USGBC, told BuildingGreen. LEED v4’s development path started in 2009 and eventually stretched through six public comment periods and a beta program that began in 2013, before the system became mandatory in 2016 (see LEED 2012 Postponed to 2013, Renamed LEED v4). “A lot of the things we wrote into that need a bit of a refresh,” says Enck. “We need to make sure that LEED is still relevant and is still the leadership standard.”

According to Enck, the refresh will start with the operations and maintenance (O+M) standard before addressing building design and construction (BD+C). USGBC hopes to release v4.1 drafts of both systems in the first quarter of 2018 and immediately open them for piloting by LEED projects.

“That real-world experience will give us the feedback we need,” says Enck, adding that he anticipates a public comment period after six to twelve months of piloting.

Continued focus on performance, with Arc

The focus of LEED v4 has been building performance, and Enck said that would continue with LEED v4.1. “We want to make sure that LEED certified buildings are performing as expected,” he said. “Also, that if you earn a LEED credit that you’re receiving the environmental benefit and outcomes that were desired.”

USGBC and its certification partner Green Business Certification Inc. have been heavily promoting their technology platform, Arc, as a tool for LEED certification (see New Tech Startup, Arc Skoru, to Support USGBC, GBCI with Data), so it’s no surprise that Arc will feature more heavily in LEED v4.1.

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“Arc provides that platform to start to measure those key metrics that we need,” explained Enck. “For BD+C we would like to reference Arc as the platform where you can track your ongoing performance, and where you can start to pursue ongoing certification.” Enck also noted that Arc, LEED BD+C, and LEED O+M in some cases use different metrics, and LEED v4.1 is an opportunity to align those. “O+M v4.1 will see the most amount of change,” he said. “With 4.1 we will embed Arc and the performance scores into O+M more directly to try to streamline the O+M rating system.”

Arc scores projects from interior spaces to cities using proprietary algorithms. It has been criticized for lack of transparency, even as more projects become certified by using Arc as a “performance path.”  Enck noted that the v4.1 effort “also gives an opportunity to public comment and ballot the performance scores within Arc.”

Changes to credits

Expect changes throughout LEED v4, especially to credits that have proven difficult or outright unachievable to project teams. Enck previewed the following ideas, however:

​In other changes, USGBC is looking at combining the various LEED for Homes rating systems (including regular LEED for Homes as well as Mid-Rise) into LEED Residential. It is also considering streamlining LEED for Neighborhood Development and linking it with LEED for Cities / Communities (see D.C. Goes Platinum In First LEED for Cities Certification).

Higher-scoring projects?

There’s a rule of thumb that a project on track to achieve one level in the older LEED 2009 rating system, can expect its certification to step down one level in LEED v4. (This is the case both in credit achievability and cost, as reviewed in BuildingGreen’s Cost of LEED v4 report.) Asked if this might change, Enck said, “Projects that pursue v4.1 will likely be better projects than those that pursue v4. They will be higher performing because they will now have more credits they can pursue that will be on the table.” How will that shake out in points achieved? “For v4.1 you might have to stretch more on energy, but you’ll have other credits in reach as well,” says Enck.

Read more

Stuart Kaplow of the Green Building Law Update has also reported on LEED v4.1.

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March 26, 2018 - 11:26 pm

We are excited to work with LEED v4.1 primarily because it is not LEED v4. LEED v4 has underperformed, as mentioned-above, because it was a disaster from the outset.

We appreciate the now acknowledged fact that LEED v4 was ill-advised from its inception.  Industry professionals knew it was a catastrophe in the making and the voluminous thoughtful, insightful, and well-meaning recommendations submitted through public comment proved it, yet they were ignored by the USGBC.

The contrast between the death knell of LEED (v4) to this massive change that is LEED v4.1 is so stark it is almost insulting. Credits and prerequisites that had value are absent or changed so dramatically that they are unrecognizable. Credits and prerequisites that were pointless and useless are also gone, for which we thank you. It is hard to believe the USGBC TAG’s that fought so hard against us during the LEED v4 creation have drifted so far to delete or weaken anything that was contentious.

Making the LEED EBOM rating system more inclusive may be principled, potentially marketable, and certainly the USGBC hopes profitable, but at the cost of eviscerating the rating system and diminishing the value to be more inclusive is troublesome.

More buildings applying to a system with less rigor, virtually no industry leading guidance, a lack of transparency, and a point accumulation methodology system is not groundbreaking or forward thinking.

Unfortunately, LEED Certifications have been commoditized for many years, which has regrettably been accepted and honored by the USGBC, and v4.1 serves to further support the undesirous path that cheaper and easier is better.

With additional viable green building certification options in the market to compete with LEED it will be interesting to see if the market evolves to be more inclusive of other rating systems or will the LEED brand, which once represented the epitome of green building ratings, remain predominant primarily because it is what is most familiar.

I am not against progressive sustainability technology, improved efficiency in certification paths, reducing cost for clients, and eliminating nonsensical and meaningless actions and measurements that serve no purpose (all LEED versions), but it appears the goal is to automate, cheapen, simplify, and drive numbers, not necessarily to improve sustainability or health and wellness on a broad scale or serve the original mission of LEED that was designed to transform an industry.

The bar has been set low with LEED v4.1, which appears to be a common theme these days, but just because the governmental agencies are moving backwards LEED should not.

My team at CBRE has completed over 800 LEED EBOM certifications and has been one of the biggest proponents of LEED rating systems on earth. We will continue to support the brand with clients who choose this path, but LEED v4.1 presents significant challenges when we discuss the rationale, investment, and potential impact of what was once the system leading the sustainable building revolution.

December 13, 2017 - 4:42 pm

I got mad at USGBC when they endorsed Architecture 2030 but did nothing to move their own standard to align with the reduction targets.

My own ideas for a new version.  Very different than current LEED.  Maybe v5?

1. Simplify the system.  KISS.  Having 110 points in unmanageable.  In a 1 hour meeting with the design team and building owner it is impossible to discuss any level of detail about how to earn which credits.  The early LEED versions sold well because it was more manageable.

2. Pre count a majority of the credits.  A team enters the ZIP code and a score is provided for public transit, walkability, average worker commute CO2, flood risk, misc other things.  Have USGBC do the leg work.  Even have an interactive map with color coded ZIP codes to help a customer who wants to search for a better location to earn more points.  Some people will get mad that their town doesn't score high. It's better to know early.

3. Skip energy models completely.  All energy models are inaccurate, some are useful.  Let teams decide their own methods for reducing energy.  The proof is in the pudding.  All certifications are probationary for the first 2 years.  The meter readings will determine the final energy saved.  This can be entered into EnergyStar to standardize the data.  Bonuses for existing buildings that reduce energy since the existing buildings produce more CO2 than new ones.  Clean up the clunkers.

4. Skip all of the product declarations.  Want to know if the air is healthy, have an air sample tested in each room after occupancy.  Testing an unused building is meaningless, the goal is to provide healthy air for people so test the air when the building users are breathing it.

5. How many injuries during construction?  The building should be safe for those building it too.  Accidents happen a lot more often with some companies. Ask for safety records before hiring.

November 27, 2017 - 2:49 pm

Nick, I asked USGBC this question and they have not decided. They want to draft more of v4.1 before deciding.

November 17, 2017 - 8:28 am

Any word if the revamped v4.1 credits will be available to already-registered v4 projects?  Or will a project need to specifically register/upgrade to the new version?

November 17, 2017 - 1:09 am

Wish us luck - we have registered what we think is the 1st LEED V4 in Africa !  But we are ASHRAE members so we will be able to weather the storm.

Also, I am looking at helping the ICP prepare their framework for African conditions - better buildings are the best building, no matter where you are ? 

November 16, 2017 - 10:16 pm

Andres, Corey Enck specifically mentioned non-U.S. projects as an area of focus. If LEED v4 has seen slow uptake in the U.S., it is worse in China, India and elsewhere. Manufacturing practices including option of disclosure is a big factor.

November 16, 2017 - 8:06 pm

I am a little concerned about how this changes might impact international projects, specially in markets where US construction practices are not commonplace. I hope that this pilot will consider different markets realities and different adoption speeds in order to make LEED as achievable as it was under v3. Version 4 looks more similar to Living Building Challenge than to v3. If you take a closer look at the latest LEED certification update (Third quarter 2017), you will find that only 3.4% of the projects were certified under v4, and 88.1% under v3. There seems to be a pretty clear message about the version adoption.

I congratulate GBCI for establishing regional entities, hopefully processing submittals in local languages. I think this is a wise strategy that could help accelerate adoption of the system, and might serve as a catalyst for the adoption of v4.1, as well.