I agree this is a step in the right direction, and can think of some refinements that might go further. Pardon my long response.
Two of the barriers to implementing LEED are uncertainty and confusion. The first increases risk, the second adds cost.
If a building owner cannot be certain early in the process that all MPRs and pre-requisites can be met, it can be risky to devote the extra time and effort pursuing LEED.
A project team can spend many hours determining credit feasibility or exact requirements when researching the "case law" of CIRs and consulting multiple documents located in different places - Rating System, Reference Guide, Quarterly Addenda, Minimum Program Requirements Supplemental Guidance, WEp1 Supplemental Guidance, Rating System Selection Policy, Application Guide for Multiple Buildings and Campuses, LEED Online Credit Forms, LEED Online Rating System Selector, the USGBC site, the GBCI site, ...and LEEDUser. A fair amount of the confusion that's evident on this forum comes from teams not being aware of all the critical information sources, finding conflicting information in different sources, or unclear language.
At the core of green building is the concept of integrated design: early collaboration by multiple stakeholders. Integrated design tries to break down the "silos" of different disciplines. Unfortunately, silos are a natural consequence of specialized fields that develop their own language, processes, and expertise to accomplish specific goals. It's hard to break through this and takes work.
The paradox of LEED is that while it encourages integrated design, some of its early systems created new obstacles to integration, new silos, by adding uncertainty and confusion. As they evolve, they get better, but changes that could reduce these obstacles further might include:
1. Early confirmation of meeting MPRs and pre-requisites. Design Phase review comes after Construction Documents are produced, which is probably too late to make a change if a pre-requisite is denied. Provide an optional "Pre-req Review" for teams that want preliminary confirmation that the project approach meets the requirements.
2. Early Review Assistance. Since CIR's were text only, allowed no drawings or attachments, and were not considered a confirmation of credit or pre-requisite acceptance, they haven't provided an opportunity for early, integrated collaboration between the project team and USGBC/ GBCI. In Portland, for a small fee, we have the option of obtaining similar early input from our city's Design Review Commission or Code officials that is thorough and complete. This has encouraged many integrated strategies that might not have otherwise been pursued because of uncertain acceptance.
3. Distinguish between the generic and the specific. In many CIRs, you can see both a clarification of a generic question and a more project-specific ruling. (Example of generic: mixed use building with 90% residential is considered residential; walk-off mats can be a combination of interior and exterior)
This generic guidance is indispensible - it goes beyond the Reference Guide language to clarify how credits are applied. The project-specific part of the ruling in response to a unique situation often doesn't apply to many other projects.
The "tortured responses" of past CIR Rulings that Dan describes above seems to come from a concern that the specific ruling will be applied generically to all cases. Rather than have teams choose and pay differently for project-specific CIRs and LEED interpretations, it would be great if the GBCI could help teams assess whether their question is generic, specific, or both. Specific questions could stay between the GBCI and the project team, and generic, precedent-setting questions could get bumped up to the USGBC TAG and become part of the public record.
4. One price for a question, whether it ends up being generic, specific, or contains both. Set the pricing to cover it all fairly. Though generic questions may cost more to answer by involving more staff and the TAG, they also benefit many more people by clarifying the rating system and reducing confusion for all. Let's not discourage people from submitting those questions by increasing their costs when all will benefit.
5. Define your terms. Teams can spend hours trying to clarify the credit intent when key words are not clearly defined. The 2009 Reference Guides and MPR Supplemental Guidance have made great improvements in this area, but there are still many key terms to define, and the definitions are spread between multiple documents.
6. Everything in one place. Let the Rating System and all its supplements, addenda, definitions, guidance, forms, spreadsheets, selectors, and policies all be linked and easily accessible from one location. They may all be online but could use better "wayfinding."
Ok. Enough for now.
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