Update: LEEDuser's interview with Sarah Alexander, with your questions, has been posted below.
If you had five minutes with the Director of LEED Certification for the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), what would you want to talk with her about? What questions would you ask or what feedback would you give?
I recently was on the phone with Sarah Alexander, who has that very title at GBCI, and mentioned that our members might have quite a few questions for her. She offered to take anything we could throw at her, with the help of her staff.
So, LEED users—please post any comments or questions for Sarah below. We will refer them to her, along with our own questions, and post a full interview here later. If you prefer your question or comment to be more anonymous, you can feel free to submit it through our contact form, which comes directly to me. We do reserve the right to filter out any inappropriate questions, and to interpret any questions that seem unclear.
LEEDuser's interview with Sarah Alexander and the LEED Certification staff at GBCI
1. Why does someone for the GBCI need to sign the owner-agent form, as it is unclear why the GBCI needs to be involved in a legal document between an owner and its agent? If GBCI does need to sign it, couldn't it do so as part of the design review, and not beforehand?
GBCI is currently required to sign the agency form in relation to the provision therein releasing the Agent from liability upon demonstration of authority. GBCI is currently reviewing its legal documents and associated processes with the intention of streamlining these aspects of the LEED-certification program—stay tuned!
2. What mechanism is in place to ensure that review comments are based on the requirements that were in place at the time of registration? The LEED Certification Policy Manual, Section 6.2, states that GBCI requires compliance with the version of the reference guide, including all published addenda, that was in place at the time of project registration. However, we have noticed that reviewers often make comments based on addenda that were issued after the date of registration, and sometimes even after the date that documentation was submitted.
Project teams are held to the technical requirements of the rating system in place at the time of registration (Rating System language & requirements, LEED Interpretations, Errata and Addenda etc.). If a reviewer is referencing an addendum that was posted after the project team has registered, this should only be as an educational comment for the project team’s information. In certain instances, the addenda/LEED Interpretation may be to the project team’s benefit.
If a project team believes that a reviewer has inappropriately referenced guidance documentation published after the project’s registration date, please do bring that to our attention (GBCI Certification Contact Us page). Occasionally, USGBC will publish clarifications of credit requirements (for example LEED-CI EAc1.3) and these apply to all projects regardless of registration date as they are not considered to be a change to existing requirements, rather they are simply further explaining those requirements.
3. Will LEED 2012 rely on the existing LEED Online v3 platform, or will a new system be implemented? How is the GBCI IT team working with key technology vendors (e.g. Adobe, Google, Apple) to ensure that non-compatibility issues like the one with the recent Adobe 10.1.3 update won't be repeated?
We passed this question along to our colleagues within the LEED Online development team at USGBC who are responsible for LEED Online; they have confirmed that LEED 2012 will be built upon the same LEED Online v3 software platform. The development team is leveraging all the work done to-date, to further streamline processes and improve the user experience.
They further comment that although technology glitches as introduced in Adobe 10.1.2 update are beyond our organization’s control, they are proactively testing LEED Online for all known versions of browsers, plug-ins and tools to verify stability and support. USGBC’s development team is committed to providing a solid platform that enables certification of green buildings to further the mission of USGBC and GBCI.
4. What are the credential/experience-level requirements for credit reviewers, in particular highly technical credits, and specifically EAp2/EAc1? We seem to have had a run of review comments where the reviewer simply doesn't understand the credit requirements as stated in the Reference Guide, or the ASHRAE requirements, or in some cases how eQuest works as a model.
Over the past two years GBCI has instituted an intensive technical training program for both newly hired in-house reviewers and for external review teams contracted through GBCI to perform LEED reviews. As we have grown our internal team of reviewers, we have recruited from within the design and construction industry with the net result that the majority (approximately 90%) of our internal review staff comes to us with both industry and LEED project experience and includes Professional Engineers, Architects, Certified Planners, former TAG members, as well as professionals with experience in facilities management, commissioning, construction management etc.
Essentially, the composition of a review team will largely reflect that of a project team, and bring the necessary engineering and design experience to the review process. If you ever have any questions about review comments that you have received, please do reach out to GBCI Certification staff via our Contact Us Form on the GBCI website.
5. What is GBCI doing to hire an adequate number of technical staff to complete reviews in the timeframe specified (25 business days)? As of now, that 25 days is completely meaningless, as the turn-around time is typically 25 business days plus whatever delays GBCI happens to be experiencing at that time.
We are very sensitive to the review timeliness frustrations of project teams and our staff is diligently working to reduce the review delays experienced by project teams. At any one time there are approximately 1,500 projects under review (~20% increase from the same period in 2011), with many more projects preparing submittals or clarifications. Our review staff is also responsible for responding to customer questions (we love to hear from you!) and consequently timeliness continues to be a challenge. We continue to hire qualified individuals to our team and once hired, each one is required to complete 6–9 months of intensive reviewer training.
Year to date, the majority of projects have been returned on time with over a third having been returned early (average 5 business days early). Although it is unusual for a review to be returned more than 10 business days late, we recognize that any delay can lead to frustration. Please remember that the 25 business day timeline for a preliminary review is approximate and not guaranteed; however, this is our target and we are striving to improve overall review timeliness.
6. What is GBCI doing about consistency of review comments? It’s particularly frustrating when you get an inconsistent review comment and know it but can't prove that to the GBCI reviewer. Combined with other factors such as appeal fees and delays, there is a tendency to want to mollify the reviewer, but that doesn’t feel right.
LEED Certification has experienced some dramatic changes over the past few years, some of which put too much distance between our organization and project teams, and limited our influence over the quality and consistency of reviews. We recognized a need to revise our processes and over the past two years we have recruited highly qualified professionals to build our own internal review team.
During this period, GBCI has also instituted an intensive technical training program for both newly hired in-house reviewers and for external review teams contracted through GBCI to perform LEED reviews. We have also developed additional review support materials and host regular conference calls with all our reviewers. We are confident that these efforts are producing reviews of substantially higher quality and consistency than in the past.
Should you have any questions about the review comments that you have received please do reach out to us via the Contact Us page on the GBCI website. We investigate all issues that are brought to our attention, and will make corrections to review comments if a reviewer oversight is identified. Please be reminded that reviews received on prior projects do not set a formal precedent; this policy is in place to ensure that a review oversight is not perpetuated on future projects and is necessary to maintain the integrity of the LEED rating system.
7. Now that the Sustainable Sites Initiative has certified its first three projects, will there be a move in the near future to create an exam and specific credential for SITES practitioners? If so, when might we begin to see development and promotion of that exam? Many of us are anxious for that credential to be made available soon.
This is a question that is most appropriately directed to the Sustainable Sites Initiative.
8. Has there ever been any follow up with certified projects that are listed as "confidential" to find out if the owner knows they are listed as such? When one marks the project as “confidential,” most project team administrators seem to think that is necessary or all of the information about the project, especially budgets, will be spread through mass media. The database of certified projects could be enhanced if there was a better understanding of "confidential" and therefore were fewer truly “confidential” projects.
All projects are encouraged to be listed publicly it is at the discretion of the project team and owner as to whether the project is marked as confidential. We have shared your recommendation with the organization’s Communications Team—thank you!
9. For “power users,” would it be possible to create an RSS feed of every change to a LEED credit template, documentation requirement, or reference guide amendment? The last update to the "Certification Announcements" feed was in December 2011.
USGBC is currently taking a comprehensive look at how it communicates with customers. USGBC is examining how best to collate information regarding the LEED programs and they are exploring the most effective way to provide LEED technical updates—there are some very exciting developments on this front, so please stay tuned!
10. I just discovered that plaques are no longer included in the certification cost. GBCI told me that policy went into effect in October of 2011, and it applies to projects that are certified after the policy date, not just to projects registered after the policy date. Shame on me for missing the notification, I guess. But wouldn't it be more fair to apply this policy to projects registered after the policy date, because a project could have been registered for 2 or 3 (or more) years prior to the policy date? I told several clients that the plaque is included in the certification fees, and now it costs extra.
Same response for question # 10 and #11 – see below.
11. Why weren’t project team administrators directly informed when the “recognition package” changed for v2 projects? Many of us found out about it after the laughably short 7-day grace period ended, allowing us no time to react. Also, the reason given for the change— consistency with v2009 projects—doesn’t jibe with other GBCI/USGBC policies. If that were the case, the logical time to make this change would be when LEED 2009 was launched. And the guiding rule of changes based on addenda and LEED Interpretations is that they apply to projects registered after the date they were issued. It doesn’t seem very “consistent” to apply this one policy change to all projects already registered, does it? I get the feeling the change was made for purely financial reasons, with rationales formulated after the fact to justify it. USGBC is a nonprofit, membership-based group, and GBCI is closely aligned with USGBC’s mission. Why not be more upfront with your members about your reasons for a change like this?
The organization is no-longer able to support free plaques for certified projects. This change was made for LEED 2009 projects upon launch of those rating systems and applied to pre-LEED 2009 projects thirty months later in order to align our policies. There are some affordable options at GreenPlaque.com, most notably the decals, opaque and translucent.
LEED projects are subject to the certification fees and policies in place at the time they submit for review and complete their certification—these fees are not tied to the registration date. For example, for many BD&C projects there may be an extensive period of time between registration and submitting for initial review (often a year or two) and hence certification fees are tied to the date the project submits for review.
12. Would it be possible to set a reasonable notification period for any substantial changes to either pricing or benefits? Zero days notice was provided for a significant change of the appeals fees, and only seven days notice was given to a package that removed plaques from projects for every single v2 project. Ideally, any changes would be tied to registration dates and not able to affect active projects.
All of the announcements posted on GBCI’s website are also posted on GBCI’s RSS feeds. We encourage you to subscribe online to stay update to date on all announcements.
13. Will there be any effort, perhaps in the next version, to specify requirements in the Reference Guide, so that team members are not surprised by the "phantom" requirements that appear in the LEED Online forms, or in review comments, and that seem to be complete add-ons to what is stated in the Reference Guide? The “phantom” requirements are sometimes reasonable, sometimes seemingly completely superfluous, but always cause additional angst to team members who don't always have LEED documentation at the top of their to-do list. Phantom requirements that don't appear until review time also cause unnecessary delays when documentation has to be resubmitted.
We have reached out to our colleagues in the LEED department at USGBC who are responsible for the reference guides, and they have confirmed that including general submittal requirements is being considered.
Please be assured that ‘phantom’ requirements do not and should not exist. Reviewers have access to the same guidance published by USGBC as project teams. As referenced in the original question, requests by reviewers for additional clarifications to documents already submitted are often reasonable and appropriate. All our reviewers are instructed to complete their reviews according to published guidance; as such, if a project team feels that they have been subject to an unreasonable request for documentation that is not required to demonstrate credit/prerequisite achievement please contact us immediately (GBCI Certification Contact Us page). We take these claims very seriously and do an immediate investigation to establish the veracity of the claim and will issue a correction if one is necessary. In addition, we complete a root-cause analysis to identify the cause of the incorrect review ruling, and circulate our findings and corrective action to all reviewers.
14. When you push the “Print Score Card” button, the result does not include the status check marks. Is there any way you can add status check marks (green when complete and grey when otherwise)? This would help LEED Administrators communicate with the rest of the Team.
We have forwarded your suggestion to the LEED Online development team within USGBC who are responsible for LEED Online.
15. Is it possible to schedule a conference call with the GBCI review team to discuss project-specific issues prior to submitting the documentation for review? This would provide a way for the project team to discuss any special circumstances with the review team and gain a better understanding of what the review team is expecting to see for documentation.
Yes, yes, yes! Our staff are available and very happy to discuss any project specific questions that you may have—these conversations can be pre-submittal or, in instances where you may have questions about review comments, post-review. We prefer that you first submit your detailed questions by email; if after receiving a response you have additional questions or issues that are best resolved via a conference call, we would be happy to schedule a call with the appropriate staff at a mutually convenient time—the Contact Us Form may be used to request a call.
16. Energy modeling and its review is a very complex and detailed endeavor on both sides. It would be good if there could be more than one round of review. Adding just one more round where both reviewers and modelers can respond would avoid a lot of appeals and angst in this extremely important part of the process.
We understand that ASHRAE 90.1 is a complex reference standard, and we agree that an energy model is the most difficult submittal within a LEED project. The Advanced Energy Modeling for LEED Technical Manual is now embedded within both LEED Online version 2 and version 3 and freely available to all registered projects. In addition, we are working closely with our colleagues in the LEED department to develop additional tools. We are also examining other options and offerings in the future such as a pre-review of Table 1.4 (proposed design energy model inputs versus baseline values) or a pre-submittal conference call.
17. I think it would be very interesting to have statistics posted on credits. I know some of them from researchers and clients react well to them. For example, it is helpful to know that the SSc8 credits are difficult ones to get and most projects do not earn that credit. My boss likes to know when we are doing something “unusual” and when we earn those credits, he is happy. Conversely, when we try one of “those credits” and fail, it is good to know we are not alone. Stats posting could be quarterly or by credit level. Wouldn't it be interesting to know what Platinum buildings earn over Gold buildings?
We agree! This is a great suggestion and has been passed along to our colleagues at USGBC responsible for the Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG).
18. Does the LEED for Homes rating system have a suggested length of time one should expect the final review process to take? Will there soon be a timeline such as the 25 days estimated for LEED NC project reviews? Our residential projects are taking months longer than any of our commercial NC or CI projects. Are there plans to improve the LEED for Homes review process soon?
We have forwarded your question to our colleagues on the USGBC Residential team who handle LEED for Homes certification.
19. One area that is really upsetting and puzzling to me is regarding the multiple buildings certification. We have a project that has been waiting for well over a year to go ahead with one certification for a multiple buildings campus. As a factory with 11 buildings making up the campus, we can't use a shared campus with individual building certification. But we've been “on hold” for this extremely long period of time with very little information extended by the GBCI. Meanwhile all our project's buildings are now occupied and functional (factories are built quite quickly in our location). The client paid most of our fees, we want to finish up and we're quite worried that there will be aspects introduced that make it impossible for the completed buildings to comply. That's a lot of background, but it explains our disappointment regarding the new system’s delays. Couldn't there have at least been communication about the fees and the general methodology so that we could ensure that those aspects are agreed and supported while we wait for the online functionality? I'd like to have more information regarding (at minimum) the fees and I'd like to know when the system will be fully functional so that we can inform our very weary clients. Thanks!
USGBC is working hard to provide a technology solution in LEED Online that will make it easier for all users to certify multiple buildings on a campus and in a group certification. The Application Guide for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects was updated in October 2011 to include guidance for group certifications—please be sure to check this for credit-specific information. USGBC will provide a date for the release of group certification functionality in LEED Online and the associated certification fees as soon as possible.
20. There should have been more grace period for early registering LEED AP's for obtaining LEED BD+C status. With the recession and the lack of projects this is like a double whammy. Very discouraging for someone like me and others in my office who are dedicated to the principals of the USGBC. I now must retest to get the upgraded status, and who knows next year the AP title I earned will be taken away with a new decree. This would be just. Any comment?
We have shared your comments with our colleagues in the Credentialing department at GBCI. They are actively evaluating potential policy and program improvements—stay tuned!
Thank you, Sarah, and the rest of the LEED Certification team at GBCI! LEED users, please post your thoughts and follow-up questions below.