When USGBC announced in late October 2014 (see LEED 2009 Registration Extended to October 2016) that LEED version 2009 would continue to be available for an additional 16 months—to October 2016—on top of its already unprecedented 15-month phase-out period, I was not a happy camper.
Okay, I can see what USGBC was going for: LEED v4 can push the envelope all it likes, but if it leaves the market behind it won’t have much impact anyway. By slowing down the transition USGBC is trying to bring more of the building industry along, believing that small changes on a massive scale will ultimately have more impact than big changes adopted by a select few.
The Message Matters
The announcement, however, was unfortunate. It focused on the idea that the market “isn’t ready” for LEED v4, which hardly sounds like a leadership position. If we wait until the market is ready, what are we transforming?
The press release also cited an informal poll administered at the LEED Certification Work Zone during Greenbuild, in which 61% of respondents said that they were either “not ready” or “unsure” if they are ready. To me, that result looks like a green light to charge ahead with v4: 39% say they are ready, and we still have eight months to the deadline!
USGBC also cited the slow market adoption of v4 as an indication that eliminating v2009 would be premature. The comparison offered—that there are fewer than 400 v4 registered projects one year after its launch, compared with 5,000 v2009 projects at that point in its cycle—is clearly spurious, however. For most of its first year v2009 was the only option; the prior version was phased out after the first four months.
Finally, while the announcement had a big focus on keeping international users happy, there has been no mention of what specific aspects of v4 are causing international users heartburn. I would think those users would be happy about the forthcoming Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish translations of LEED, and the increased support for certification coming from USGBC’s Bureau Veritas partnership (see Onsite Verification Part of LEED’s Global Vision).
Behind on energy
In the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe LEED 2009 is yesterday’s news, and no longer feels like a leadership standard. Much of its content, in fact, is straight out of LEED 2.0, which was introduced in 2000. Chasing recycled content in building materials was never much fun, but now we know that there are better ways to find preferable products.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the level of energy efficiency that earns several points in LEED 2009 won’t even meet energy code in some states, where the energy benchmark has shifted from the 2007 version of ASHRAE Standard 90.1—the version on which LEED 2009 is based—to the 2010 version and soon to the 2013 version. With the newly announced extension many projects will still be achieving LEED 2009 certification in 2020, by which time Standard 90.1 will have evolved through three more cycles.
Given the excitement in the U.S. market about net-zero energy buildings—at least for certain building types—LEED’s energy efficiency metric is far from a leadership stance.
Is v4 really harder?
One irony in this whole debate is that v4 includes many improvements that actually make it easier to use than LEED 2009. Early adopters of LEED v4 with whom I’ve talked, from Texas to Eastern Europe, are finding many things that work better in v4. Even some of the new materials credits are turning out to be quite doable, and easier to manage, than the old ones, now that environmental and health product declarations are showing up in droves.
That, coupled with a greatly improved LEED Online platform, make for a better user experience, and it’s a shame so many LEED projects won’t enjoy those improvements.
LEED 2009 Extension, or v4 Delay?
USGBC staff argue that they’re not delaying the implementation of v4: it’s still available to those who choose to use it. They’re just keeping v2009 available for those who aren’t ready. The problem with that argument is that most owners want predictable results and the highest certification level they can achieve—differences between versions are lost on the marketing teams that want to leverage the LEED brand to lease up more quickly. Until v4 becomes mandatory, v2009 will be the path of least resistance to a LEED Gold plaque… or will it?
Restore the Power of v4 in Four Simple Steps
There is another shoe that has yet to drop in this saga, and that’s the matter of incentives that USGBC can introduce to nudge more projects in the direction of v4.
Here are four steps USGBC can take now that would go a long way towards rectifying the situation, without losing (much of) that important international market:
- Update the energy benchmark in LEED 2009 to v4 levels. There is precedent for raising the bar on energy between versions, as USGBC did when it mandated a minimum of two energy points in 2007 in response to concerns that LEED was falling behind energy codes prior to the launch of 2009.
- Eliminate both registration and certification fees for anyone who signs up for v4 now, and reinstate those fees incrementally between now and October 2016. Restoring 15% of the fee each quarter will give a lot of “act now to save!” marketing opportunities. If reduced revenue is a concern, add a premium to the v2009 fees to make up the difference.
- Encourage people to give v4 a try and stand behind its promise by allowing anyone who registers for v4 now to “downgrade” at any time to v2009 if they’re not happy with the v4 experience (while paying the difference in fees, of course).
- USGBC claims that market leaders will want to differentiate themselves by going with v4, but hasn’t offered any support for that differentiation. Celebrate those leaders: how about a prominent “newsfeed” on the home page featuring every v4 certification as it crosses the finish line, with kudos to the owners and project teams?
The lengthy LEED 2009 extension and the poorly considered communication about the change have left many with the impression that USGBC has gotten cold feet and is backing off from v4 entirely. It will take bold incentives like these—and ongoing robust support for the v4 rating systems—to prove that USGBC still stands behind v4 and is committed to market transformation.
What do you think? What other items would you put on this list?