LEED Changes its Green Building Rating System

LEED Office

By James Noble

December 5, 2013

LEED v4, the latest version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building ratings program, launched last week at the annual Greenbuild International Conference. The first major revision in five years, LEED v4 builds on the fundamentals of previous versions, while offering a new system that prepares all LEED projects to perform at a higher level.

LEED v4 encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.  Already, 122 beta projectsworldwide are using LEED v4.

In a bid to make LEED available to an ever-wider portion of the construction industry, the system has expanded to include data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail and mid-rise residential projects. To ensure that each particular space’s unique needs and demands are addressed, new sector guidelines were reviewed by market leaders who own, operate, and design these types of spaces.

Previous iterations of LEED allowed developers to focus on easy, cheap credits to obtain LEED status for a building, while ignoring credits that might have more impact but be harder to achieve. This led some to accuse LEED of enabling greenwashing projects that claimed to be green while doing the minimum possible. In LEED v4, new prerequisites, such as metering and recording the building’s energy and water use require that LEED-certified buildings report their total water and energy use to the Green Building Council.

To further blunt greenwashing critics, one of the most sweeping changes to the LEED system is material transparency, which requires a better understanding of the products being used in a building and where they have come from. Lifecycle assessments (LCA) and environmental product declarations (EPD) will now be part of the LEED certification process.

The Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) will not be developing a stand-alone Canadian rating system as it has done in the past for Canadian buildings, but will instead be adopting LEED v4 in order to achieve better environmental outcomes and a better user experience. The CaGBC will streamline Alternative Compliance Paths (ACPs), which will allow the CaGBC to identify equivalent means of demonstrating compliance to the credit requirements. For example, where an equivalent Canadian reference standard exists, an ACP can allow for the use of that standard.

Applying local ACPs to the LEED standard allows for tailoring of LEED to the Canadian market with the expectation that the development process will be simplified and will potentially allow all Canadian developers access to the LEED rating system.