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Tumult Grows Over LEED Rating System Update

By Nadine M. Post

This article originally appeared on Engineering News-Record.

July 20, 2012
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Members of the buildings sector are applauding the U.S. Green Building Council's decision to delay the release of the next version of its popular green-building rating system, called LEED. In the meantime, debate rages on over the content of the draft revision. Consequently, USGBC is holding an unprecedented fifth public comment period on the latest draft, from Oct. 2 to Dec. 10.

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The delay follows a torrent of comments, some 22,000 so far, that greeted the fourth draft. "The percentage of changes since LEED 2009 went too far, too fast," says Scot Horst, senior vice president, LEED, for the Washington, D.C.-based USGBC. "Nobody wanted to change yet—not just the stodgy old guard [but] even people who use LEED." In response to the delay, LEED 2012 is now called LEED Version 4. The LEED v.4 ballot has also been delayed, likely until June 1.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Certification is based on a 100-point system of credits: Certified is 40–49 points; Silver is 50–59 points; Gold is 60–79 points; and Platinum is 80 points and above.

USGBC says there are 40,000 projects certified in 130 nations and 1.5 million sq ft of building space certified daily.

Special-interest groups, long concerned about the potential impact of the rating system's credits on their market share, support the delay and continue to campaign "to fix" LEED. Among these groups is the American Chemistry Council. ACC has concerns about the LEED development process and LEED credits that discourage use of products with content deemed harmful to the environment.

The ballot delay "should be the first step of many to correct serious problems" in LEED development, said a joint statement, issued on June 20, from 26 groups representing building product manufacturers, including ACC.

To promote their cause, many of the groups and others, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, have formed the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition. The new group, announced on July 18, wants green building codes, standards, rating systems and credits developed in conformance with "full ANSI- or ISO-type consensus processes." It also wants LEED credits based on data supported by science. Further, it wants performance-based, rather than point-based, ratings.

Though LEED is not an ANSI standard, Horst maintains it is "a true consensus standard." Initially, developing the 12-year-old LEED as an ANSI standard would have taken too long, he adds.

ACC also is concerned about LEED credits that discourage use of products that contain certain chemicals, most of them plastics. Among these are insulation that contains foam board or spray foam; floor tiles and roofing membranes; wire/cable jackets and pipes that contain vinyl and other chemicals; certain adhesives and sealants; and polycarbonate-based LED lighting, skylights and canopies.

In response, Horst says points associated with the use of those products do not keep a building from LEED certification or even LEED Platinum status. "These points are credits, not prerequisites, and completely optional," he says.

ENERGY STAR Concerns

BOMA International, which represents building owners and managers, is also supporting the delay of the new LEED, says Karen Penafiel, BOMA's vice president of advocacy, codes and standards.

BOMA is particularly concerned about proposed changes to a prerequisite for certification under LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB): a minimum score of 75 out of 100 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR building energy-use benchmarking program.

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