The USGBC Raises the Ceiling with LEED v4

Aaron HeadshotAaron’s post is the first in a series of articles about LEED v.4.

By Aaron Green, Green Seal Winter 2013 Intern

At the 2013 Greenbuild Convention the US Green Building Council (USGBC) unveiled the latest version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, Version 4 (LEED v4). The new system ups the ante for any project seeking a LEED rating going into effect starting June 2015.[1]

There are new requirements and credits as well as specific rating systems for schools, retail locations, data centers, and warehouse and distribution centers. The most significant change receiving a good deal of attention is the increased importance placed on transparency.[2]

By asking for owners to make the building footprint available, the USGBC is effectively increasing the ability for future building teams to learn from current projects, and pushing the green building movement a large step farther.

Why is transparency important to sustainable enterprise?

A major focus in corporate sustainability is the push for greater transparency in business reporting in order to highlight both social and environmental impacts beyond the traditional economic reporting. Transparency allows both internal departments and other businesses to learn from the successes and shortcomings regarding the company’s triple bottom line. Many businesses have found several benefits including an improved reputation, employee and consumer loyalty, and increased access to capital among other advantages over their competition.[3]

This transparency is achieved through both additions to their website and increasingly common sustainability reports. A current trend in the reporting field, over 11,000 companies have followed the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines in a way to standardize this practice.[4] As companies set an example by reporting, others are able to learn from the example.

These reports incentivize the competition to achieve social and environmental objectives of their own, and push these industries to improve their practices.

What is LEED?

Developed by the USGBC in 2000, LEED is a credit-based system for a building to achieve a standard of environmental performance. There are five LEED categories: Building Design and Construction, Interior Design and Construction, Homes, Operations and Maintenance, and Neighborhood Development.

Each presents a unique scorecard, and depending on the number of points obtained a building or development can achieve certified, silver, gold or platinum status. The aim of each point is to increase the norms for energy efficiency, the standard of living for tenants, and reduce the impact to global warming.

How LEED Building Design and Construction has addressed transparency

In LEED v4, the USGBC has applied the philosophy of transparency by adding new credits to the rating system.

First, to two credits can be obtained by simply reporting the health and environmental impacts of the LEED certified building regardless of carbon footprint.[5] While this may be viewed as controversial due to the lack of a baseline needed to achieve, I view this as an important accomplishment. Such a response will motivate the design team to learn about the environmental implications of the use of particular construction methods and materials, and it will allow others to learn from the design strategies. As I previously stated, this is an important outcome of transparency.

The USGBC has also added a LEED credit for using products that the manufacturers have completed a life-cycle assessment (LCA). An LCA documents the entire supply chain of a manufactured good from raw materials to the final product. Included in the report is the carbon footprint, chemical composition, and material attributes. Such a requirement goes far beyond the previous versions that simply gave credit for using certified materials.

Two credits can be earned for first sourcing from suppliers that provide an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), and secondly show that the carbon footprint in transportation and manufacturing is below the industry standard. A manager seeking LEED for his/her building is also able to obtain a credit for if the supplier has documented where all raw materials are sourced. Another credit can be earned by using materials from suppliers that publish a Health Product Declaration (HPD) citing all hazardous chemicals and compounds used.[6] Again, several of these credits are simply earned by obtaining materials from a company that reports on the environmental impacts regardless of what they are.

It can be anticipated that as LEED becomes more prevalent an increasing number of manufacturers will be persuaded to conduct an LCA, furthering the benefits of transparency. As material sourcing of sustainable products increase, the incentive for suppliers to conduct an LCA and make improvements to problem areas will increase as well, furthering the sustainability mission.

Finally, a new one-credit category was created in LEED v4 titled Integrative Process. The credit requires synergies among different disciplines in the design team during the early stages of construction. The goal is to increase the opportunities and increase the environmental outcomes by bringing together the entire team during early stage of construction.

It can be anticipated that together an even greater success will be achieved as these teams work together rater than independently. As sustainability requires a multidisciplinary approach to make positive changes industry wide, creating a credit for the different teams to simply work together, will likely have many unexpected benefits.

So why is this update so important?

LEED v4 highlights how the old standards were so well implemented it became important to raise the bar. Percentages of inclusiveness were increased and distances to be considered local were decreased. By placing an emphasis on transparency of the building footprint, material usage, and internal communication between architects, engineers, and others involved in the construction, the USGBC has increased the opportunities for a more sustainable design of corporate and residential infrastructure. LEED has played off the successes corporations have achieved from transparency. It can be expected that through the push of the USGBC building design will achieve similar industry wide benefits.

In my next post regarding the LEED rating systems, I will address the changes to the Operations and Maintenance standards. Specifically, I will explain the Indoor Environmental Quality Sections new requirement for a Green Cleaning Policy and how this pertains to Green Seal and the GS-42 standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services.

For additional information see:

The US Green Building Council website

4 ways LEED v4 will change business

By Mikhail Davis and Melissa Vernon

Published October 18, 2013

LEED v4: Better than the LEEDs that Came Before?

5 of the Most Important Changes to the LEED Green Building Rating System

How LEED v4 Impacts Material Sourcing

LEED v4 Changes Are Focused On Performance

By Brendan Owens – October 2013–14385

PE International and their White Paper on LEED v4

The Global Reporting Initiative








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