Nearly 2 years after the introduction of LEED 2009 and the abandonment of the pre-LEED 2009 “precedent-setting CIR” process, USGBC has launched a new form of precedent-setting inquiry process called “LEED Interpretations.” Let’s go back in time, just a bit, to examine what this means.
Before the launch of LEED 2009, USGBC was doing all of the LEED project documentation reviews. If, during the course of working on a LEED project, the project team had a question or needed an interpretation of a LEED requirement, the project team would submit what was called a Credit Interpretation Request (CIR). The CIR would be analyzed by the USGBC project review teams who would provide a response or a “Ruling” to the CIR. These Rulings then became precedent-setting, meaning that they were applicable for all future projects. So, once a project team received a ruling on a CIR that same project team or other project teams could use the ruling on any and all future projects because the CIRs and their associated rulings were cataloged in a database available to the public. The process wasn’t perfect: it cost $220 per CIR, the rulings often took longer than desired to be made, some rulings were contradictory to others and the database of past rulings got fairly unwieldy as it grew. Nevertheless, most people appreciated being able to search for past rulings on common questions and apply them to their projects.
Around the time that the LEED 2009 rating systems were launched, GBCI, not USGBC, began handling LEED project documentation reviews. This led to a change in strategy of the CIR process with the release of LEED 2009; all LEED 2009 CIRs became project specific and were no longer precedent-setting. This meant that even the same project team could not use a CIR ruling they received on one project for other future projects. The idea here was that GBCI, not being the creator of the LEED Rating Systems, would be responding to the CIRs and they really lacked the background and/or authority to be making precedent-setting rulings on the rating systems. The move, however well-founded, was not met with much enthusiasm among project teams. CIRs still cost $220, but many teams found themselves having to submit multiple identical CIRs on multiple project to address very similar circumstances.
Toward the end of 2010, USGBC acknowledged that there was still a demand and a need for some sort of precedent-setting interpretation process for certain inquiries that were likely to be wide reaching and be applicable to many projects. So, just this week, USGBC launched their new “LEED Interpretations” process, which will give project teams a precedent-setting interpretation option. The LEED Interpretations will not replace the current non precedent-setting CIR system, but will be offered as essentially an “add-on.” As a first step, project teams will request a CIR (for $220). GBCI will respond to the CIR in approximately a month with a ruling that can be used on the specific project it was submitted on. At the time of CIR submission, the project team will now also have the option of paying an additional $180 ($280 for non USGBC members) to have a precedent-setting LEED Interpretation issued in addition to the CIR ruling. The LEED Interpretation request would then be reviewed by USGBC after the initial CIR review by GBCI and an interpretation would take much longer to be issued- 3-6 months. Once issued, though, the LEED Interpretation will be precedent-setting for other projects and will be entered into a new LEED Interpretations database system quarterly.
This new process seems a little complex, and I am sure it will evolve over time, but I am definitely happy to have a precedent-setting option back on the table! I have listed some resources for this new option below, if you would like to learn more.