LEED 2012: Too Much Change?

I remember very distinctly my disappointment during the LEED 2009 comment periods and subsequent official release of LEED 2009. USGBC had been pronouncing that LEED 2009 would be a significant realignment of the rating systems and a substantial move toward raising the bar on what sustainable design is. I remember thinking that what we got was minor re-wording and re-numbering of a few credits and a not insignificant, but hardly revolutionary, move from ASHRAE 90.1-2004 to ASHRAE 90.1-2007 as the energy efficiency baseline. I am, of course, oversimplifying the changes a bit, but my point is that LEED 2009 didn’t exactly bring the earth-shattering changes some of us wear fearing/anticipating. Once LEED 2009 was launched I did some quick analysis for my firm and realized that the changes would have little to no effect on how we designed our projects or the level of certification we could easily achieve. This was at once a relief that we weren’t going to have to re-educate everyone on the ways of LEED and a complete let down that we weren’t really doing anything the push sustainable design further.

Fast forward a few years and here we are, about to wrap up the comment periods for LEED 2012 and take an official vote on its adoption. LEED 2012 is by no means a done deal with a fourth (unplanned) comment period opening May 1, but the drafts to date have left me with many more questions than answers. To me, the proposed versions of LEED 2012 are revolutionary, but perhaps not in a good way. I am very much in favor of continuously raising the bar on sustainable design and the LEED Rating Systems. However, I am very concerned that LEED 2012, as currently proposed, introduces changes that are either too significant to be called incremental or add more complexity to implementation and/or documentation requirements than is needed or wise.

To me, the significant changes proposed in LEED 2012 raise a philosophical question about LEED. Is LEED, at its heart, meant to be a tool for market transformation, as USGBC has often claimed, or is it actually meant to be a certification that recognizes and rewards industry leaders? I have always thought that the strength of LEED is its ability to create market transformation with a system that is difficult enough to feel like an accomplishment but approachable enough to encourage adoption by a wide variety of businesses and organizations. I am afraid that the current version of LEED 2012 is too much of a radical change to do this. In my own evaluation, LEED 2012, as it stands today, would cause significant increases in building cost for achievement. These increased costs would be a result of both increased material and systems costs as well as increased costs for the additional time that will be needed to document more complex credits and train design and construction teams on all of the changes contained in the credit requirements and processes. I am just now starting to work with design and construction teams that have a good handle on how LEED works. The thought of the massive changes contained in LEED 2012, especially when it comes to materials and resources credits, and the re-education they will require makes me shudder.

I have talked to many people in the design and construction industry as well as many clients that tell me very directly that if LEED 2012 is adopted as currently written, they will not pursue LEED on future projects. Wow. If people who are currently undertaking LEED projects feel like LEED 2012 is too difficult or too costly, how in the world is LEED going to attract new devotees and continue to transform the market? If LEED 2012 is accepted as currently written (or in a similar draft), USGBC is making a decision, whether it’s a conscious one or an unconscious one, to shift from continuous market transformation through widespread adoption to being a program that rewards industry leaders who are significantly ahead of the curve on sustainable design. Personally, that’s a shift that I don’t want to see LEED make. How do you feel?



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