Where is LEED Going?

July 2012Articles In the Zone

Recently, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that it is delaying the balloting on a new and improved LEED standard for businesses and homes. The LEED standard has become the “gold” standard for sustainability. After revisions in 2009, a number of commenters had called for a major rewrite. This was to be called LEED 2012. Due to the delay, USGBC announced that the new standard will be renamed as LEED V.4, as it is unlikely that any changes will be made until June 2013 at the earliest.

Why did USGBC delay its revisions after it had three rounds of public comment? It is first important to understand what the proposed LEED 2012 standards would have modified. As with prior LEED standards, the intent was to help developing technologies become more “mainstream.” LEED changes would have incorporated a number of Energy Star guidance revisions, made integrated process points important (these points are a way of training trades, businesses and homeowners) and would have modified points for new approaches to material selection.

The delay was a surprise since a number of revisions were made through four rounds of public comment. The delay has also been quite controversial. A number of building industry professionals took the position that the proposed changes were too much in a weak real estate market. However, most of the commenters had concerns about an increase in the LEED standards focus on “chemicals of concern” — materials incorporating chemical components. The standards were drafted to encourage use of non-chemical alternatives, such as limited use of vinyl siding.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) had taken a strong position that the LEED proposals do not have a sufficient “science-based” approach. The ACC has lobbied the Federal Government to consider other building standards — after the government had committed to the use of LEED systems for many of its buildings. The federal government is the single largest user of LEED ratings systems.

These delays have prompted many to argue that the explosive growth of USGBC and its membership has reduced the organization’s ability to adapt to market changes and to promote aggressive innovation in the building industry.

This is the most significant challenge to the LEED system in the short life of the USGBC. The old rating system will remain in place for the time being, and the organization will have its 5th public comment period beginning in October and concluding in December.