The Newest Version of LEED

April 27, 2009

The USGBC’s newest version of LEED has officially been launched

On April 27, 2009, the U.S. Green Building Council launched the next version of its LEED rating system. Credit categories will remain the same, but there are some critical differences that you should know about.

What is LEED v3?
LEED v3 has three components: 

  1. LEED 2009, the updated ratings system.
  2. LEED online, the interface for project organization and for communication between certifying bodies and project teams.
  3. LEED certification model, with project certification now administered through the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) rather than through the USGBC.

Key Changes in LEED 2009
Credit Weightings. The most significant change is the prioritization of credits based on their “impact category,” or how they affect positive environmental change. Top billing goes to measures that mitigate climate change, such as reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, which are allotted a heftier share of the points. Credits now cleave to a 100-point scale, with the possibility of up to four “extra-credit” points for regionally important strategies.

Regionalization. Different parts of the country have different environmental priorities – and different resource availability (solar energy is more abundant in Miami than in Buffalo, for example). LEED now recognizes this with regionally specific credits.

Alternative Compliance Paths. LEED’s revision cycle means that new developments don’t make it into the checklist until the next launch date. To circumvent this problem, LEED 2009 incorporates flexible options (“alternative compliance paths”) for achieving some credits, as well as Innovation in Design credits for ecological strategies not addressed in the rating system. 

As an example, Hoffmann Architects’ recent JOURNAL commented on LEED v2’s failure to consider the longevity of materials and methods in its credit allocations. In response, later this year, LEED 2009 will add an alternative compliance path to the Materials and Resources section of LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED-NC) that will offer credits based on building assembly life-cycle assessment. While this change may seem too little, too late, for many prudent building owners and managers who value long-lasting building solutions, it’s a small (but significant) step toward the green building industry’s recognition of the importance of longevity to sustainability.

Implications for Building Owners and Managers
If a project’s green priorities don’t coincide with those of the USGBC, certification level may be lower under the new LEED system. Weighted credits mean that some efforts that contributed significantly to a building’s LEED v2 rating might make only a minimal impact under LEED v3. By contrast, some owners might find their projects elevated to Silver, Gold, or Platinum status because their improvements now garner more points with the LEED 2009 scale. 

For instance, Energy and Atmosphere has a larger point share in this go-round, while Materials and Resources, which includes building component durability, has a smaller impact on total score. Building-envelope commissioning and exterior energy upgrades, therefore, are more important than ever, as the Energy Performance and Commissioning credits, now weighted more heavily, are critically dependant on an efficient building enclosure.

For up to 60 days after the launch date (through June 26), building owners and developers can still register under LEED v2. Projects currently registered can transition to LEED v3 for up to 180 days after the launch (through Oct. 24) without a fee. The status of buildings that are already LEED certified will not be affected until re-registration.

Craig A. Hargrove is senior vice president and director of architecture at Hoffmann Architects Inc., New York City.

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