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LEED 2009 - A Good First Step

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The U.S. Green Building Council has just rolled out the long awaited LEED 2009, also known by some as LEED v.3. It is the first major change to LEED since version 1.0 was released in 1999. In this new version, the USGBC has made some of the major changes that the green building industry has been demanding, but for many on the innovative end of the green building spectrum it will not go far enough.

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One of the criticisms with the current LEED version has been the inequity of the one point for each strategy system. For example cleaning up a brownfield site involves far more effort and resources than using a low-emitting carpet but both receive one point.

Amanda Sturgeon

Acknowledgement that the energy consumed in buildings is a leading cause of global climate change has changed the green building playing field. Pressure has been mounting on the USGBC to make the LEED rating system place more emphasis on energy and climate change. Currently a project can achieve LEED Gold, for example, with minimal energy savings compared to a non-LEED building. It is up to the project team to choose which strategies make sense for that project. However, the ability for project teams to pick and choose from LEED’s menu based system is one reason why it has been readily adopted in the marketplace.

The essential essence of the menu based system does not change with LEED 2009. What does change, however, is a weighting of the points towards a series of priority issues. The two main issues that surfaced to the top during the USGBC’s extensive life cycle assessment analysis process were climate change and energy efficiency. In order to accommodate this weight revision the possible points available increased to 110, as compared to the 69 previously available in LEED-NC.

Comparing LEED 2009 to the existing LEED-NC version, water efficiency contributes to 10% of the points instead of 7%, energy 35% instead of 25%, and transportation 17% instead of 7%. For green building designers, the impact of these changes will be revealed once projects start to incorporate LEED in mid 2009.

I believe this is a good change for building owners as well as taxpayers who have a LEED requirement for public buildings in their state or city. LEED projects will have to implement more energy efficient measures in order to get the level of certification they are seeking and energy efficient buildings offer financial benefits to their owners in the long-term. I also expect this same benefit will make it easier for designers to sell LEED projects to uncertain clients, particularly in this hard economic climate.

Generally, the credit content has not changed much in LEED 2009. The baseline water efficiency level in the old version of 20% is now a pre-requisite requirement, which makes a great deal of sense. Most projects achieve the 20% water savings easily with the use of readily available low-flow fixtures at no additional cost to a project.  Now they can be rewarded for going further by achieving the 30% and 40% levels.

Another criticism of LEED has been that it is not regionally based.  For example, issues of humidity and natural cooling are different in various climates. LEED 2009 makes a step to address this. Four new points will be available for regional issues – these credits have not yet been released and are being determined by each regional USGBC chapter.

The last change to note, and it’s not yet clear on how this will work, is the newly-offered option for project teams to test an Alternate Compliance Path entitled, “Life Cycle Assessment for Building Assemblies.” This performance-based path uses a new Life Cycle Assessment credit calculator, which is currently in beta testing. This seems like a step to move LEED closer to a performance-based system and away from the current system that is based on requirements and benchmarks rather than performance.

LEED will now be revised every two years with significant changes promised in 2011. The expectation is that the 2011 version will change much of the credit content. Additionally, it is anticipated that these credits will be weighed against social and cultural indicators that are just beginning development. LEED 2009 is a great step in the right direction for USGBC because it offers a transitional step between the existing system and the one we will see emerge in 2011.

Amanda Sturgeon, is a senior associate, Perkins + Will, Seattle.
She can be reached at or 206-381-602


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