Should LEEDv4.1 be the future of LEED?

By Denise Braun

In April 2017, the USGBC released a pilot version of the latest LEED O+M Beta for existing buildings, LEED v4.1. In this new iteration, some credits were simplified, clarifications were made, and a few credits were removed entirely, with the intention of creating the “most inclusive and transparent platform to date.” The idea was to make LEED “the most accessible” certification for buildings globally by making the requirements more achievable. Today, LEED is the world’s most used rating system for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. For the past 18 years, the various versions of LEED have pushed the global green building market progressively forward and encouraged project teams to operate beyond the status quo, with more than 93,000 registered and certified projects and a total of 19.3 billion square feet of space used worldwide1 [1].

As part of the regular practice on how the LEED rating systems are developed, the USGBC graciously invited the green building community to read and provide feedback on the LEEDv4.1 Beta version. Through our own reading of the Beta version as well as many people in the community, we’ve confronted some understandable concerns with the approach that the USGBC has adopted to achieve these noble goals. This version (LEEDv4.1) is based on the following concepts:

  • New methodologies for measuring building performance by working with projects to track energy, water, waste, transportation and indoor environmental quality
  • A simple, data-driven path to LEED certification for existing buildings, making it accessible to more projects than any other version of the rating system
  • Updated referenced standards and performance requirements to ensure that LEED remains the global leader in green building [2]

In an attempt to simplify the certification process and to increase accessibility, LEED v4.1 O+M has subsequently diluted its impact, and therefore has regrettably undermined the esteemed image of the certification. With respect to methodology of tracking a building’s waste performance, this version has eliminated requirements for a solid waste management policy, a physical waste stream audit, and the need for environmentally responsible sourcing.  In place of these vital practices used to adequately gauge a building’s waste performance, a building is now only required to provide the weight of waste generated and diverted over a 12-month period, as provided by waste haulers.

This new way of reporting does not incentivize buildings to decrease their contamination rate and improve the diversion rate, nor does it help stakeholders become more mindful about a building’s environmental impact  Given the current political state we are in, where environmental protection laws can be removed virtually on command, and where constant greenwashing by major corporations is ubiquitous, we look to LEED to hold the highest standard for true environmental stewardship as it relates to sustainable building.

The USGBC has been a pioneer of the green building movement, and our ever-growing, impassioned community continues to look to the organization for guidance on how to push the global green building market forward, and to encourage project teams to operate beyond the status quo. Doing so, the community can trust that when a project is LEED v4.1 certified, it will be common knowledge that the buildings have met crucial standards of environmental and health resilience. We hope that the US Green Building Council will thoughtfully review and consider the Beta’s feedback focus on how to continuously improve our built environments through concise, meaningful requirements without compromised impacts.