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LEED v4: Changes in Sustainable Building

An image of a home is held in front of grass to symbolize green building.

Posted by Scott Leonard

LEED stands for green building leadership. LEED is transforming the way we think about how buildings and communities are designed, constructed, maintained and operated across the globe.
LEED certified buildings save money and resources and have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy.
~United States Green Building Council (USGBC®)

LEED®, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design®, is a rating system for green building that is recognized across the globe. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed LEED standards to help building owners and operators save money, conserve energy, reduce water consumption, improve indoor air quality, and make better building material choices. Many people seek LEED certifications to build for a sustainable future and reduce operating costs.

LEED v3 has guided the rating system since 2009, but a new version of LEED is being developed and is expected to roll out in the near future. Under the current LEED system there are 100 possible points distributed across six categories, and depending on points earned, a project can qualify for one of four possible levels of certification: (1) Certified , (2) Silver, (3) Gold, or the highest achievement, (4) Platinum. The new LEED v4, however, has much more rigorous standards, making the certification process quite different.

As part of a blog series, our Green Team, made up of LEED Accredited Professionals, will share their knowledge about different aspects of the LEED v4 rating system and help prepare developers, contractors, and designers for the future of green building.

Environmental Product Declarations

The new LEED v4 requires an environmental product declaration (EPD), which is a statement of the building "ingredients." The EPD is comparable to nutritional labels. Much like nutrition information helping consumers understand the health values of their food, an EPD helps us understand how the materials used in a project affect the health of people and the environment.

How is this different from current material ingredient reporting? The LEED v4 Materials and Resources section differs in that it requires us to look at the life cycle of the whole building and products used. The 2009 version of LEED looked at single attributes of materials, such as the amount of recycled content used, rather than looking at the whole story. The new approach takes a more holistic view of how materials and products affect the environment, human health, and communities.

Material and product ingredients will be scrutinized and judged based on the life cycle information available. The intent is to encourage the use of materials and products that have a beneficial impact on the environment, economics, and communities. Materials and products that use safe, affordable, and environmentally-friendly chemical ingredients will be rated higher in the new system. This encourages material and product manufacturers to disclose the ingredients used, and it allows project teams to wisely choose the "ingredients" of a project.

This disclosure represents a major shift for many types of manufacturers who currently consider detailed information on material ingredients to be proprietary knowledge. Based on feedback received during this year’s annual Greenbuild conference held October 20-24, USGBC has decided to give the market additional time to prepare for LEED v4. This means that LEED 2009 registration has been extended to October 31, 2016.