LEED v4 Overwhelmingly Approved by USGBC Members
After three years of development, six public comment periods, and plenty of controversy, USGBC members voted to approve LEED v4—in a landslide.
LEED version 4 has been approved by a vote of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) members, with 86% of the voting body voting in the affirmative during a June 2013 ballot period. Approval of LEED v4 as the next version of the LEED Rating System clears the way for its launch during the Greenbuild conference in November.
The landmark vote, in which more than 1,200 USGBC member companies cast ballots, hadn’t appeared to be a sure thing, with passionate arguments on both sides (as illustrated in a mock debate conducted here at LEEDuser). Representing one of the 10% “no” votes (4% abstained), Russell Perry, office director for SmithGroupJJR, told LEEDuser, “Those who of us who have voted ‘no’ and those who have voted ‘yes’ both voted in an effort to preserve LEED.”
He explained that he wanted to see LEED v4 go back to the drawing board because changes in LEED v4 are “in some cases too abrupt, the path to project success is significantly less certain, and the effort to comply will be measurably increased.” After 13 years of incredible success for LEED, Perry fears “a LEED drop-off that could be a crash.”
Passes by a large margin
However, the ballot crossed each required hurdle with ease:
- 59.4% of the consensus body voted, meeting quorum.
- In the Producer category, which includes contactors and builders and representing 25% of membership, 89% voted “yes.”
- In the User category of various stripes of design firms that make up 48% of members—90% voted affirmative.
- In the General Interest category, which includes utilities, manufacturers, organizations, and other groups comprising 26% of members, 77% voted to approve.
- Two-thirds overall approval was required, and it came in at 86%.
“We are ecstatic about this,” Chrissy Macken, assistant project manager for LEED v4 at USGBC, told LEEDuser. “This is really phenomenal; it’s a great sentiment from our membership that we are moving in the right direction.”
Asked for his reaction, Brendan Owens, vice president for LEED technical development at USGBC, said, ”That’s the history of this organization. The members have always been progressive and willing to move forward.” He acknowledged the challenges of the six public comment periods leading up to the ballot as well as unresolved concerns about the new system, but said, “People are ready to get on with it.”
USGBC reviewing comments submitted
Voters had the opportunity to provide comments along with their votes, and Macken said that about 15% had done so. Even after the thousands of public comments through the course of the LEED v4 development process, the ballot comments were particularly valuable, said Owens. “For someone to say, ‘I wanted to vote yes, but these are the reasons I’m voting no,’ is very informative,” he said. Owens noted that the UGSBC staff and LEED Steering Committee were carefully reviewing the comments. “I think we’ll find there’s quite a few we’ll be able to address.”
Joel Ann Todd, an independent consultant and the chair of the LEED Steering Committee, said that the comments, which came on both yes and no votes, “cut out the chaff and got down to the most important factors.” According to Todd, comments were focused on feasibility: “Can we do this, how much is it going to cost us, is it going to turn people away from LEED, is it raising the bar too much?” She added, “We are going to work really hard with stakeholders over next few months and get it right.”
LEED 2009 and LEED v4 to coexist
The Greenbuild launch of LEED v4 will be a “holistic, integrated launch” says Owens, with USGBC planning to have LEED Online forms, updated LEED credentialing exams, reference guides, and educational offerings ready. The postponement of LEED v4, which had originally been developed as LEED 2012, is giving USGBC time to launch a more polished product, said Owens.
In response to concerns about the changes in LEED v4 being too abrupt, USGBC announced last year that it would ease into LEED v4, with project teams allowed to register for either LEED v4 or LEED 2009 until June 1, 2015, after which only LEED v4 will remain open. (Projects registered under LEED 2009 will be allowed to complete the certification process under that system as long as they do so before it “sunsets,” which could happen as late as 2021, according to precedents.) But if announcements like USGBC’s offer of free certification for the first Platinum LEED v4 projects are any indication, it will try to attract projects to the new system with financial incentives, ease of use, and prestige.
MR section remains controversial
Despite the strong ballot results, all is not clear sailing for LEED. Many of those ballot comments focused on the Materials and Resources (MR) section of LEED v4, which even supporters of LEED regard as a tangled web of options, some of which aren’t well defined, and whose credits for disclosure and optimization of product ingredients have made LEED a focus of attack by the chemical industry, allying it with timber interests against LEED.
On the usability issue, USGBC points to the 100 LEED projects that are beta-testing LEED v4 as evidence that it can be done. Commissioning seemed like a foreign concept 10 years ago, but LEED pioneers will again help make new LEED concepts more routine. LEEDuser heard support for that idea from Z Smith, director of sustainability and building performance at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. He told LEEDuser, “As Mark Twain said of the music of Wagner, ‘It’s not as bad as it sounds.’” (Smith followed up to clarify that Twain was quoting journalist Edgar Wilson Nye in his autobiography.) The integrated nature of the new MR section makes it easier to document, Smith told LEEDuser.
The chemical industry may be a tougher sell. The Vinyl Institute, which represents North American manufacturers of PVC resin, said in an email to LEEDuser, “LEED v4’s material resource section will fail to live up to its goal and can actually lead architects and designers to make bad decisions in order to secure credits so they can market their buildings.” Asked to elaborate, Allen Blakey, vice president of industry and government affairs, told LEEDuser that “The disclosure and optimization credit is a poor attempt to rush the future” and should be scrapped.
Onward to implementation
“We’ve worked on this for years and years now,” said Todd. “It’s great to see that we’ve finally come to the time when we can take the next steps, which will focus on the implementation side.”
What’s your reaction to the results of the LEED v4 vote? Why did you support it, or not? Are you doing a beta project or planning to register a LEED v4 project after Greenbuild? Please share your thoughts below.