Scot Horst of the U.S. Green Building Council
In late March 2010 Nadav Malin, president of BuildingGreen, sat down with the heads of the LEED program at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for a conversation about the state of the LEED certification program, the LEED Credential Maintenance Program (CMP), and where LEED is headed.
The half-hour interview begins with Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at the U.S. Green Building Council, and they’re joined later by Peter Templeton, president of the Green Building Certification Institute, which is responsible for certifying LEED buildings and accrediting green building professionals.
Listen to The LEED Program: An Inside Look at LEED Project Certification and Professional Accreditation.
Peter Templeton of GBCIThe interview covers a range of timely topics, including:
Click over to the "Checklists" tab for a full transcript of the interview.
Nadav: Hello. I’m Nadav Malin from BuildingGreen and I’m here with Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at the U.S. Green Building Council. We’re going to talk about what’s going on with LEED—the latest developments—and explore some hot topics around the LEED development process. Welcome, Scot.
Scot: Thanks, Nadav. Nice to be here.
Nadav: Are there any updates you’d like to start us off with?
Scot: There’s actually a lot going on right now, which shouldn’t be surprising to you since you’ve been involved with LEED for so long. On the maintenance side of things, there’s been a lot of just taking care of LEED Online and getting it fixed, and a lot of that seems to be going quite a bit better. On the forward-looking side, we’ve got quite a few programs that we’ve been building out, which are now getting to an interesting place. We’ve got the Building Performance Initiative.
Nadav: Yes, tell us more about that. Where’s the status of that program?
Scot: Well, that program is really about collecting data from buildings and looking for a performance path into the LEED system. It’s about defining a series of things that we know we want to look for that will help define what a green building is, and then looking for ways to measure whether or not we’re achieving those things—things like transportation, but also water use and energy use.
Nadav: So will this help us get beyond the issue of LEED certifying buildings based on predicted performance—except for in EBOMEBOM is an acronym for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, one of the LEED 2009 rating sytems. (O&M), where you’re certifying based on actual performance—and the associated questions about how well these buildings are actually performing?
Scot: Yes, it will help us in a number of ways. It will help us by putting real meat behind what we think a green building is—and it’s not just about prediction, it’s about what’s really going on. It will allow us to create a recertification program so we can help encourage people to behave more consistently in their buildings, which, as we know, is a big part of ultimate performance.
Nadav: But doesn’t EB:O&M already have a recertification program?
Scot: Yes, it does. It’s not about replacing EB, it’s about connecting actual performance information with what might be a report card for your project. So the point is that it’s difficult to make people do EB after they’ve done NC. We don’t think it necessarily makes the most sense to have that as a requirement of the system. It’s a feedback mechanism for project owners to find out how their building is really working. There’s a lot that can change in behavior based on that kind of information and it allows us—even though the system doesn’t do this now—to begin to create a system that would be based on those levels of performance.
Nadav: So, right now people are—with the new LEED 2009—required to report energy and water data, but there’s no action based on that. You couldn’t lose your plaque based on that data?
Nadav: Are you envisioning in the future that there might actually be some sort of a link to what happens to your certification based on the quality of the data?
Scot: Yes, but first of all, thanks for clarifying that. In the blogosphere there’s a big confusion about what we are requiring right now. You’re correct. We’re only requiring the data; we are not requiring that you maintain a level of performance. We see that part of the trajectory of LEED is that we would require a level of performance and that means that in every building there would have to be enough integration between the design abilities, the management abilities, and the behavior aspects of the people that are in the building over time.
Nadav: So until you get there, the reality is that there may be some LEED-certified buildings out there that aren’t performing very well?
Scot: Yes, but that should be no surprise. I mean, that’s like saying a Prius isn’t going to perform well when you drive it like a racecar, right? The difference is that EPA has a miles-per-gallon rating. That’s essentially equivalent to a LEED for New Construction plaque. This program would be similar to having a drivers’ training program for Prius drivers. It’s about helping people understand that buildings perform the way people perform. It’s really about people performance as much as building performance.
Nadav: As I understood it, the Building Performance Initiative, initially, is about collecting data from both previously certified projects that may not be required to—but your asking them to submit data—and then the newly certified projects that are going to be required to submit data. Have you started collecting and compiling any of that data? When might we start to see the results of that?
Scot: Yes. Of course, this is more complicated than it seems. We’re currently working on the infrastructure for ways to collect that data. Just to give you a sense of the complications…data collection comes in all different forms. A lot of it can be done manually and a lot of it has a certain implications relative to time and resources. But building very expensive IT tools is something we know we don’t want to do. So we’re involved with basically figuring out the best way to pull all of that together right now. And it’s interesting because there’s a lot happening around the world in this category, like, Lawrence Berkeley Labs has their Energy IQ, which is an interesting benchmarking tool. As we collect data, we’re trying to figure out, do we just use that tool, or tools like that? There’s a tool that a group in Europe is starting, called ISA—International Sustainability Alliance—and they’re building a green building energy benchmarking tool, and we’re looking at whether or not that makes sense.
Nadav: Interesting. And do you have a timeframe in mind?
Scot: The current plan is to actually start a pilot and say we’re going to look for 500 buildings to give us their data. By the end of March we wanted to go out and seek people specifically and let them know that they can sign up for that pilot. We’ll be letting them know what they get back out of that, which is sort of a report card or an ability to see how they’re performing relative to others. I’m not personally convinced that the pilot idea is the best one, but right now that’s the current plan. So people can be looking for us to reach out to them to sign their buildings up for the program.
Nadav: So what about Pilot Credit Library? Do you want to talk about that?
Scot: Pilot Credit Library is really exciting because now the bookshelf—which isn’t fully built out yet—is kind of a background, structural component to how LEED is built and developed. You can think of it like a library, where LEED is the library and the individual ideas or credits are books, and the different aspects of those credits for different rating systems are chapters in the books. Now, instead of developing rating systems and then piloting them, we’re developing credits—or books—and then putting them in the library when they’re ready. The Pilot Credit Library currently has several credits in it, but I’m really excited about an idea, which I probably shouldn’t announce yet. But, I think, over the next few months, we’re going to try to put a lot of ideas that have been developed by the Technical Advisory Groups—or TAGs—into the Pilot Credit Library. They’ve been developed, ostensibly, for LEED 2012. There are a lot of really good ideas—a lot of things that they’ve come up with that they’ve wanted to put into the whole system. We’d start a different way of developing the system. We’d put those ideas in, let them be used on individual, specific projects, and let people comment on them…
Nadav: So project teams can use those as ways to earn Innovation points on a project? Is that how that works?
Scot: Yes. Then, by the time 2012 comes along, we’ve had comments on them, we’ve been able to write reference materials for them, and we’ve been able to see whether or not they’re good ideas—whether they get used, whether they’re valid, whether they change behavior, whether they improve anything. So I’m really excited about that because it allows us to test things in a completely different way than we’ve thought about before. We’ve always thought about only testing one thing relative to the whole system.
Nadav: When somebody submits these credit, will they be reviewed just like any other credit where you have to meet a threshold to earn the point, or is this a mechanism where you essentially get the point just for making the effort and doing the documentation?
Scot: That’s a really good question. The idea, right now—though, this hasn’t been decided by the LEED steering committee—is that you would get the point if you tell us how it works. We already have a template of information that we’re seeking when you do a pilot credit, and filling that out and giving us accurate feedback is really important for us. So, most likely, you’d get the credit. We might then change the Innovation in Design category. I mean, this is all hypothetical stuff—it’s all about where we might be going, it’s not where we are going. I don’t get to decide all of these things, unfortunately. (laughs) The idea would be that it would beef up the Innovation in Design section by not allowing the current ID credits. You’d have to use the things that are in the Pilot Credit Library.
Nadav: Great. What else is going on?
Scot: I’m really excited about work that we’re doing internationally. We’ve got a couple things happening. One thing started with this work on the common metrics. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Building Research Establishment and the Australians that run Green Star. That’s turned into this really hot topic, especially in Europe. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with another group that we joined called the Sustainable Building Alliance, in Paris, and also UNEP and World Green Building Council. The whole question right now is about aligning these rating systems around the world, and there’s a lot of tension, and anxiety, and questions about what alignment means. So alignment might mean that we just simply measure carbon the same way. Or it might mean a variety of indicators, and we’ve all agreed on what those indicators are. Everyone’s afraid that that could turn into just its own system that’s not certified and doesn’t do the same thing for everybody in the same way. It’s being guided in Europe by something called the SEN process, which is an EU process of the government basically saying, “You groups that have rating systems, figure out how to be less confusing to the market.” And that initiated a lot of this activity, but now it’s turning into some really interesting relationships, in ways that I think are going to be really good for us and for green building in general.
Nadav: So you see that potentially influencing the 2012 version of LEED, trying to make some adjustments to be consistent with this international alignment?
Scot: Maybe. The big question is more about us measuring carbon a certain way in LEED. Then, we probably also will measure carbon in a way that would allow you to say that the carbon in that LEED building is the same as the carbon in a BREEAMBuilding Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, the first widely used green building rating system, developed in the U.K. in the early 1990s, currently used primarily in the U.K. and in Hong Kong. building. But the reality is that as we’ve come up with a framework, which is essentially the life cycle of a building, we’ve agreed that we’re going to start with a very simple part of that framework, which is the actual performance of the building—it’s the operating energy. We’ve also agreed that we’re going to test and pilot that. But that’s only a small portion of the whole impact of the building. So it’s going to be really interesting to see what comes out of that, and it has a lot of policy implications, too. UNEP is really pushing for an intensity metric—a metric that is about carbon dioxide per person per square meter—and the absolute metric, which is more related to green building rating systems, is about kilograms of carbon per square meter. Those two things have extremely different outcomes and they’re almost completely different things. They incentivize very different behaviors and that’s what a lot of the activity and discussion is about.
Scot: Yeah, it really is, actually.
Nadav: Good. So, in terms of things that are affecting project teams doing work today, what are you hearing from teams and how are you trying to address some of the things that are going on in the field?
Scot: Well, a couple of things. One, you were on the steering committee when we made a lot of the decisions about LEED 2009. One of the fears that I used to have at that time, when we were making those decisions, was, one: did we go far enough in helping the market get to a more sustainable place? And the other one: did we not go far enough? And will people stop using LEED because it gets more stringent?
Nadav: Or did we go too far and scare people off?
Scot: Right. That was the second one. What’s really fascinating to me is that, even in this climate, we’re seeing that no, we didn’t scare them off. And yet, what’s interesting, is that now in LEED 2009, every project is going something like ten percent beyond the most strict energy code in the country before they even get points. So, that’s pretty extreme. There aren’t other systems that take you that far before you even get points. And if you’re in a bad location, you’ve got to do a lot more in the energy section to get similar levels of certification. Yet people aren’t shying away from it. We have really good numbers relative to registration. That’s really encouraging.
What’s bad is that we made some mistakes relative to LEED Online and I think a lot of people were really disappointed that it wasn’t what it could be. A lot of those things have been fixed. I’ve gotten to understand the system better to know what that means. LEED Online Version 3—LOv3—is a much more complex platform and I think it’s going to provide a lot of value for everybody. It should be a lot easier to use—it has a lot more embedded calculators that are connected all the way through the system so you only do the number once; you don’t have to do it all those different times. Yeah, there was some stumbling there and I’m sure we’ll continue to stumble in different places, hopefully less. I keep asking staff here, “What do we do?” I think I’m getting to the point where I’m understanding that, although we have this group called market development, it’s really about market leaders. The market leaders are the people doing buildings. We aren’t the market leaders, we’re the facilitators to help them be leaders. I’m starting to really see how we can do that better. That’s exciting to me.
Nadav: So that same question about whether we’ve gone too far for the market—or whether we’ve gone far enough to really drive sustainability—that’s a constant question for LEED. Can you talk about how that’s playing out with issues that we’re looking at for the next generation of LEED?
Scot: Think of a line and put zero on that line, which would be the point where your building is no longer having negative impact, but it’s not necessarily having positive impact either. So the question is: can we develop LEED in a trajectory that brings all the building stock up past that line so that buildings are actually part of a regenerative giving place instead of a taking less place? We’ve got leaders that talk about that a lot and that try to do that in individual projects, or with specific strategies on individual projects. Like the BrownfieldAbandoned, idled, or under used industrial and commercial facilities/sites who expansion, redevelopment, or reuse is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination (may include hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants). They can be in urban, suburban, or rural areas. EPA's Brownfields initiative helps communities mitigate potential health risks and restore the economic vitality of such areas or properties. (EPA) Sites and Renewable Energy—those are regenerative and restorative credits in LEED. The question is: how fast can we get there? I want to smooth out the development of LEED but keep it on a three-year cycle that’s relatively smooth, so new ideas can come into the system that build that trajectory that allow it to continually get more stringent and guide leaders to make better buildings that ultimately become regenerative. I really want to smooth that process out so that at every three-year interval we can expect that there will be a re-weighting of the system.
Nadav: Some people will say that LEED really isn’t keeping up, that there’s the 2030 Challenge, which says that by now we should be at 50% energy reduction and a few years from now at 60% over the current projects...
Scot: Yeah, whether or not we’re getting far enough fast enough—of course we aren’t. But we aren’t the only organization on the planet, either. Our job is to lead people to become exemplary leaders. We want them to show what can happen, but not the same way that other organizations do it. Living Building Challenge is doing the same thing, but we’re tying to move a much bigger group into a larger shift. I think we’re actually doing an extremely good job at that. But to give you sense of what’s possible—if you took all the new construction in 2007, about a billion gross square feet, and reduced energy consumption by 100%—made it net-zero—all that building gross square feet is the same, roughly, as taking the existing building stock and reducing energy consumption by 1%. That, to me, is so enabling of what we’re capable of doing with a huge group of people. So the question is: do we spend all our time at the top? No, we want to lead those people up there, but we have to spend a lot of time at ground level and really build people up a little bit at a time.
Nadav: Isn’t that the place for the codes? Shouldn’t we be driving for codes to bring up the bottom?
Scot: Yes, absolutely. We want to be above code. We want to encourage codes to continue to go up, and there’s a lot of that activity. And we also want to be pulling those codes up and pulling people past that.
Nadav: And that’s why you’ve supported Standard 189 as a code-enforceable standard?
Scot: And ICC.
Scot: And CalGreen. We support all of that as really important, essential activity to help us all.
Nadav: Great. We’re now joined by Peter Templeton, president of the Green Building Certification Institute. Welcome, Peter.
Peter: Thank you.
Nadav: A lot of the initiative with GBCI has been to allow LEED to scale, as more and more projects come in be able to more through them in an efficient and effective way, and yet, there’s potentially a tension between doing things at a larger scale and having the flexibility to reward the right thing—perhaps in some cases when it might not meet the letter of the law but meets the intent, or has the benefit we’re looking for but achieved it in a different way. How do you deal with that? How do you address that as things scale up?
Peter: That’s a great question and I think it builds on a lot of what you’ve been talking with Scot about. We see LEED as a tool; it’s just not the answer. We’re trying to promote positive outcomes though the use of this tool and our goal is really to support the initiatives in the marketplace that are looking to track performance of these projects over time. We’re trying to make this tool work as effectively along with the processes of the standard building efforts. So for us to be able to scale that to the demand while there’s greater interest around green building and the objectives of green building, that is really the focus for us as an organization—to make sure that we’re able to support those efforts and be able to demonstrate the accountability that’s required to track that progress.
Nadav: So, in scaling up, does it necessarily mean that we just have to accept that this is now a big program, so it’s going to be more letter-of-the-law versus the sort of flexibility that people thought they had when it was a small group of projects going through?
Peter: The goal for us, again, is consistency—that we’re sending the right message consistently across the entire marketplace in terms of what we’re working for. As the work of the LEED standard continues to evolve, we want to be able to embrace the innovation that’s occurring naturally, organically within the marketplace. So, it’s kind of two sides of one coin, where we’re trying to come up with the appropriate balance and make sure that there is a framework that is in place that folks can use to track that progress, but that progress us going to be made through different approaches that we’re constantly trying to keep pace with in the market.
Scot: I think that’s really good because we’ve received plenty of input from both sides of the question you’ve had—well, LEED doesn’t look the same here as it looks there, which is the opposite of flexibility.
Nadav: Right. Or the concern about inconsistency—why this was rewarded here but it isn’t there.
Scot: Right. And then the other side, which is, well, you won’t let me try this cool thing and give me credit for it, (laughing), which doesn’t necessarily always just mean flexibility. It might mean that the idea isn’t as good as you thought it was.
Peter: I mean, the only rigid aspect is around performance. It’s actually meeting those objectives—it’s not about how you go about meeting them. It really is trying to ultimately achieve the right outcome.
Nadav: But the reality on the ground is that there are usually, hopefully—for reviewability—very specific requirements and it’s less easy as things scale up to come in and say, “Well, I didn’t meet the requirements exactly the way you spelled them out, but I’ve achieved the same result so I should get the point.” I guess that’s what I’m getting at. It seems like as things scale up it’s going to be less feasible. The flexibility is going to have to come through smarter credits that have that built in.
Peter: Sure. Well, the challenge is also on both sides. A lot of the market is looking for predictability, as well, in the system. They want to know how to go about achieving those performance outcomes or objectives that they’ve set for themselves. So we want to make sure that there is some standardization in terms of the approach, but at the same time it’s not closing the door to some of the innovation that we also want to be promoting within the industry. It is a challenge for us, in the market, to make sure that we’re getting the feedback that we need to evolve in the right directions to allow that to continue to happen.
Scot: Yeah, in almost every credit, you have the option of trying to prove that you’ve met the intent but in a different way. So that’s still there.
Nadav: How is the transition going now that we’ve got the new accreditation system in place?
Peter: So, as you know, of course, the new credentials that were released over the course of 2009 have been out in the market and we’re excited to see, particularly with the Green Associate Program, that there is consistent uptake there and that we’re really hearing interest from different sectors of the market that haven’t been as well-represented among the AP credentials to this point. There’s really exciting momentum in a lot of service-related areas that are providing supporting functions to the overall green building movement. That’s where we’re seeing the most momentum.
Nadav: So, to some extent, people in those groups were trying to fit into the AP movement before.
Nadav: And now you’ve created the Green Associate, which is a better fit for them. So you’re seeing that working?
Peter: We’re seeing that working really well and we’re seeing it really run the gamut from folks that are coming up from product manufacturers and sales reps and folks that need to be very conversant in understanding the needs of those that are actually working on the projects, but they don’t need to be the experts that are designing and building and operating the projects at that level.
Nadav: So the new LEED AP is really targeted at…
Peter: …at the practitioners that are working at the project level.
Peter: We’re also seeing, I think, a strong grasp of that concept both from the existing community of APs as well as from folks that are coming in new. I think it’s the pairing of the Green Associate Program with the AP specialties that are really providing that clarity that folks have been looking for in terms of what the designation means. Building on that, we’ve, of course, introduced the Credential Maintenance Program, which allows folks to demonstrate that they’re staying current with the rapidly evolving industry of green building. It’s something that has taken a lot to explain to the marketplace, but the more communications we’re having, the more effective we’re thinking that this is going to be overall.
Peter: We’ve had a really strong response. We have almost 25,000 individuals who have enrolled in Credential Maintenance up to this point and there’s still a fair bit of time for folks in this initial enrollment period. The more conversations, the more interest we’ve seen and the more acceptance we’ve seen of how that program is going to work.
Nadav: So with Credential Maintenance, people who had the previous LEED AP can move to the new LEED AP with specialty by signing up for this program where they’re going to maintain the credential, and BuildingGreen has now applied to be a provider in that program. We’re really excited about that.
Peter: Which is fantastic. Through LEEDuser and some of your other programs, you’ve helped us get the word out about what those requirements look like and we appreciate that very much. It’s something that we’re trying to do more of—working throughout the USGBC chapter network and with other partners like BuildingGreen to help us explain the details and identify what the opportunities are for individuals to get that experience or education or any of the components that are going to help them maintain their credentials over time, ultimately to help them stay current with the practice that they’re charged with.
Nadav: That’s so important as the field keeps changing and evolving and technologies keep changing.
Nadav: So what about the in the certification world? It’s been about a year since the certification body started. Is there anything to report on how that’s going?
Peter: We’ve actually been spending a lot of time on certification, both because of new programs that will be coming out…well, I’ll mention that the LEED for Neighborhood Development Program will be launching here in the near future. We’re excited to be gearing up to support that with projects that are going to take us into that new arena of neighborhood- and community-scale projects. We’re also focusing on the Volume Program for volume certification for large users that will also be out in the market this year. So those are two big initiatives that we’ve been spending a lot of time behind. Related to the certification bodies, we’ve been evaluating the pilot for the certification body as it was initiated in 2008 and really spending some time on understanding what the impacts of that have been. Very frankly, one of the concerns that has come up, of course, both out of our own experiences and those of the project teams, is the distance that it’s placed between us and the project teams—the users of LEED directly. There are, of course, also some of the issues that have come up with them around consistency and clarity. So we will be taking a number of steps this year to address those issues within the system to make sure that there is a better experience for the project teams that are working, bringing greater proximity between us and the project teams or the review teams and the project teams. That’s really a priority for us and we’re excited about what that’s going to do and what it’s going to enable us to do on some of these new programs.
Nadav: So, organizationally, there were a couple of big changes in 2008. Not only were the certification bodies introduced, but the whole Green Building Certification Institute was inserted in between the USGBC as the creator of the standard—and the market…you now have two organizations there.
Peter: Yes, and that’s been one of the areas we’ve focused on the most. How we leveraged the intent was, of course, to help us introduce the greater capacity and scalability into the system by using these global certification bodies. We’ve been able to do that to a certain extent. We’ve seen an incredible reduction in terms of the late reviews and some of the issues that have been plaguing LEED certification for the past several years as a result of the additional capacity that was brought into the system. It is also introducing new challenges, as I’ve said. So we are going to be pulling things closer to us, making sure that as we build toward having that capacity and those touch points both in place... to allow us to have a better experience for the projects overall.
Nadav: Great. We’ll look forward to hearing how that all unfolds. Anything else with the certification process?
Peter: Those were probably the big points. The only other area that we’re giving a lot of attention, in addition to shoring up the current process, has been on international. International has continued to be a consistently larger percentage of the total volume of projects that we’re working with, so making sure that is part of our next steps in the evolution—that we have reviewer capacity that’s going to be able to support projects working outside of the States.
Nadav: And that’s in countries that don’t have LEED—because some countries have adapted LEED or are building their own infrastructure to do that?
Peter: Yes. There are programs out there where there are existing adaptations for LEED, such as in Canada. We continue to work with the Canada Green Building Council in helping to bring our respective programs into greater alignment, but the uptake that we’re seeing really spans the entire globe. We’ve got LEED projects that we’re working with in over 115 countries right now.
Peter: They represent almost 13% of the total project base by count and roughly 30% by square footage, so it’s a tremendous amount of activity that’s happening outside of the U.S. borders and we want to make sure that we’re able to support that and the continued growth of that presence.
Nadav: And what are the specific challenges? That they’re not familiar with the American standards that are in LEED? Is it language barriers? Is it building process differences? What do you run into there?
Peter: It’s a little of all of those. We’re looking at how it is that the process can promote the right behaviors, making sure that we’re not leading folks astray outside. So there’s work, certainly, on the standards side and work that Scot and his team are doing, but also on our side in terms of how we work with them in the review process, the documentation, the standards that they’re held to, dealing with alternative compliance paths, etc. The very specific CIRs that come in and projects that are working with different building codes or different processes are very important for us to be able capture that collective knowledge and utilize that as we prepare for a greater volume of activity outside of the States.
Peter: It’s very interesting.
Nadav: Well, thank you very much. That concludes my interview with Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at the U.S. Green Building Council and Peter Templeton, president of the Green Building Certification Institute. I’m Nadav Malin, from BuildingGreen.
What will be the best approach for a hotel comprises of 30 units of cabana's. Also, just want to know about USGBC charges for this kind of project.
I think you would register these buildings as a "block" in LEED Online. There is more info on that on the LEED Online site. GBCI's fees are posted on its website.
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