Viewpoint: Delayed adoption of LEED v4

Now what?

A sigh of relief and a groan of frustration were simultaneously heard on October 29th, 2014. That was the day the U.S. Green Building Council [USGBC] announced that it would extend the LEED 2009 registration date from June 2015 to October, 2016. This means that project teams in the US and Canada, will be able to choose which rating system they register under, LEED v4 or the old 2009 version, until this date.

By Sophia Wong

The reason for the delay? According to USGBC, the market isn’t ready. An informal poll administered at the 2014 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in New Orleans showed that 61% of those polled were “not ready” or “unsure” if they were ready to pursue LEED v4.

At Greenbuild, particular attention was pointed at the new Materials and Resources [MR] section, with some LEED users claiming that the new Building Product Disclosure and Optimization credits are too complex or simply not practical.

At PE INTERNATIONAL, we specialize in helping companies along the built environment value chain to better understand the MR credits. Many of our customers fall into the ‘other 39%’ who are ready to charge ahead with v4. Our work with these early adopters and our participation in the development of the credits through the Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group [MR TAG] have given us a unique perspective on these concerns.

Too complex? Take it one step at a time.
The MR credits take a systems or life cycle perspective. That means that single attributes such as recycled content and regional materials are no longer given as much weight as they had in LEED 2009. Instead, LEED project teams are incentivized to take a more holistic approach by asking their suppliers for disclosures such as Environmental Product Declarations [EPDs], Health Product Declarations [HPDs], and Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] reports.

It’s true; if you are new to Life Cycle Assessment [LCA], ingredient disclosure, and sustainability reporting, the MR section does contain a lot of new concepts and terminology. Be patient as you traverse the learning curve, and know that there are lots of resources to help you along the way.

There are also timescales to keep in mind when putting together these disclosures. The best way to make sure that LEED project teams are ready to hit the ground running with LEED v4 by October, 2016 is to start now and take your first step.
• Architects, engineers and building professionals: Ask your suppliers for LEED v4 disclosures [EPDs, HPDs, CSR reports, etc.]. Even if you are not going to register under LEED v4 until 2016, it will take time to populate your product libraries with the required documentation. Let your suppliers know that you are thinking ahead, and in turn reward them for their efforts.
• Product manufacturers and suppliers: Figure out what your peers and competitors are doing. For some product categories, such as flooring and insulation, an EPD is a given. For other product categories you may find that no one in your particular product sector has come out with a product disclosure. Instead of resting on your laurels, consider this as an opportunity to differentiate yourself as a market leader.

Not practical? Think beyond ‘check-the-box’ to business value.
No one complains about initiatives that save energy because the business value is clear: saving energy means saving money. On the other hand, it is easy to get lost in the weeds if you don’t understand the business value of the MR credits. Here are some tips from PE INTERNATIONAL to get you thinking beyond ‘check-the-box’ to business value.

• Architects, engineers and building professionals: Appreciate whole building LCA. New tools now allow you to integrate the environmental information you collect from your suppliers into your Building Information Modeling [BIM] software. From a whole building LCA perspective, you can now determine the trade-offs between material choices, for example, “Is it more responsible to use a long-lasting material or one with lower initial impact?”

• Product manufacturers and suppliers: Think in terms of revenue growth, cost cutting, brand enhancement, and risk mitigation. Don’t just look at the MR requirements simply as added costs. Consider them as investments. A valuable starting point is to consider these four ‘buckets’ of business value and determine how undertaking a product assessment can contribute to these.

Conclusion

No matter where you sit in the built environment value chain, there is still a lot that you can do now, before the official transition to LEED v4 in October 2016. Consider early preparation as an opportunity for you to be ready, like you would before going on a big trip. For example, you may want to take some time to read a guidebook [the LEED v4 reference guide], learn a few terms in the local language [“LCA”, “EPD”, and “HPD”], and maybe even consider what you’ll do before you get there [strategic planning]. That way, you’ll understand the true benefits of embracing the LEED v4 MR credits, and your brand will not be left behind.

Sophia Wong, is LEED Green Associate and Senior Consultant at PE INTERNATIONAL, Ottawa.

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