Since the release of LEED for New Construction 1.0 more than a decade ago, LEED rating systems have evolved and experienced numerous changes, and LEED v4 is no exception. While change can be hard, it’s as sure to happen as death and taxes. The good news is that if you are a member of USGBC, YOU have a voice and YOU can comment on the recently released 5th public comment draft, now through December 10, 2012.

According to USGBC, LEED v4 “is designed to drive innovation in every aspect of the building lifecycle” and “change the way project teams think, integrate, plan, execute and operate their buildings,” which is expected to result in “improved environmental outcomes.”

What does this mean? The anticipated “big picture” changes within LEED Building Design & Construction v4 focus on:

  • minimizing climate change (carbon reduction)
  • how building materials are impacting human health (human health improvement)
  • the globalization of LEED
  • modeling (rainwater, lighting, acoustics, daylighting, etc.) and alternative calculation methods
  • introducing alternative project delivery methods

Carbon Reduction and Human Health Improvement

A main goal of LEED v4 is to reduce carbon emissions, which means increasing energy efficiency. Twenty percent of the points within LEED v4 are focused on optimizing energy performance. Relating to human health, “just” ventilating a building is no longer enough. Outdoor air intake flow must also be monitored. If you aren’t familiar with ASHRAE Guideline 0-2005, ASHRAE Guideline 1.1-2007 for HVAC&R Systems, NIBS Guideline 3-2006 for Exterior Enclosures, ASHRAE 90.1-2010, ASHRAE 55-2010, ASHRAE 189.1-2011,ASHRAE 62.1-2010, or ISO 7730, Ergonomics of the Thermal Environment, Analytical Determination and Interpretation of Thermal Comfort, now is a great time to familiarize yourself with these standards.

LEED v4 also places more attention on location with the addition of a new category, Location & Transportation (LT). Taking their cue from LEED for Neighborhood Development, Location and Transportation credits focus on the integration of smart growth principles such as revitalization, reuse of existing infrastructure, mixed-used development and pedestrian-friendly design to further reduce carbon emissions and improve human health. These aren’t entirely new concepts, as many of the credits are currently listed under the Sustainable Sites (SS) category, but it will be important to note which credits will be making the move to LT.

In addition to shifting some credits to Location & Transportation, other major SS changes include a credit for Site Assessment, which entails an overall assessment of the site conditions and features and their impact on human use and human health, as well as the replacement of the Stormwater Design credits by the Rainwater Management credit. The Light Pollution Reduction credit will now require projects to meet uplight and light trespass requirements using one of two options: the Backlight-Uplight-Glare (BUG) Rating Method or the Calculation Rating Method.

The Integrative Process

The new Integrative Process (IP) category includes a prerequisite for healthcare projects called Integrative Project Planning & Design, which requires these projects to utilize an on-going analysis approach and forces the project team to understand the sustainable goals of the owner from the on-set of the planning and design process. This requires the team to evaluate synergies and opportunities that may not otherwise be analyzed in the traditional design-bid-build delivery approach. The Integrative Process credit enables projects to earn a point for analyzing synergies between various basic “passive” approaches (e.g., building orientation, site placement and massing) and systems that impact energy use and occupant comfort, including building envelope considerations, glazing and energy-related systems. This category is NOT open for public comment, which means, as an industry, we will need to educate our clients on the benefits of alternative delivery processes.


With 40% of registered projects located outside of the US, it’s no surprise that LEED requirements needed to become more flexible and provide alternative compliance paths beyond prescribed US standards and/or codes.

Raising the Bar

It’s also not surprising that LEED v4 has adopted the new ASHRAE standards, especially with the focus on carbon reduction. Therefore, projects will be rewarded for the reduction of energy and the production of their own energy. The prerequisite for fundamental commissioning of the building’s energy systems has been expanded to include water, indoor environmental quality and durability in accordance with ASHRAE Guideline 0-2005, ASHRAE Guideline 1.1-2007 for HVAC&R Systems and NIBS Guideline 3-2006 for Exterior Enclosures and provides an option for monitoring-based (performance) commissioning. The new prerequisite, Building-Level Energy Metering, is intended to raise the bar on the ongoing measurement and verification of the energy performance of a building.

Recognizing that only 2% of the world’s water is potable, a larger emphasis has been placed on all types of water, not simply the water associated with fixtures and fittings. The Water Efficiency (WE) category will now encompass the entire building and includes prerequisites for metering and credits for the water use reduction of process water, appliances, outdoor water and cooling towers.

The restructuring and introduction of multiple new credit categories under Material & Resource (MR) is certainly taking LEED to the next level. This category will continue to focus on waste reduction and reuse, but will push LEED even further by introducing the assessment and optimization of building products as well as the analysis of human and ecological health risks regarding materials and chemicals found in building products.

The GreenSource magazine article “A Material Issue,” by Nadav Malin, is by far the best description of these changes I’ve seen. To summarize, the new LEED v4 Material & Resource category includes a prerequisite for Construction Waste Management (CWM) planning.

MRc1.1 – Building Reuse, Exteriors and MRc1.2 – Building Reuse, Interiors have a slightly new focus—reducing environmental lifecycle assessment (LCA), which is one of four paths that allow new buildings to pursue these credits in addition to historic and abandoned buildings and benefit from the reuse of salvaged building materials.

The old MRc3 – Materials Reuse, MRc4 – Recycled Content and MRc5 – Regional Materials have been combined into one credit-–Building Product Disclosure and Optimization, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which are independently verified summaries of the LCA of materials.

MRc6 – Rapidly Renewable Materials and MRc7 – Certified Wood have also been combined into one credit-–Building Product Disclosure and Optimization, Sourcing of Raw Materials, which is intended to promote the use of products and materials in which life cycle information is available, including products from manufacturers who have third-party verified corporate sustainability reports (CSR).

Lastly, at the center of the controversy, is a new credit focused on minimizing human health risks—Building Product Disclosure and Optimization, Material Ingredients. This new credit allows the project to earn a point for selecting at least 20 permanently-installed products whose chemical inventory is disclosed via a program such as a Cradle to Cradle v2 in which the product is certified as Silver. A second point can be earned if 25% of the products, based on the total cost of the permanently-installed products in the project, have fully inventoried chemical ingredient optimizations utilizing USGBC-approved programs such as GreenScreen v1.2 Benchmark or Cradle to Cradle v2 in which the product is certified as Gold or Platinum.

Understanding that people are a product of their environment, why would individuals not want to know all of the chemicals in which they are immersed? After all, people spend 90% of their time indoors. The real concern of industry design and construction professionals is that the product manufacturers need time to disclose this information and/or find alternative ingredients to make their building products and then disclose that information, hence the delayed launch of LEED v4 and extended use of LEED 2009.

The Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) category focuses on air, light, sound (acoustics) and the occupant experience. Major changes include an emphasis on modeling tools, and like Energy & Atmosphere, a focus on measurement and verification of building performance.

Current IEQc1 – Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring, IEQc2 – Increased Ventilation and IEQc5 – Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control have essentially been merged into the new Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies credit.

All of the existing IEQc4 – Low-Emitting Material credits have been rolled into one credit – Low-Emitting Interiors. Projects can now earn points for selecting building products that meet the thresholds of compliance with VOC emissions (how much the product off-gases over 14 days) and VOC content standards (manufacturers must disclose the VOC content of the product). The building products are organized into seven categories: interior paints and coatings applied on site; interior adhesives and sealants applied on site; flooring; composite wood; ceilings, walls, thermal and acoustic insulation; furniture; and exterior applied products (healthcare and school projects only). Essentially, products must comply with the VOC emissions test method per the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method v1.1-2010.  Examples of programs that comply with this standard include California Section 01350, FloorScore, Green Label Plus and Greenguard for Children and Schools. Various standards are referenced for VOC content based on product category classification.

The new Daylight credit still allows the project team to use the illuminance calculations and measurement options to prove illuminance levels for regularly occupied spaces, however has added an option to utilize computer simulation to determine spatial daylight autonomy (sDA) and annual sunlight exposure (ASE).

The Quality Views credit now requires 75% of all regularly occupied floor area to have two (out of four) kinds of views. However, in this version, movable furniture and partitions may be excluded.

The Minimum Acoustic Performance prerequisite in LEED for Schools is now a credit—Acoustic Performance, in which occupied spaces must meet the requirements for HVAC background noise per ANSI S1.4, or the sound isolation of spaces (sound transmission class ratings of building materials), reverberation time and noise build-up and sound reinforcement (minimum speed transmission index and minimum sound level) and masking.

New Market Sectors

LEED Building Design & Construction v4 will expand the “road map” to include the following additional markets: data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, and hospitality. Other LEED rating systems will expand to include existing schools, existing retail and mid-rise residential projects.

The LEED v4 Schedule

In the construction industry, quality, budget and schedule are paramount. So, what is the LEED v4 rollout schedule? USGBC will hold numerous forums at Greenbuild (November 14-16) to educate conference attendees on the anticipated changes and debut some of the new forms, submittal documents, infrastructural upgrades and enhancements to the new platform of LEED Online v4. Beginning in November, project teams will be selected to “test drive” LEED v4, including the new platform of LEED Online v4 and the supporting tools, such as the LEED v4 Reference Guides. According to USGBC, LEED v4 will go out for ballot on “June 1, 2013, (or potentially sooner, in 2012, if USGBC members and the market tell them they are ready).” If approved by USGBC members, LEED v4 will be available for project registration in late summer or early fall 2013.

While the new focuses of LEED v4 bring some big changes, the fundamental goals of LEED remain the same: to encourage project teams and building owners to think differently, take LEED to the next level by increasing the technical requirements of prerequisites and credits, provide “road maps” for additional market sectors and improve the LEED Online platform to streamline the documentation and submittal process.

And fear not, USGBC is fully aware that change is scary and that the industry needs time to dive deep and fully understand the changes occurring within LEED v4. To ease the transition, they will continue to allow project teams to register their projects under the existing LEED 2009 rating systems until June 2015, before requiring the use of this newest version.