As of June 26, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) requires projects registering for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for commercial buildings to achieve at least two points in the "Optimize Energy Performance" category. The requirement, which does not apply to projects registered prior to June 26, is now in place for all levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

Achieving the two points will improve energy performance by 14 percent in a LEED-certified new construction project and by 7 percent in existing buildings, says the USGBC. Establishing the new requirement was the result of revisions and updates the organization continually makes to the LEED programs in response to performance data returned from LEED-certified buildings in operation and a variety of market indicators.

According to Tom Hicks, the USGBC's vice president for LEED programs, most of the projects seeking LEED certification at any level were already achieving two or more points within the energy performance credit. "We wanted to make sure that all projects going forward will earn at least two points within that credit," he says.

On average, Hicks says, LEED-certified buildings are returning energy savings of 35 percent to 40 percent; the new requirement is expected to deliver energy reductions of up to 50 percent.

The approval of the new performance requirement follows an eight-point agenda that USGBC's LEED Steering Committee presented in last November to address climate change and buildings with the goal of increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions. Among the proposals in this agenda were a 50 percent CO2 reduction goal for all new commercial LEED projects, the implementation of a CO2 offset program, rebates on certification fees for LEED Platinum buildings, and a USGBC-run carbon reduction education program.