Noma Bar / Dutch Uncle

After a highly publicized one-year postponement, LEED v4 will make its official debut this month at Greenbuild 2013 in Philadelphia. The increased rigor in the sustainable building rating system, notably in its Materials and Resources section, generated much debate and outcry throughout the six public comment periods held by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). But in the end, the USGBC announced in July that 86 percent of its voting body gave LEED v4 the go-ahead.

Design teams will have time to test the waters themselves. The USGBC built in an overlap period, until June 1, 2015, in which projects can be registered to become certified under LEED 2009 or LEED v4. Then there's no wading back.

Scot Horst, USGBC senior vice president of LEED, says that the updated rating system emphasizes building performance as well as integrated design. Whole-building energy and water metering are prerequisites in LEED v4. "You'll have to have a meter in your building, you'll have to know what's happening there, and then share that information with us to do the rating system," Horst says. Though LEED 2009 technically required building metering and performance data for five years, some in the industry felt that these minimum program requirements were rarely enforced.

Other changes include: the switch to ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2010 from version 2007 as the referenced energy performance standard; credits for the use of products with Environmental Product Declarations, material transparency, and ingredient reporting through third-party certification programs such as the Health Product Declaration Open Standard (see sidebar) and Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard; and compliance paths for more market sectors, such as data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, and hospitality.

Though Horst cites improvements throughout the rating system, one of his favorite amendments is a credit for an integrative, holistic approach to buildings from design to occupancy. The promotion of collaboration and big-picture thinking goes beyond the project site. "What LEED v4 starts to do is really envision a global system that allows us to collect best practices from around the world and share them with each other," he says.

With more than 55,000 LEED-registered or -certified commercial projects in more than 140 countries and territories, the USGBC may seem to be in a pretty good position to do so. But developing a universal language for sustainability also requires some heavy tinkering back home, starting with improvements to LEED Online, the website well known by architects managing a project’s LEED documentation process. "We don't have a great record of making people happy relative to our support tools," Horst admits. But the USGBC is striving to ease the certification process. "We keep working on uncomplicating it," he says.

Clear Intentions
The Health Product Declaration Open Standard was drafted by the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, an ad hoc group of building professionals seeking a standard format for reporting content and associated health information of building products. After a pilot phase, the first official version was launched at Greenbuild 2012.

A growing number of architecture firms are now issuing variations of a template letter requesting product and material transparency from manufacturers. Failure to comply with their disclosure requests may change how a firm interacts with a manufacturer, or even ban a manufacturer’s products from the firm's library and projects. —Katie Weeks

Read more about updates to the many sustainable building programs that are changing the U.S. design and construction industry.