On Monday I passed the LEED AP exam for New Construction after about a month and half of studying. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when the computer screen at the testing center had the word "PASS" on it. After the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) launch of LEED v3, I am already known as a "Legacy AP" even though my accreditation is a mere three days old. Even though the ink hasn’t dried yet on my AP credentials, I’d like to make a few observations of LEED v3.
USGBC launched LEED v3 on April 27, 2009. The new version includes changes to the scoring system for projects, the LEED accreditation process and the LEED on-line tools for administering projects. There were three major changes made to the scoring process under v3:
- Harmonization- the new prerequisite/credit structure tries to take the various LEED rating systems (Core & Shell, New Construction, etc.) and equalize requirements for obtaining certain credits under each structure
- Weighting of Credits- greater priority was given under the scoring structure to energy efficiency and climate change
- Regionalization- new bonus points are awarded if your project achieves certain credits that are deemed priorities in the region the project is located
Bike Racks v. Brownfields
For new construction and major renovation projects, LEED NC v2.2 (old system) scored projects on a 69 point scale. Under LEED NC v2.2 achieving most credits you were awarded one point, which led to a great deal of criticism of the old scoring system. For example-
- Putting up bike racks– if you put some bike racks in front the building = 1 point
- Redevelopment of a brownfield- if you redeveloped a former brownfield with hazardous substance contamination that cost $4 million to address = 1 point
It was my hope that LEED v3 would address such inequities in the scoring system. Unfortunately, it appears those still persist. Perhaps I am partial to brownfield redevelopment, but I simply don’t understand why LEED v3 still only gives 1 possible point for achieving this credit. To me this was the single biggest oversight in the revamping of the LEED scoring structure.
With the release of LEED v3 USGBC tried to give greater weight to energy efficiency and climate change. As examples, EA Credit 1 Optimize Energy Performance went from 10 total possible points to 19. EA Credit 2 On-Site Renewable Energy went from 3 possible points to 7.
I understand the prioritization of climate change and energy efficiency which really impact the overall life cycle of a building. However, I come at this from an environmental perspective given my background. To me we should be encouraging addressing thousands of historically contaminated sites that liter our urban landscapes. Due to the significant costs and liability issues associated with brownfields, many developers stay away from these projects all together.
LEED v3 offered an opportunity to better promote brownfield development. My recommendation would to have been to provide at least 4 possible points for brownfield redevelopment. This would be equal to the new scoring system available points for WE Credit 1 Water Efficient Landscaping. The points could be awarded based up on the remediation costs associated with the property. There is a correlation between remediation costs and levels of contamination, which would mean projects addressing more extensive contamination get more points.
Perhaps my focus on brownfields stems from living in the industrial Midwest where numerous abandoned factories occupy our cities. LEED v3 also incorporates a new bonus point pool to recognize regional prioritization. A project can achieve up to 4 bonus points for achieving certain LEED credits. This would mean brownfield redevelopment could get 2 points instead of 1. Still not enough in my mind, but at least 2 is greater than just 1.
USGBC has created a spreadsheet first separated by State and then by zip code for virtually the entire U.S. You can go into the spreadsheet and look up the zip code for your project and there will be six credits that have been prioritized by local USBBC Chapters. For example, in the Cleveland area here are the six prioritized credits:
- Sustainable Sites Credit 6.1- Stormwater Quantity- reduction in rate and flow of stormwater post development
- Sustainable Sites Credit 6.2- Stormwater Quality- implementation of controls to capture 90% of the flow and remove 80% TSS
- Energy and Atmosphere Credit 2- On-site Renewable Energy- provide a minimum of 3% of energy needs from on-site renewable energy
- Water Efficiency Credit 2- Innovative Wastewater- reduce generation of wastewater by 50%
- Materials and Resources Credit 2- Construction Waste Management- achieve reduction of 75% of C&D waste
- Materials and Resources Credit 6- Use Rapidly Renewable Materials- 2.5% of the cost of materials used on the project should be from rapidly renewable construction materials
I scratch my head at these regional priorities for the Cleveland area. I am certainly okay with promoting renewable energy, but there are other critical issues that face Cleveland. Why not prioritize these credits?
Sustainable Sites Credit 3 Brownfields- The Cuyahoga County Commissioners Department of Development provides the following statistics about brownfields:
[Based on a US EPA funded study]- Approximately 4,623 acres of brownfields in Cuyahoga County with the majority of that land located in the City of Cleveland and its surrounding inner ring suburbs. Cleveland, alone, has approximately 350 brownfields and an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 condemned structures. Additionally, the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission found that 40,000 acres, or 14%, of the County’s land, has at some time been devoted to an industry that has historically been known to be a higher risk for environmental contamination.
- Sustainable Sites Credit 5 Protect and Restore Habitat and Maximize Open Space- it is really tough to find remaining greenspace in Cleveland. It is estimated that 95% of the land in Cuyahoga County has been developed. The lack of open space/greenspace creates other issues such as flooding and stormwater control. This would seem like a prime credit to be prioritized in the Cleveland Region.