With the launch of Leed Version 3, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has increased the rigor of certifications and even issued the threat of "decertification"- losing your building’s green status. USGBC has decided to throw only a pebble into the pond on this round- its still pretty hard to lose your building’s LEED status. However, Leed v3 foreshadows a time when serious work will continue beyond the certification stage.
MPRs AND DECERTIFICATION
Right now USGBC only ties the possibility of "decertification" to a fairly innocuous list of Minimum Program Requirements ("MPRs"). After your building attains LEED certification it can lose that status if it fails to adhere to any one of the following MPRs (additional commentary based upon LEED website):
- Compliance with environmental laws- New Construction..only up through certification. Existing building..its an on-going requirement;
- Project must be a complete, permanent building or space- No movable buildings please..and it must the entire building;
- Project must utilize a reasonable site boundary– No gerrymandering please…you cannot shape your project in weird ways just so the project can qualify for points or meet a pre-requisite;
- Building must comply with minimum floor area requirements– Must be a project involving at least 1,000 square feet. No toll booths or kiosks;
- Building must comply with minimum occupancy rates Must server at least one full-time equivalent employee…who the heck is worrying about certifying vacant buildings?;
- Must share whole-building energy and water usage data- Share this information for 5 years and make it accessible through the web. However, its not a performance standard; and
- Project must comply with minimum building area to site area ratio- gross floor area must be no less than 2% of project boundary. Who is certifying tiny buildings on large parcels?
Number six- the requirement to share energy and water usage data- was the most controversial, setting off some wild speculation. Some worried that if their building failed to meet the projected water or energy usage projections it could lose its LEED certification. This appears not to be the case.
Preston Koerner wrote a good post discussing decertification on his blog JETSON Green. Preston contacted the USGBC regarding the possibility of decertification based upon under performance on water and energy usage projections. USGBC indicated that they just want people to share the information, decertification for failing to meet energy or water usage projections won’t happen under LEED V3.
ENERGY AND WATER USAGE CONTROVERSY
There has been controversy over whether LEED certified buildings actually perform better than standard construction. Recently, a study sponsored by USGBC found that on average LEED certified New Construction buildings used 24% less energy. However, the study also showed some buildings are performing much worse than models predicted. As an extreme a small number are even performing worse than if they just met basic code requirements.
While the study shows LEED generally results in improved efficiencies, the study also shows certification is no guarantee on performance. So while right now USGBC is requiring reporting of statistic, it seems inevitable that it will move toward some form of performance standards and verification.
If you are interested in the controversy surrounding decertification, Matt DeVries at Best Practices Construction Law has done the best summary of the blogosphere debate over decertification. A lot of folks are worried about the implications of just being required to track all the data.
However, if LEED certification is truly going to become the gold standard for measuring sustainable buildings doesn’t the USGBC have to start verifying environmental performance of buildings? I think at a minimum USGBC will require on-going verification if you want LEED certification of your existing building (post-new construction).
As the requirements to track LEED elements becomes more rigorous, technology has tried to ride to the rescue. Houston Neal wrote a good review of various software options for tracking LEED projects. He asked that I take a look and provide any comments. All I can offer is that most of the software seems to assist with document management as you building a project toward submission for certification. What about adding features to help track performance post certification?
To me the trend appears clear…USGBC is moving away from simple certification and toward verification of greenbuilding performance claims. In otherwords, the LEED process doesn’t end when the plaque goes up on the wall.