LEED v4 and The New Sustainability Measures

The U.S. Green Building Council launched its new Version 4 of LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – at its annual Greenbuild conference last fall. This article (written by Janel Everly for CMAA’s eJournal) outlines the major new and revised provisions of LEED that may affect CMs and their clients.

What does LEED version 4 really mean to you? LEED v4 was implemented for industry transformation. Since the last version was issued in 2009, it was definitely time for making improvements. LEED has been a comprehensive sustainable building rating system since its inception in 1998 and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) needs to maintain that credibility now, more than ever.

Why? Because there are more sustainable building rating systems in the marketplace than ever before. Just to list a handful of LEED’s competitors: Living Building Challenge, 2030 Challenge, Green Globes, and Passive House. And in order for LEED to remain competitive, USGBC needed to diversify and simplify its rating system, all the while making the industry squirm in its seat a bit.

Not only has USGBC diversified the range of projects that can pursue LEED certification, but it has also simplified the LEED categories and their associated credits.

This brief article will walk you through USGBC’s approach to stay competitive through diversity, simplicity, and as always, pushing the envelope. I hope it will also reassure you that this is all for the best.


The first and foremost reason for USGBC to diversify the LEED rating system included addressing the global market. LEED has been around for more than 10 years and is used in more than 145 countries. One of its approaches was to incorporate metric units into its letter templates. This seems pretty simple, but made the “world” of difference for LEED to be adapted by other countries and emerging markets, such as China and Brazil.

Reference Standard equivalents have also been adopted into the new rating system which now streamlines the certification process for projects abroad. For instance, ASHRAE is a U.S. national standard for energy, ventilation, and thermal design and control in buildings, but is not accepted abroad. Now projects outside the U.S. can use a USGBC accepted substitute such as a CEN Standard as an additional compliance path in order to meet credit requirements.

We also have more options than ever to select an appropriate project use type. For instance, under the BD+C rating system, hospitality, data centers, warehouses & distribution centers have been added. This also applies to the other rating systems as well. O+M now has an additional five project type options such as schools, retail, hospitality, data centers, and warehouses & distribution centers.

Now, diving into the credit-by-credit diversification, the new Location and Transportation category, which was previously captured under the Sustainable Sites category, has a new credit entitled “High-Priority Site.” This credit addresses what used to be LEED’s Brownfield credit, but now highlights multiple opportunities for development. Two of the additional options include, the first a historical site and the second a priority designation site as defined under federal regulations. This credit is extremely attractive to established metropolitan areas that may have these types of development opportunities.leed_v4_rating_system

Also under the Location and Transportation category, “Access to Quality Transit” (previously titled “Alternative Transportation”) now offers the opportunity for a sliding point scale versus an all-or-nothing approach. So, LEED v4 has diversified the credit pull while creating the opportunity for project teams to earn more points. Under the Water Efficiency credit category, USGBC has moved beyond fixtures and fittings and is tackling some of the large water consumers such as cooling towers and equipment like clothes- and dishwashers, ice machines, and other equipment that primarily consume process water. In addition to broadening the water scope, water metering has also been addressed which is critical to tracking a building’s typical water usage.

Beyond water metering, energy metering is also an emphasis for the new version of LEED. “Building-Level Energy Metering” is now a prerequisite and “Enhanced Energy Metering” has also been included as a credit to focus on the sub-metering of large energy consumers of a building. Through LEED version 4, new approaches to practical everyday building challenges have been addressed.


Not only has USGBC diversified the range of projects that can pursue LEED certification, but it has also simplified the LEED categories and their associated credits. The broad brush stroke approach was to create alignment between each of the rating systems (BD+C, ID+C, ND, HOMES, and O+M) so that it is easier to pursue an additional rating system moving forward.

For example, water metering is now a prerequisite in the Water Efficiency category under the BD+C rating system, but wasn’t a prerequisite before in previous versions of LEED. However, in previous versions of LEED O+M, “Building-Level Water Metering” was required. So now, if a building wanted to pursue LEED O+M several years after occupancy of their LEED BD+C certified project, these water systems would already be in place and there wouldn’t be surprises moving forward with the project. Another similar example is in the Location and Transportation category.

Under the BD+C rating system, projects can apply for the LEED ND credit if they are designing and building a project on an ND designated site. This streamlines the BD+C project’s credit submittal process next to nothing for the Location and Transportation credits. In addition to the rating system alignment, USGBC has also streamlined credits through credit combination. Some examples of this include the “Heat Island Reduction” credit which now encompasses both roof and non-roof measures and was previously divided into two credits, “Heat Island Effect- Roof” and “Heat Island Effect- Non-roof.” It’s almost as if USGBC recalibrated the entire LEED rating system so that it would run more efficiently!

Pushing the Envelope

Each new version of LEED offers challenges to overcome and yet the industry has been resilient and has found solutions to the proposed challenges that USGBC offers up. For instance, product manufacturers haven’t always disclosed their recycled content in their products and now the information of pre- and post-consumer content is readily accessible. Another example is no- and low-VOC paints and coatings. Think back 10 years ago: Then you couldn’t purchase these products in a big box retailer let alone a commercial supplier, but now you can. This is LEED’s place in the market. Integrated design has always been an integral process for project teams pursuing LEED, but now this process has been incentivized through a new credit category called “Integrative Process.” Through this category, systems and efficiencies have been addressed for everyone involved in the project. So now, we are encouraged to design, build, and operate a better building.

You Can Do This!

Yes, it may seem scary at first, but how are we as industry professionals supposed to grow unless we challenge ourselves? We have to make ourselves uncomfortable in order raise the bar. This is market transformation. It’s not going to be easy and that is okay. So what does this really mean for you?

It means that you have more opportunities than ever before to challenge yourself and your client to pursue LEED. You also have more resources than 5 years ago to get the job done. Research has shown the financial paybacks are there—so it’s a lot easier to sell the benefits of LEED to your client.

LEED v4 isn’t going to change your relationship with the owner. If anything it may strengthen it because construction teams have a greater influence of the pre-design process through some of the credits such as “Integrative Process.” In addition, teams that have already been working with LEED will have a simple transition into the current rating system. Why? Because the concepts and principles are still the same.

So at the end of the day, my advice to industry practitioners is: Don’t worry. We can do this. And it’s up to us to use this tool to continue moving the market forward.

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