Taxonomy Term en 17524 Is PVC Banned in LEED v4?

Is LEED v4 leading architects to arbitrarily avoid PVC, to the detriment of their projects? The Vinyl Institute says it is. We check the facts. Would PVC-containing products like these carpet tiles from InterfaceFLOR be banned under LEED v4? The short answer is "no." | Photo – InterfaceFLOR


The vinyl industry has been vocally opposed to the new LEED v4 MR credits, even going so far as to characterize MRc4 Option 2 as a ban on PVC. The Vinyl Insitute, which represents PVC polymer makers, warned BuildingGreen in an email that LEED v4 “can actually lead architects and designers to make bad decisions in order to secure credits so they can market their buildings.”

Does LEED v4 ban PVC? Let's look at the details of the new rating system. (And check out our new webcast for more detail on this and related issues.)

LEED-NC v4 does not ban any building materials

It’s important to note that LEED-NC v4 does not actually ban any building materials. MRc4 is optional, and only 25% of permanently installed products have to meet the criteria in order to achieve Option 2—but we still wondered if a product containing PVC could still contribute to MRc4. The answer is decidedly “yes.”

PVC is on the banned list in Cradle to Cradle (C2C), but any product with an HPD or a manufacturer inventory can contribute to Option 1: as long as the ingredients are disclosed, it doesn’t matter what they are. Contributing to Option 2 would certainly be more challenging, particularly for products that include certain phthalates (plasticizers that make PVC flexible), but it’s still quite doable.

Some complications for PVC, but no dealbreakers

A full GreenScreen assessment, which would value a PVC product at 150% of its cost under the MRc4 requirements, would disqualify PVC because its life cycle begins and ends with Benchmark 1 hazards,  Clean Production Action’s Lauren Heine told us. However, the List Translator, which would value a product at 100% of cost, doesn’t take the whole life cycle into account, so materials that don’t have toxic components in their use phase won’t have a problem passing through this screening process. Although PVC often contains additives like phthalates and even heavy metals like lead that are likely to be on red lists, “the PVC molecule itself is pretty benign” and doesn’t appear in the List Translator, Heine said.

PVC also doesn’t show up on either of the relevant REACH lists, so products that meet those criteria can also count for Option 2, even in U.S. projects.

The bottom line? There are multiple pathways for PVC-containing products to contribute to maximum points in this credit.

The Vinyl Institute makes its case

When I pressed him on how MRc4 could act as a ban on PVC, Dick Doyle, president of the Vinyl Institute, told me that “people are going to go for the easiest thing” and that “they will cut to the chase with C2C.” (I'm isn’t sure that the inventors of C2C—William McDonough and Michael Braungart—whose Platinum certification criteria have never been approached, would agree.) Doyle noted the influence that LEED has with government agencies and worried that health advocates “are going to be very active in helping the community know that you have many better options than PVC.”

Asked for an example of how LEED v4 could lead an architect to make a bad choice for a building, Doyle told me that designers could be forced to look for alternatives to PVC roofing, which is generally recognized as durable. However, non-PVC options such as TPO, EPDM, and standing-seam metal are also very durable, as we have reviewed in EBN. (Not to say that those materials provide a free ride in terms of avoiding toxic chemicals, as discussed in EBN.)

What do you think?

Did we miss something here? Do see see LEED v4 as being unfair on PVC or any other material? (Venturi-type flow-through vacuum generators or aspirators—this is not about you!)

Also, look for our new EBN feature article and webcast brought to you by LEEDuser, to demystify this and other complexities of LEED v4's MR credits.

2013-08-27 n/a 17309 Should We Expect Energy Modeling to Predict Building Performance?

On this Department of Veterans Affairs Omaha VA Medical Center, energy modeling was used from the outset to analyze nine different massing schemes down to three more schematic schemes, then throughout the design of the selected scheme to optimize building massing, mechanical systems, daylighting, and onsite renewable energy usage.

The green building industry focuses far too much on energy modeling to predict performance, not to make early design decisions.

Let me put my headline question another way: Is prediction of building performance the highest use of energy modeling during building design?

This question came to mind after I sent an email to our members this morning about our upcoming (July 9th) webcast on Energy Modeling for Early Design Decisions. One individual responded to me and questioned the credentials of the panel of experts we assembled for this roundtable discussion.

He wrote: “Until you have an energy model that is a good prediction of the way a building operates and the amount of energy used (and is verified by a independent 3rd party) then one needs to be wary” about claims of expertise in modeling.

There is a lot of value in an energy model that reflects the building “as built”: validating LEED points, validating code compliance, and setting the stage for measurement and verification.

But, as I wrote recently in the EBN article, Energy Modeling: Early and Often, “after the massing, orientation, envelope and glazing design, and mechanical systems in a building are already specified, and hundreds of hours of work have already been put into those designs—the modeling might have little value beyond keeping score.” With a quote from Marcus Sheffer, who will be on our webcast panel (and who  wrote the book on energy modeling in an integrative design process), I went on to say:

“It blows me away that that’s where we are,” says Marcus Sheffer, an energy consultant with 7group. As critics have pointed out, a 'green' building modeled to save a certain amount of energy doesn’t necessarily end up doing that. Given accurate inputs, models are accurate at forecasting energy use, says Sheffer, but “models can’t accurately predict the future”: actual operating conditions will always differ from modeled conditions. This typically happens because equipment and controls are installed differently than modeled, or because weather patterns or occupancy are different than expected. The real value of modeling is not predicting energy use but making relative comparisons among design options, says Sheffer.

I agree with Sheffer. There is way too much focus put into the energy model and how predictive it is of performance, and not enough put on iterative modeling during early design to choose between designs A, B, C, D, and so on.

Our most stringent energy codes and prescriptive guidelines today get us no more than 40% savings over common practice.  What we need are 50%, 60%, and greater savings, and we need early modeling to get there.

Do you agree? Disagree? Why? I hope you’ll join me and Marcus Sheffer, Troy Hoggard, Amanda Bogner, and Prasad Vaidya for a lively discucssion at our July 9th, 1:30 p.m. ET webcast on Energy Modeling for Early Design Decisions. It’s free to sign up.

2013-06-20 n/a 12555 10 Tips for Passing the LEED Green Associate Exam

Despite waiting till the last minute to study, I got a really good score and became a LEED Green Associate. Here’s where I spill all my secrets!

Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t usually procrastinate.

But when I read that being a LEED Green Associate (or, if you must, LEED Green Assoc.—but never LEED GA!) involved “basic” green building knowledge, I figured I had things pretty well under control. I started studying six days before the test.


There’s a second thing that everyone should get straight on: the exam goes far beyond the basics. It assumes extensive knowledge of the LEED building design and construction (BD+C) rating systems, and the only way to pass the test is to read, master, and in some cases memorize key parts of the LEED 2009 BD+C Reference Guide.

Owning the BD+C Reference Guide is not optional. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than re-taking the test, and you’ll need it later when you start working on projects anyway.

As a supplement, consider browsing around on our sister site, We include a Bird’s-Eye View page on every credit: these answer FAQs and give readers the skinny on what each credit is really about. People frequently use the forums during test prep to clarify things they're not sure of. Like the Reference Guide, LEEDuser will come in handy later.

Now for the secrets!

To learn my (once) tried and true (for me) tips for studying and passing the exam—and to find why that eighties-tastic video is embedded at the top of the page—click here to read the whole post on LEEDuser.

2013-03-14 n/a 12549 Automated Reporting of LEED, AIA Continuing Education Hours

Read the article, take the quiz, and sit back while your CEUs get automatically reported to AIA, GBCI, BPI, and NARI.

BuildingGreen is now directly reporting continuing education (CE) hours completed through our website to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for LEED Accredited Professionals and LEED Green Associates who use our course catalog to maintain their credentials.

When completing CE hours on, you can rest assured that your hours will be automatically reported with no further action on your part. BuildingGreen has long offered this convenience for AIA members and continues to do so. Reporting to GBCI took effect January 1, 2013.

To take advantage of this, you should double-check your account profile, however.

Check that your BuildingGreen account information enables automated reporting to AIA, GBCI, and more.
Once you are logged in, click “My Account” in the upper right of any page on our website, then follow the links to “Edit” your personal information.

Click to edit your account.

Click on "Personal Information."


  • Check that you have member numbers entered for reporting: GBCI and AIA numbers are the most common.
  • Double-check that the email address associated with your BuildingGreen account matches the email address you have associated with your GBCI account. If your GBCI email address is different, enter it in the designated field. (If it is the same, you don’t need to take any further action.)
Be sure that your AIA, GBCI numbers and other information is up to date.

Once this is all set, browse our catalog of 50-plus sustainability-related continuing education courses. Simply read the article or take the course, take the quiz, and you’re done! You will always see a note on the course indicating whether it is approved for a given organization, but almost all of our courses are approved for both AIA and GBCI.

CEUs will not instantly show up on your GBCI or AIA member profiles—our system is good, but not that good. These organizations request reports from us on a biweekly basis, and then there is some processing time on their end. When those courses do show up on your profile, however, you will get credit for completing the course on your course completion date, not the date that it is recorded in your profile.

Members of the Building Performance Institute (BPI), and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) can enjoy the same benefit with our High-Performance Building Assemblies course. As with the other credentials, check your profile and enter the relevant BPI and NARI member information.

Questions? Concerns? Want us to add more credentials or courses? We love to hear from you—contact us, or comment below.

Wondering where to start earning your hours? Here are some popular courses.

2013-03-11 n/a 12546 4 Reasons the Battles Over LEED in the Military Are a Distraction

As DoD rethinks its green building needs, a recommendation to keep using LEED is just the tip of the iceberg.

This post is the first in a series on the federal government’s use of green building certifications. Part 2: Sustainable Federal Buildings: What's the Law?

This shows the first few megabytes of the Unified Facilities Criteria documents found on the Whole Building Design Guide. The list goes on...but the standard still includes LEED, for now.
Photo Credit: WBDG, screen capture

Special-interest groups have been fighting the LEED rating systems on multiple fronts ever since LEED got a foothold in government policymaking. These groups (primarily chemical manufacturers and timber interests) are making headway.

LEED still matters, for now

Despite these pressures, along with LEED’s weakness as a policymaking tool (like all voluntary rating systems, it really doesn’t work as a mandate unless the government is explicit about credits and energy performance targets that must be achieved), a recent report recommended that the Department of Defense should continue with its current certification policy: LEED Silver or equivalent.

DoD’s updated Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC), hot off the press, has stood by that recommendation for new construction:

In accordance with OUSD AT&L Memorandum, “Department of Defense Sustainable Buildings Policy”, DoD Components will design and build all new construction and major renovations projects: 1) in compliance with the Guiding Principles, 2) third-party certified to the US Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver level (or approved equivalent rating), and 3) achieve no fewer than 40% of the certification points related to energy and water conservation. In addition, all repair and renovations projects must conform to the Guiding Principles where they apply. [emphasis added]

How important is it for the military to keep using LEED? For the sake of public perception, it’s extremely important: if DoD thinks LEED is the best way to ensure green building design and construction quality, then a lot of other people will too.

On the other hand, LEED does not—and was never meant to—meet all of the military’s building needs. They’ve got a lot of other things going on, from carbon requirements to energy performance reporting to enhanced security needs, and their UFC documents are a great demonstration of the difference between building codes or standards (like the IgCC and ASHRAE 189.1—both of which USGBC helped develop) and building rating systems (like LEED).

Inconclusive conclusions

After paging through the National Research Council’s report—whose main conclusion seemed to be that there wasn’t enough data to make a data-based decision—I still had some questions: what’s “equivalent,” for one. So I spoke with Maureen Sullivan, director of environment, safety, and occupational health at DoD, and Lt. Col. Keith Welch, environment, safety, and occupational health officer.

Here are four key points I got from Sullivan and Welch.

1. The services don’t all use LEED

DoD sets policy for all the services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it doesn’t micromanage or do much enforcement. When I asked Sullivan what the equivalent of LEED Silver might be, she replied, “We assign that responsibility to the military departments”—and for some departments or individual installations, that may include the Green Globes rating system developed by the Green Building Initiative (GBI).

“We didn’t want to lock ourselves into one particular green rating system,” Welch adds. “We offered the services and installations the opportunity to use other systems if they chose to.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is best known for its use of Green Globes—and even that certification is becoming more rare now that GBI has developed its Federal Guiding Principles Compliance Program, apparently tailored for the VA. (It’s unclear whether DoD will deem this an acceptable third-party rating system, however: “We’re not in the mode of trying to check blocks and chase a metric,” said Welch of the program. “We want to use every construction dollar we have to greatest effect.)

The Army and Air Force both certify with LEED Silver or better, and the Navy’s standard is LEED Gold.

The Portland VA Medical Center earned three globes in the Green Globes rating system for existing buildings.
Photo Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

2. LEED Gold is still on hold

Congress called a halt to LEED spending on Gold or Platinum certification in late 2011, pending a DoD report about the costs and benefits of various LEED systems and the ASHRAE standards. The National Research Council’s report to DoD should not be confused with DoD’s report to Congress, which is still being written.

In fact, the military just completed a massive revamp of its whole policy anyway (see more on the UFC below)—and that will affect what DoD says to Congress in the next few weeks.

For now, the military still isn’t allowed to pay extra for LEED Gold or Platinum, though we already know the Army is moving forward with its certification plans, saying it doesn’t actually cost more to certify at higher levels.

3. It’s about money, not politics

Congressmen might have called for this cost report because of lobbying, but Sullivan implied that DoD can’t be bothered with the political side of things.

“Our discussions with the Hill are focused on our goal to make the most effective use of every dollar that comes to the Department of Defense,” she said. “At the end of the day, we want the military departments to use the best tools available to reduce their life-cycle energy and water usage and to reduce the cost of maintaining and operating a facility.” LEED is just one of those tools, she said, along with the ASHRAE 189.1 standard.

4. The LEED battles are a sideshow

That might sound like Beltway babble, but DoD’s focus on revising the UFC gives it credence: LEED is fine for what it is, says Sullivan, but DoD’s massive overhaul of its green building policies and practices is where the rubber really meets the road with the military and green building.

“We’ve gone through a pretty elaborate process to take [ASHRAE] 189 and say which parts make the most economic sense for us,” Sullivan said. “This is one document that unifies the facility criteria that will feed into how we design.”

“This raises the floor for all our buildings,” notes Welch. “Instead of relying on a third-party rating system, we’ve given construction agents language to put straight into construction documents to require that certain things be done. We wanted to use the UFC to take out the variability and give us some ability to standardize the outcome.”

The UFC, in other words, will function like a building code for the military. It requires many things that are optional in LEED or aren’t addressed at all.  

What’s next?

My conversation took place before the new UFC was released—and at that point, whether to keep third-party certifications at all hadn’t even been decided. The way Sullivan and Welch talked about it, I actually thought LEED was going to get the boot. So why did they keep it?

“The NRC report that just came out on February 15 validated our current policy as cost-effective,” wrote Welch in an email. “One of their recommendations was to keep it that way.”

Although DoD decided to keep LEED for now, it’s clear the leadership is questioning the importance of certifying. Welch adds, “Now that the NRC study is in and the UFC is published, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate our policy.”

This doesn’t seem to be the case with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which makes interagency recommendations about green building and will be releasing its review later this year: they’ve been quite clear that third-party certifications are a crucial part of saving money with green building.

What do you think? If the military has its own extensive building standard, does it need LEED, Green Globes, or any other rating system? Share your thoughts in the comments.

2013-03-05 n/a 12420 GSA May Abandon LEED Endorsement

Rather than releasing its final report on LEED and other rating systems, the agency posts recommendations and asks for more feedback.

A victory for lobbyists? It should be easier to pitch the industry status quo to individual federal agencies that don't specialize in buildings.

Want to have a say in whether federal agencies keep using LEED? Here’s your chance.

Following up on a 2012 report, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is requesting public comments on its long-awaited recommendations about green building certification systems. Here’s our quick-and-dirty summary of the committee’s findings. You have sixty days to get back to GSA.

Green building ratings systems = good

The first finding is that green building rating systems are a good thing. They “maintain robust, integrated frameworks of performance metrics, standards and conformity assurance.” And using them saves taxpayers money “by eliminating the cost to Government of developing its own standards.”

Agencies should pick what works for them

The GSA isn’t going to tell you whether LEED, Green Globes, or the Living Building Challenge is the best rating system for each agency’s mission. But they want agencies to keep these things in mind:

  • There should be specific guidance about which credits to pursue (we might call this the “bike rack clause”?).
  • For efficiency, agencies should use one rating system across their portfolios.
  • Each agency’s guidance should make it possible for the same rating system to be used for all building types.

Each agency should review its own rating systems

GSA is mandated to do an interagency review of green building rating systems every five years (that’s the process they are finishing up now). With this recommendation, they’re suggesting that all the agencies need to stay current with evolving programs between interagency reviews.

They also recommend that other agencies with big building portfolios set up a similar review process to ensure the chosen system continues to meet its needs.

The federal government should help develop rating systems

Finally, GSA recommends that the federal government should be working with groups who develop the rating systems to ensure that they align better with federal standards as they evolve.


We’ve been expecting GSA to release its final report for several months now, so having the recommendations released in this form, and without recommending a specific system, was something of a surprise.

The political atmosphere around GSA’s previous reliance on LEED has heated up, and it looks like GSA wilted. The new policy (subject to comment) would abandon a single endorsement of a rating system and leave federal agencies with the task of making a choice. If this is how GSA responded to political pressure, we can only imagine how individual agencies will respond.

The deeper reasons for this approach are not yet clear, but watch this space for an analysis as we learn more. Meanwhile, let us know what you think of the recommendations in comments.

2013-02-05 n/a 12272 An EBie Awaits You: Submissions Open for 2013 Existing Buildings Award
Urban Green's EBies recognize professionals who work behind the scenes to make existing buildings perform sustainably.
Image: Urban Green

2/19/13 Update: Urban Green has posted a new EBie scorecard demonstrating how entries will be scored—worth checking out, with the submission deadline close on our heels!

The EBie Awards—the "Oscars of sustainable building"—will be announced by Urban Green, a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, in New York City on June 19, 2013, so now is the time to throw your name in the hat.

In case you didn't tune in for the first EBie Awards, here's a rundown from the EBie website on what it's all about:

The EBie Awards™ are a nationwide juried competition for people working in Existing Buildings who have made great strides in improving environmental performance but whose accomplishments may otherwise go unheralded.

Who are these unsung heroes? The EBies™ recognize significant increased environmental performance in existing buildings among building operators, facilities managers, owners, engineers, retro-commissioning agents and other professionals who conceived and implemented the work. Focus areas include energy, water, operations, materials use, lighting and tenant engagement.

Urban Green hopes you'll take the EBie awards seriously—after all, do the Emmys or the Tonies require data from EPA’s Portfolio Manager to accompany all submissions? But it also is putting on a fun celebration that brings to the forefront the kind of work that has to be done by someone to bring our existing building stock in line with energy and environmental standards like LEED-EBOM—work that is tough, dirty, slogging, slow, and thankless.

The sense of fun that Urban Green brings to it shines through in the categories in which they recognize winners:


If you're wondering if you have what it takes, you can see the submission criteria, and the blessedly concise submission form, on the EBie website. Just remember—get your submission in by February 26th!

For a look at the fun that the 2012 finalists had on the green carpet, check out these photos.

2012-12-03 n/a 12206 Google Gives USGBC $3 Million for Healthy Building Materials Research
This indoor space at Google has sustainably forested wood floors, soy-based furniture, and ample daylighting.
Photo Credit: Christophe Wu / Google

In one of the biggest announcements to come out of Greenbuild 2012 in San Francisco thus far, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has announced a $3 million grant from Google to support work on healthier building materials. Google has already been a pioneer in keeping toxic chemicals out of building products used in its building projects (see A Peek Inside Google’s Healthy Materials Program), but this grant takes its public support for research and advocacy in this area to a new level.

The grant was announced by Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at USGBC, in an unscheduled insertion to the opening plenary at Greenbuild, with Horst noting that the donation had been finalized just the day before. Horst did not provide details on what the grant would support, but USGBC chairman Rick Fedrizzi's subsequent remarks during the plenary made it clear that USGBC as an organization was prepared to emphasize the following points:

USGBC hasn't yet announced details of the grant and what timeframe it will operate under, but we will update this blog as new information is available.

2012-11-14 n/a 11150 LEED Certified or Certifiable? Making the Case for Earning the Plaque

Illustration: Tristan Roberts

“Anyone else finding a trend of clients wanting LEED-certifiable projects but not wanting to commit to certification? I have three projects just this week toying with going this route.”

That was the opening salvo in a recent email discussion I was involved in among a group of architects. With the permission of those involved, I’ve anonymously synthesized some of the key takeaways here. I’d also like to hear from you: please post your experiences on LEED certified vs. certifiable projects below.

It’s about the cost, stupid

The following comment summed up some of the objections out there to pursuing LEED: “We are seeing a little green fatigue as well internally and externally; somehow making a project ‘certifiable’ instead of certified seems less onerous and costly.”

Another architect states, “It is important to know what the motivation is behind not pursuing [LEED] certification. Nine times out of ten for my clients it was the cost of certification. I typically respond to them by explaining that the vast majority of the incremental cost is doing the documentation, modeling, etc., which would be necessary to verify goals are being met regardless of LEED. Once the building owners have spent the fee to document performance, perform modeling, etc., the added cost to pay GBCI simply gives them external validation.”

Another architect agrees on where the cost comes from: “In my experience, documentation is not the largest cost of LEED certification; it's meetings and coordination. These costs would likely be incurred for a certifiable project as well.”

While there was consensus in the group about the marginal cost of actual certification, another person noted one of the counterarguments they hear: “Isn't this just good design? Why do we need to pay extra?” Those questions also arise internally, as an architect reports: “I'm also having to convince our teams.  They feel like they don't need it to validate what they are doing.”

The perception of unnecessary spending also came up: “We've seen a client refuse to pursue LEED on their corporate headquarters because they felt it sent the wrong message to their employees. The project would have come out in the high LEED Gold to Platinum range with 30%–35% energy savings, excellent daylighting, aggressive water reduction, good landscaping and stormwater swales, and even a big third-party funded PV system. They were committed to a high-performance building but......."

Read the full post on LEEDuser:

LEED Certified or Certifiable? Architects Make the Case for Earning the Plaque

2012-07-25 n/a 11101 The New Anti-LEED

The American Chemistry Council and other groups have formed the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition. Green or greenwash?

How many high-performance buildings on K Street?
Photo Credit:

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has opened a new front in its battle with LEED and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)—one with similarities to greenwash tactics we’ve seen before.

ACC has formed a group dubbed the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition(AHPBC), joining 25 other industry groups representing building materials and products interests. The coalition includes names like the Vinyl Institute, the Vinyl Siding Institute, the Windows & Door Manufacturers Association, the Treated Wood Council, and the Adhesives and Sealants Council, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

No more “arbitrary” restrictions!

As we’ve reported (see Chemical Industry Attacks LEED: BuildingGreen Checks the Facts), chemical and plastics trade groups have been making a recent pastime of claiming the federal government should stop using LEED and have been exerting their deep ties on Capitol Hill to pressure influential government groups like the General Services Administration (GSA) to stop using LEED.

The groups are apparently incensed over “arbitrary chemical restrictions” they perceive in LEED v4, the version of LEED currently under development, and are worried that LEED is “becoming a tool to punish chemical companies.”

According to its website, AHPBC:

… is composed of leading organizations representing a range of products and materials relevant to the building and construction industry who are committed to promoting performance-based energy efficiency and sustainable building standards. We support the development of green building standards through consensus-based processes derived from data and performance-driven criteria.

Calling Ronald Reagan—come in, Reagan

In a statement on the development, USGBC said, “We welcome the announcement of the formation [of AHPBC], but as Ronald Reagan once said, we will ‘trust but verify.’”
USGBC’s policy strategy director Lane Burt explained to me, “The impact of LEED v4 is going to be positive on any of the individual sub-industries within the green building world, and that includes product manufacturers of all types.”

Burt ticked off numerous product areas—energy-efficient mechanical systems, green cleaning products, low-VOC paints, efficient water fixtures—where “over and over LEED has supported new markets and new products and brought innovation to the forefront.”

He claimed, “There has not at any time been a negative impact on any industry that has been touched by LEED,” and he notes that many chemical and building industry companies, along with the ACC, are USGBC members who have votes in its policy development and organizational direction.

Good work—not just good lobbying

About the ACC and its members and coalition partners, Burt acknowledged that “these are significant actors within D.C.” and he decried the “politicization of the development process” of green building standards. Burt noted that USGBC is “not going be able to do these very D.C. lobbying things,” and that in response to ACC’s efforts, it would focus on “be[ing] a conduit for the voices of the companies and the individuals that are doing this work, about what is and isn't true.”

The ACC has not responded to my request for comment, but ACC vice president Steve Russell was quoted in the National Journal as saying, “We're going to continue to work with policy makers, lawmakers and green building system purveyors to make sure they understand the opportunities that the materials and innovations in our industry provide.”

The 7th deadly sin of greenwashing

If the formation of an apparent competitor to a grassroots green group sounds familiar, we’ve noted this trend before as the 7th of nine types of greenwash: “Rallying Behind a Lower Standard.” In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was the “wood wars,” with forest products industry that has supported groups competing with more established environmental advocates.

What’s next, the Leadership in Energy and Chemical-Healthy Environmental Responsibility (LECHER) rating system? Or will AHPBC throw its support behind the Green Globes rating system? Perhaps AHPBC’s true color is green, adding itself to the ranks of industry groups (like the Regenerative Network, along with USGBC), that do forward-looking, transformative work. Stay tuned.

2012-07-18 n/a 11048 GSA Hears Overwhelming Support for LEED

Green Globes may have come out slightly ahead in a recent “alignment” report, but support for LEED is strong in the building industry.

Atlantic Wharf, a huge mixed-use building on Boston's waterfront, is pre-certified LEED Gold and features a rain harvesting system to re-use rainwater in building systems and a green roof on the Waterfront Building.
Photo Credit: JC Cannistraro

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), along with the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, today hosted a second “listening session” on which green building rating system it should recommend for federal government use. Public comments almost universally favored a GSA determination to continue with LEED as the government’s rating system of choice.

This rating system review is stipulated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and supported by a report from Pacific Northwest National Labs that compared LEED, Green Globes, and the Living Building Challenge. As reported in EBN, that report found that Green Globes aligned with federal guidelines slightly better than LEED for New Construction, while LEED bested Green Globes in that tally for existing buildings.

The first listening session took place in Washington, D.C., in late June; today’s happened online, where 25 speakers each got three minutes to speak. What they said was almost universally in support of LEED.

The Tally:

Pro LEED: 19

Pro Green Globes: 1

Pro Living Building Challenge: 1 (but many expressed support for it as stretch goal)

Pro random other things: 4

Do we need a green building “moon shot”?

Also Read

GSA Pledges to Pursue Zero Environmental Footprint

Green Globes Tops LEED in Federal Review, But Barely

Chemical Industry Attacks LEED; BuildingGreen Checks the Facts

Are FSC and LEED Killing American Jobs? A Look at the Facts

Richard Graves, until recently senior vice president at USGBC and now executive director of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), kicked off the conversation with a call for a more visionary, “moon landing” approach to the choice of rating system. Several speakers who followed expressed strong support for ILFI’s Living Building Challenge, but suggested that it wasn’t appropriate as standard for all government projects.

Raving about LEED

By the end, the session felt like a LEED pep rally. Speakers from industrial giants UT Carrier and GAF endorsed LEED, as did two people from the real estate investment trust Boston Properties, Inc., who called LEED an “incredibly effective vehicle for training people.” On their recently completed LEED Gold Atlantic Wharf tower, they bragged: “Our innovations were off the charts because of our LEED certification.”

Vivian Loftness, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University stood out for the way she added breadth and depth to the discussion. She and several others noted that the report comparing rating system “alignment” with federal goals lacked any metrics for the depth of infrastructure and community behind each system, a measure in which LEED is orders of magnitude above the others.

She also pointed out how effective LEED has been at promulgating government projects and standards into the private sector and at establishing the U.S. as a leader in green building standards internationally.

Stuart Kaplow, an attorney with experience in green building law and former chair of the Maryland USGBC chapter pointed out “the federal government is more than just a portfolio holder; it’s driving a larger marketplace.”

And Lois Vitt Sale of Wight & Company said: “LEED is more than just a plaque at the end of the road. We consider it a quality assurance process and use it even when the project is not pursuing LEED.”

Paula Vaughan of Perkins+Will and Jim Newman of Linnean Solutions, among others, made the case that LEED is the better choice because it will drive innovation. Vaughan cited the recent Chicago Tribune series on toxic flame retardants as evidence of the need for more progressive rating systems, while Newman called innovation “The essence of American industrial strength.”

And railing about other things

Of the few comments that were not glowing endorsements of LEED, Michael O’Brien, a mechanical engineer with Heery International expressed a preference for Green Globes for its “lower cost, speed of certification, and lack of prerequisites.”

And the random other votes? One argued that ground-source heat pumps should be considered renewable energy sources, and two—a lawn care labor association and power equipment trade association—complained about the 40% limit on lawn area in ASHRAE Standard 189.1. There are a few in every crowd…

2012-07-10 n/a 10956 Specifications for LEED “Certifiable” Projects: 4 Approaches

Many owners and municipalities are requesting LEED “certifiable” buildings from their design teams. How is a specifier to respond?

The ZGF-designed "Living Learning Center" at the University of Oregon was designed to the LEED Silver standard but did not apply for certification. Colleges & universities frequently take this approach.
Photo Credit: University of Oregon

In our experience with over 200 (real) LEED projects, we have seen four approaches.

Approach 1: Declare an early victory

The team completes the LEED scorecard and declares victory. There is no mention of LEED in the project manual and the contractor is asked to “make the right green choices.” There is no review of the scorecard after construction. While this is clearly a useless LEED approach, there are many who accept this result. In fairness, some are municipalities that are not able to mandate certification, others are architects who believe their professional training and personal commitment is the correct measure of sustainability.

Specifier’s Response: As always, at least include low-VOC products, high-performance products, and construction waste management in your specs.

Approach 2: Sprinkle in some requirements

The team completes the LEED scorecard, makes a determination of which design credits could be easily achieved, and includes only a few requirements in the specifications. Perhaps construction waste management, FSC-certified wood, and Green Label Plus carpet are sufficient to demonstrate some interest in sustainable design. Data-intensive credits such as recycled content, regional materials, and low-emitting materials are typically avoided. Again, the scorecard is not evaluated after construction.

Specifier’s Response: Match the specs with the LEED credits selected. Include submittals at the level of detail that a LEED audit would require, such as chain-of-custody (CoC) documentation for FSC products and VOC levels for paints, coatings, sealants, and adhesives.

Also Read

Six Things LEED Consultants Do Wrong in Specs

Chemical Industry Attacks LEED: BuildingGreen Checks the Facts

Approach 3: Everything but submitting for LEED review

The team completes the LEED scorecard, includes it and all relevant requirements in the project manual, and collects all the data from the contractor, but does not submit to GBCI for certification. The team makes an internal evaluation of whether the goal has been obtained, and declares success. This approach is frequently taken at colleges, where those that manage the projects need to respond to various faculty and student initiatives. There is some certainty that LEED Certification would have been achieved, but typically there is no energy model, no commissioning—generally, little attempt at any credit which involves increased expense.

Specifier’s Response: Again, match the specs with the LEED credits selected. Note that the credit numbering and language for all the different LEED rating systems is slightly different—be sure which LEED program the team is following.

Approach 4: Go beyond LEED

The design team is actually committed to sustainability, and regrets the owner can’t or won’t fund LEED Certification. The energy model is developed early and really informs the design. Products that meet the VOC limits, regional goals, recycled content are specified into the project without reference to LEED. The contractor is asked to include sustainability in their product choices. The contingency fund for construction includes sustainability as a reason for a change order. After all, isn’t that what design is all about—understanding the owner’s requirements and delivering the best result for the funds available?


Specifier’s Response: Same as Approach 3 above, but now there’s the opportunity to go beyond LEED requirements. Make sure environmentally committed firms like Interface and Kingspan have an opportunity to bid. Ask the project owner what their standard products are, to help minimize waste in the future. Look downstream and make sure the NFPA fire door inspections are actually done and documented.

Also read Six Things LEED Consultants Do Wrong in Specs, by Mark Kalin—and join the discussion there.

Mark Kalin is President of Kalin Associates Specifications and currently Chair of CSI’s National Technical Committee. The firm has completed specs for over 200 LEED projects. Free spec downloads and position papers at

Check out GreenSpec for guidance on more sustainable building products to include in your project specifications.

2012-06-26 n/a 10862 Chemical Industry Attacks LEED: BuildingGreen Checks the Facts

Chemical and plastics trade groups claim the federal government should stop using LEED. BuildingGreen separates the facts from the fabrications.

The FOX Architects-designed American Chemistry Council headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit:

A developing focus on chemicals of concern in the LEED rating systems could make federal buildings less energy-efficient, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

In recent letters to the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and to a number of representatives in the U.S. Congress (PDF), ACC and others also claim that LEED v4 (formerly known as LEED 2012) is not “science-based” and does not use a “true consensus approach” to development.

LEED: “a tool to punish chemical companies”?

The latter document went to a group of legislators who have echoed ACC’s position in their own letter (PDF) to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) pointing to “arbitrary chemical restrictions” and claiming LEED is “becoming a tool to punish chemical companies.” See Lloyd Alter’s incisive coverage at Treehugger for more background on the congressional letter to GSA.

Below, we look at each of AAC’s claims and separate the truth from the lies. But first…

Why this attack matters

The federal government, including the military, is the single largest user of the LEED rating systems. According to data provided by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), 7% of LEED-certified projects and 11.5% of those pending certification are federal government buildings. The public sector as a whole (federal, state, and local governments combined) makes up a whopping 27% of LEED-certified projects, and smaller governments could follow the federal lead on LEED. Use of LEED by these entities has, over the last 12 years, helped develop green practices and products across the industry.

Related Links

Green Globes Tops LEED in Federal Review, But Barely

LEED 2012 Postponed to 2013, Renamed LEED v4

Video: The Nine Types of Greenwashing

A Peek Inside Google's Healthy Materials Program

Both GSA and the Department of Defense are currently reviewing a number of green building rating systems and codes, taking a hard look at their alignment with federal government goals, including energy and cost savings as well as toxic chemical avoidance.

As that continues, we can probably expect more intense lobbying by more and more industries along similar lines. How much traction they get remains to be seen, and fact-checking makes a difference.

CLAIM: Chemical credits will eliminate certain materials from LEED buildings

ACC argues that a new focus on chemicals of concern will mean that project teams will not be able to choose certain materials. “Energy-efficient materials such as insulation, reflective roofing, piping, and wiring could be targeted for ‘avoidance’ by LEED [v4],” said Cal Dooley, CEO at ACC.

USGBC response: According to Brendan Owens, vice president for LEED technical development at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), “There is no ‘red list’ of banned chemicals or products” in LEED v4. Rather, the proposed credits “are focused on encouraging the use of materials known to have desirable characteristics from a human health perspective,” and “the responsible use of any particular product will not disqualify project teams from achieving certification.”

BuildingGreen Fact Check: LEED does not ban any materials except ozone-depleting refrigerants that are targeted for phase-out by international treaty.

The third Public Comment draft of LEED v4 did include a list of chemicals that could be avoided to earn one or two points; this list was removed from the fourth Public Comment draft in response to public comments and was replaced with a reference to the European Union’s REACH protocol.

LEED project teams who choose to pursue the material avoidance credits only need to address a small percentage of products to earn the one or two points. They may choose alternative materials or design options to meet energy-efficiency needs in insulation, roofing, and other areas—and there are plenty of environmentally preferable options that don’t sacrifice performance. The point structure of LEED heavily emphasizes energy efficiency, and there is no incentive to sacrifice that for chemical avoidance.

When I suggested to Dooley that people could simply choose alternatives, he replied, “It does not appear that USGBC has conducted any analysis of the alternatives to these products or demonstrated that there are equally performing alternatives available to builders.”

Dooley does have a valid point—that the LEED requirements would push some projects into areas where development of market options is needed. But that’s part of the “market transformation” that USGBC is working to do with LEED: to push buildings in a greener, healthier direction and assume that the money spent by those projects will stimulate the market to follow. The analysis that Dooley suggests should have been done would make more sense for a mandatory code requirement than for an optional credit.

CLAIM: Chemical credits will reduce energy efficiency

ACC contends that credits for chemical avoidance detract from LEED’s energy goals. Its recent letter to legislators praised the lawmakers for their claim that “the proposed LEED 2012 criteria will make federal buildings less energy efficient[,] resulting in increased costs to taxpayers.” That group of lawmakers in their own letter to GSA stated that LEED v4 would be “counterproductive in the mission to develop more sustainable and energy efficient building codes.”

USGBC response: This characterization is “a false dichotomy,” said Owens. “Sustainability requires a holistic approach to balance multiple fundamental priorities.” That said, Owens told BuildingGreen, “LEED’s commitment to energy efficiency and climate change mitigation and adaptation has never been stronger, and nothing proposed in LEED v4 changes this significant focus.” Owens pointed to the “seven overarching system goals” that drive LEED, which address not only energy and water conservation but also human health, biodiversity, and sustainable material resource cycles.

BuildingGreen Fact Check: It is false to suggest that chemical avoidance will come at the expense of energy efficiency.

Proposed chemical credits are a miniscule percentage of the whole of LEED, and there is no requirement to achieve them, while tough energy prerequisites remain.

But it’s not just USGBC that views sustainable building holistically. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) is about more than energy conservation. Green building rating systems are to be evaluated according to a number of criteria:

  • “Efficient and sustainable use” of energy, water, and natural resources
  • Use of renewable energy sources
  • Improved indoor environmental quality
  • Reduced impacts from transportation
  • “Such other criteria as the Federal Director determines to be appropriate”

These other criteria currently include “system maturity” and “usability.” The federal government also compares rating systems against its Guiding Principles, which include the sustainability of materials and resources.

Not only will avoidance of certain chemicals and materials not reduce energy efficiency, but energy efficiency—by a long shot—is not the only criterion the federal government itself uses to evaluate green building rating systems.

CLAIM: Chemical credits will kill jobs

ACC is also claiming that the new Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern Credit will hurt the economy and cost jobs. As the forestry industry has proven, playing the “jobs card” is a guaranteed way to get attention—but the card is not always backed up by data.

BuildingGreen Fact Check: ACC has no data to back its claim.

Dooley did not have specific numbers on the potential economic impact of the new Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern credit, saying only, “Forcing the avoidance of popular and proven building materials would undoubtedly hurt the producers of these products” and citing data about how many jobs the chemical industry supports in Michigan and Ohio. Past evidence, however, suggests that innovation encourages market growth and helps create jobs.

The language of “forcing avoidance” gets to the crux of the issue and reinforces a common misunderstanding about LEED: that credits are the same as requirements. They’re not. Only the prerequisites are required; credits are a menu to choose from. You can completely skip chemical avoidance and still achieve LEED certification.

A precautionary approach favors chemicals that are proven to be less hazardous.
Photo Credit: BuildingGreen, Inc.

CLAIM: Chemical credits are not science-based

ACC told BuildingGreen, “A truly science-based approach would consider all facts, not selectively chosen attributes of ingredients in products. The avoidance and listings credits take a hazard-only approach, excluding the questions of exposure or actual risk.”

BuildingGreen Fact Check: It’s true that the chemical credits emphasize a hazard-avoidance approach. It’s false to claim that this approach is not science-based.

Both a hazard-avoidance approach and a risk-assessment approach to toxic chemicals are science-based. The proposed chemical credits in LEED (which are still evolving) currently reference European REACH legislation and the Green Screen for Safer Chemicals. Both of these have a precautionary orientation—meaning they favor chemicals scientifically proven to be safer. (Regulations in the U.S. tend to require that chemicals be proven unsafe before their use can be restricted.) Both REACH and Green Screen are backed by rigorous scientific research and review.

The associated lists target major hazards for which an avoidance strategy makes sense—particularly in the absence of sufficiently rigorous studies and data on exposure, since neither the chemical industry nor the government has chosen to invest in the research needed to provide that data. These substances include persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals, to which eventual exposure is almost assured.

CLAIM: USGBC does not use a consensus approach

ACC has also accused USGBC of not using a “true” consensus-based approach. “USGBC is an ANSI-accredited organization but has not taken the next steps and completed the requirements of an ANSI standard,” Dooley said. “The internal committees…appear to lack participation of appropriately qualified experts.”

Dooley added that “in a true consensus process, USGBC would have to provide technical support for the material avoidance or material ingredient listing credits.” When I asked Dooley whether ACC had participated in the process, he responded that the group had submitted public comments “that were ignored.”

USGBC response: Owens called this line of attack “a distraction from the substantive issues,” adding, “LEED is developed in accordance with a rigorously inclusive process.  We have received more than 22,000 public comments and have responded to each individually. We work cooperatively with industries, and LEED standards are set in a consensus-driven, transparent manner led by technical experts in their fields.”

BuildingGreen Fact Check: It’s true that LEED is not an ANSI standard. It’s false to say that it is not a consensus-based standard.

The federal government defers to consensus standards but does not require the rating systems it uses to be ANSI standards. ANSI defines specific requirements for stakeholder balance and consensus, but this is not the only structure accepted by ISO or the federal government.

In its recent review of rating systems, GSA noted that LEED was not an ANSI standard but concluded that LEED was developed according to a rigorously transparent consensus process according to on its own definition:

The certification system contains the attributes of a voluntary consensus standards body defined in OMB Circular A-119: openness, balance of interest, due process, an appeal process, and consensus.

ACC may be pushing this message because its own preferred rating system—Green Globes, which has stronger ties to mainstream industries and lobbyists—is an ANSI standard.

Postponing LEED v4

You may be wondering if this attack is related to the postponement of the erstwhile LEED 2012, which is now called LEED v4 because it won’t be available until 2013.

Yes and no. While the chemical industry attacks have no direct relationship to the decision to delay rollout, as Nadav Malin reported in EBN earlier this week, there was a more widespread sense—particularly among “core supporters” of LEED—that “the proposed changes in the rating system were too much, too fast, especially in a weak real estate market.”

Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern was among the credits making these groups worry, and a series of gut renovations with each public comment draft may have made the process more vulnerable to industry attacks as the rating system failed to stabilize around a specific, robust approach.

Disclosure: BuildingGreen has collaborated with USGBC on several projects over the last two decades, and several of our staff have participated in USGBC committees and the board of directors.

2012-06-07 n/a 10841 Six Things LEED Consultants Do Wrong in Specs
Mark Kalin

LEED consultants are paid to lend their expertise to achieve a project’s LEED certification goals. Their decisions focus on achieving credits and their participation is absolutely vital to the project, but some can actually work against the project's sustainability goals. Here are the top six problems I see.

#1 Discouraging bidding by specifying unrealistic LEED requirements

When a specification requires a regional source, a recycled content percentage, and certain certifications for a product, the specifier has to be certain that conforming products exist. On a recent project, the only bidder for the doors couldn’t actually meet all the requirements and put in a premium price. Other bidders declined to bid citing the requirements of the specifications. The worst outcome was a project that decided to abandon certification because of unnecessary requirements in the specifications that pushed the project over budget.

Solution: Don’t use the specifications as a research tool. Either find out what’s available and specify what you want the contractor to purchase, or give the contractor options and flexibility to meet the LEED requirements, using a mix of products.

#2 Not recognizing that performance is a sustainable attribute

There is a roofing product that has 100 percent recycled content, is 100 percent recyclable, and is made from 100 percent regional materials. Unfortunately, it is only guaranteed until the first rain, since it’s made out of papier-mâché.

Solution: Performance is more important than recycled content for roofing. Always seek the highest-performing roofing material with a 20-year track record (which includes PVC). If you’re not going to keep PVC out of the inside of your building, why be concerned about PVC on the roof? Personally, I doubt that either PVC, TPO, EPDM, or modified bitumen are edible, and am more concerned about the damage that water intrusion can have on the inside of a building when the roofing fails.

#3: Adding ‘their’ language to the specifications.

Sorry, poetic language doesn’t buy products, nor does repeating all the VOC levels in every spec section make sense. The specifications are contract documents that contain the qualitative requirements for materials and assemblies. Subcontractors must put in bids with only a few hours to evaluate a project.

Solution: Specify products that comply with LEED requirements and require the submittals necessary to document the required credits.

#4: Believing manufacturer’s product literature

Not too long ago a flooring manufacturer overstated its sourcing and FSC claims. The product as promised was not the product as delivered—they never had a source for FSC wood. …And then there was that article in the magazine that claimed brick would earn 26 LEED points. …And then there was that insulation manufacturer that was fined $155,000. by the FTC for false R-value claims.

Solution: Ask the manufacturer to submit a sample of LEED documentation from a previous project as an example, instead of relying on marketing literature.

#5: Issuing a LEED Scorecard with “maybe” as an option

We all recognize that achieving some credits is uncertain until construction is well underway. However, “maybe” means “no” to a subcontractor if extra expense is involved.

Solution: At least one LEED consultant will not include a scorecard in the project manual. Others will reissue the scorecard monthly. The important thing is to hold the contractor accountable for making sure that the overall target is achieved, with a little cushion to allow for missing or faulty documentation.

#6: Calling LEED “good enough”

LEED is intended to point the project in the right direction and open up conversations about sustainability goals, but too often its goals are adopted without critical review.

Solution: The consultant should engage with the client about their intentions and priorities, and then revisit those throughout. That gives them the tools to answer questions like: Do you abandon the requirement for FSC wood once you achieve 50%? Is it the scorecard or sustainability that governs?

Mark Kalin is President of Kalin Associates Specifications and currently Chair of CSI’s National Technical Committee. The firm has completed specs for over 200 LEED projects. Free spec downloads and position papers at

2012-06-01 n/a 10452 LEEDuser Webcast: Top-20 LEED-EBOM Documentation Mistakes--And How to Avoid Them

Free Webcast

Top-20 LEED-EBOM Documentation Mistakes--And How to Avoid Them

Wed. April 25 | 2 p.m. Eastern Time

Getting LEED-EBOM certification is all about documentation: At a lot of documentation. It's a lot of work, and yet--there are so many pitfalls, unknowns, and blind alleys that it's common for LEED review comments to hang projects up with tons of issues. Such problems are a frustration--at worst, they can cost a LEED certification, or certification level, that you worked hard for.

In our latest webcast, LEEDuser is pleased to offer a free presentation addressing exactly this issue: common LEED-EBOM documentation mistakes, and how you can avoid them.

From signatory issues to lamp inputs

This live, hour-long webcast will be presented by Jenny Carney and Ben Stanley, two of the LEED-EBOM experts at YR&G Sustainability--one of the top LEED-EBOM consulting groups in the world, with experience both submitting and reviewing LEED-EBOM documentation. Some of the issues they will cover are as follows.

  • Signatory Issues--especially the owner signatory
  • Screwy inputs on Portfolio Manager for EAp2
  • Ah shoot, I used the form for EQp1. Plus all the little variables in that 62MZ thingy.
  • Inconsistent occupancy and area PIf3, SSc4, WEp1, EAp2, EQp1, EQc3.2.
  • MRc4 - mistakes with the lamp inputs for Mercury content and such

Only 20?

There are dozens and dozens of documentation errors (not so much errors, always, as differences of opinion with your reviewer) that commonly come up with LEED-EBOM. The webcast will be filled with many tidbits and anecdotes, with a focus on the 20 highly avoidable problems that we most often see. Some of the general issues we look at will include:

  • Lack of clarity in documentation--and where that really matters
  • General - ignoring of things that are explicitly asked for on the form--and common forms where this happens
  • No narrative attached to the credit for the final review--oops
  • Leaving out the nit-picky nonsense

Jenny and Ben will provide their hard-earned insights and war stories as they guide you through these minefields. Also, please bring your documentation questions to the webcast for a Q&A session.

Continuing education

LEEDuser will offer 1 LEED-specific CE hour for AIA and LEED AP credential maintenance, to anyone attending the entire webcast. (Please stay to the end for instructions on logging those hours! Planning to watch in a group? Only one individual needs to register.)

About the presenters

Jenny Carney, LEED AP O+M – YR&G
Jenny heads up YRG's Business & Operations Team, based in YRG's Chicago office. She oversees YRG project work related to LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) certification, corporate sustainability programming and reporting, and sustainability strategy development for businesses and existing buildings. She sits on the USGBC-Chicago Chapter's Education & Research committee, and is a member of the USGBC's Sustainable Sites TAG (Technical Advisory Group).

Ben Stanley, LEED AP BD+C – YR&G
Ben has experience assisting clients with effective sustainable design, operations, and corporate wide initiatives.  His expertise includes management of LEED-NC and LEED-EBOM certification, training and education materials development and delivery, and corporate sustainability strategy. Ben's project experience includes hospitality/resort, multi-family residential, mixed-use, core & shell, schools, and commercial office spaces. He is also a primary author of the LEED-EBOM portions of the LEEDuser website.

Tristan Roberts, LEED AP BD+C – LEEDuser
The session will be moderated by Tristan Roberts. Tristan is editorial director for BuildingGreen, Inc., publisher of LEEDuser,, Environmental Building News. and GreenSpec. He is well known on the LEEDuser discussion forums for his explanations of LEED credit tricks and tips, and is a sustainability expert with years of experience writing about key topics in green building. He will gladly share how many LEED APs it takes to change a light bulb.

2012-04-16 n/a 10451 Get a First Look at LEED 2012 Reference Guides, LEED Online Forms, and More

Free LEEDuser Webcast

Behind the Scenes on LEED 2012: New Developments in Credit Documentation, Reference Guides, and More

Thurs. April 26, 2012 | 3 p.m. EDT

As we've seen from the LEED 2012 drafts and public comment periods, major changes are underway for the LEED rating systems. So many changes resulted from the 3rd public comment period, in fact, that USGBC announced a 4th public comment period, to run May 1–15.

At the same time, credit documentation, Reference Guide development, and other education work for LEED 2012 are all underway concurrent with the public comment period and balloting process. According to USGBC, this work is "operating under the guiding principles of creating intuitive and flexible documentation that focuses on collecting key data points for certification, Reference Guide content that enables project team understanding and achievement of requirements, and education for the successful implementation of new and challenging content in LEED 2012."

A first look at 2012 documentation

LEEDuser is excited to offer the general public one of the first opportunities to look "behind the scenes" at development of the nuts-and-bolts documentation pieces that will become the underpinning of LEED 2012. Please join us in this free webcast, with invited presenters from USGBC.

Q&A session

If you're wondering how development of LEED 2012 documentation and educational materials will impact your project, this is a great opportunity to get your questions answered. Chrissy Macken and Doug Gatlin from USGBC (and possibly other guest presenters) will take your questions in an extended session moderated by LEEDuser's Tristan Roberts.

About the presenters

Chrissy Macken
Manager of LEED Technical Development
U.S. Green Building Council

As Manager of LEED Technical Development at the U.S. Green Building Council, Chrissy Macken works on the technical revisions and maintenance of the LEED certification system. In addition to assisting in the management of the LEED 2012 program delivery at Greenbuild 2012, Chrissy manages the technical development to the integrative process credits and coordinates the LEED weightings – point allocation – process for all LEED credits.

Doug Gatlin
Vice President for Market Development
U.S. Green Building Council

As the Vice President for Market Development at the U.S. Green Building Council, Doug Gatlin has oversight for deploying the family of LEED rating systems in all the major commercial market segments and for managing overall customer relations for LEED and the Council's new pilot initiative, the Portfolio Program. Doug has 15 years experience in energy and environmental policy and has worked on climate change response strategies and voluntary pollution prevention programs for most of his career.

Tristan Roberts
Editorial Director

The session will be moderated by Tristan Roberts. Tristan is editorial director for BuildingGreen, Inc., publisher of LEEDuser,, Environmental Building News. and GreenSpec. He is well known on the LEEDuser discussion forums for his explanations of LEED credit tricks and tips, and is a sustainability expert with years of experience writing about key topics in green building. He will gladly share how many LEED APs it takes to change a light bulb.

2012-04-16 n/a 10270 Army: No, We Are Not Abandoning LEED

Yes, the Department of Defense is using ASHRAE 189.1 and other guidelines--but a code is not the same as a rating system, says an Army spokesperson.

Blogger Chris Cheatham of the Green Building Law Update raised alarms about LEED's future earlier this week with this eye-popping headline: "Army Abandons LEED Certification." Citing testimony by Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn that discussed the Department of Defense's intention to create its own internal building code based on ASHRAE 189.1, Cheatham concluded that LEED was dead in the military and that this was a "game-changer" for federal contractors, LEED APs, and the very survival of LEED.

Along with some commenters on Chris's post, we suspected this conclusion was a little premature. LEED has a lot of challenges ahead, but we have confirmed that losing the Army is not currently one of them.

As Dave Foster in the Pentagon's Media Relations Division told us, "LEED is a rating system. ASHRAE is a construction code. The two are not the same."

The Army started using 189.1 more than a year ago--and we looked into whether they were abandoning LEED then. Later, the military appropriations bill literally tried to outlaw pursuit of  LEED Gold and Platinum, and again we looked into whether the Army was abandoning LEED. The answer was no both of those times before, and it's still no.

Quoting folks in the office of Katharine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and the environment, Foster explained to me that the Army "will continue to seek LEED certification for our buildings built to that standard and expect to get LEED Silver or better at no additional cost."

Why do both LEED and 189.1?

It's becoming clear that the Army (and the military generally) views ASHRAE 189.1 and LEED certification quite differently. So does the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which helped develop both 189.1 and the International Green Construction Code.

Lane Burt, director of technical policy at USGBC, wasn't at all worried when I asked him about the Department of Defense developing its own 189.1-based building code. "The code tells you what to do, and LEED tells you how well you did and communicates that to the rest of the world." For building owners, LEED provides third-party validation that "you got what you paid for."

Clearly the Army values this third-party validation (as Hammack told me both times I spoke with her on this issue--see the two articles linked to above) and plans to continue pursuing it and to continue telling Congress that LEED doesn't cost more.

"They've been working on their platform for green building success for years," Burt said, adding, "We're working to support them."

Photo: U.S. Army. The Army's high green building standards have resulted in projects like the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fairfax County, Virginia, which is targeting LEED Silver.

2012-03-30 n/a 10205 Three Things You Need to Know About Forests and Climate Change

If we want to slow global warming, we need to stop being such tree-huggers and start embracing the world's forests. And yes, there's a difference.

This is part three in our "Wood Wars" series.

Part 1: Are FSC and LEED Killing American Jobs? A Look at the Evidence

Part 2: FSC and Beyond: LEED 2012 Buries the "Wood Wars" Hatchet

Next: forests and global warming

From earliest childhood, most people naturally want to be in or near trees--the seed of environmentalist leanings for many of us. Solving problems like global warming will take a more nuanced and rational approach that balances our love of nature with the economic and environmental realities of forest systems.

Some children have pets. I had trees. I played in and under them, talked to them, and believed that they understood me and communicated back. I spent two whole summers barely touching the ground at all because I was up in my favorite tree, reading or thinking.

For people like me, it can be difficult to take a cold, hard look at the environmental impact of forestry practices. The only equation that matters in our hearts is "Tree=Good."

But we need to use our heads here: deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for about a quarter of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And, like it or not, one of the most promising ways to ensure that the world's forests thrive and sequester as much carbon as possible is to manage forests responsibly--where "manage forests" often means "cut down trees to make money."

While trees and forests have much to offer--from recreation to endangered species habitat to job creation--their central role in carbon sequestration and storage cannot be ignored. The science of carbon flows in forests is quite complex and not always well understood, and getting emissions goals to align with "co-benefits" for ecosystems and economies is even more complicated.

With that in mind, here are three big things you should understand about forests and carbon before choosing wood and other forestry products.

1) Valuable forests are more likely to be protected

"There's a tremendous amount of tropical and subtropical forest that's going to be cut down if there aren't additional incentives to preserve them as forests," says Mark Moroge, coordinator for the Rainforest Alliance Climate Program. A forest that has a "tangible impact on local people, indigenous groups, and their lives and livelihoods" is more likely to remain a forest.

In other words, in many parts of the world, a forest is unlikely to survive if it's not a significant part of the economy. One of the major forces threatening forests today, Moroge said, is agriculture. The United Nations REDD+ Program (REDD is for "reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation") aims to add extra incentives by providing "carbon payments" for sustainable forest management.

While REDD+ has been controversial in its past forms (many environmentalists have viewed it as opening the door to logging in virgin forests), the program has evolved to include more protections for both habitat and indigenous peoples as well as more transparency. In many regions, the choice may be between a managed forest and no forest at all--and that's a no-brainer. "REDD could be done in a right way and a wrong way," Moroge argued. "We're trending toward the right way."

2) Forest management matters. A lot.

In order to maximize carbon storage, getting economic value from forests has to be balanced with allowing the forest to thrive. A tree plantation is not the same thing as a forest.

Whether you're in a Brazilian rainforest or a Maine wood lot, land management has a huge impact on how much carbon is stored there. Less intensive harvesting generally results in greater carbon storage. This isn't only because of the trees themselves but also because of the carbon stored in the soil.

"We know a lot more about the above-ground side because it basically comes down to measuring the biomass," says John Gunn, senior program leader at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. "Below ground is a little more uncertain, mostly because it's expensive and complicated to measure below-ground carbon. But basically if there's disturbance to the soil, there's carbon loss to the atmosphere."

I asked Gunn if you could rely on product certifications like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to guide choices based solely on carbon considerations. Not really, he said.

"The challenge is that there would be big landowners that meet both standards," he explained, and there is also "a range of management within both those systems in terms of how individual landowners meet those standards." However, he added, "The bar for FSC favors lower-intensity management--either less frequent returns to an individual stand of trees or a lot more retention when those stands are harvested."

In other words, there is a spectrum of management practices within certification systems, but FSC-certified wood is more likely to come from a less-intensively harvested forest that stores more carbon. Keep in mind that many local, family-owned wood producers can't afford any type of certification; fortunately, you can talk to them directly about their management practices.

3) Paper or lumber? Service life makes a big difference

Another consideration is where timber goes after it's harvested. Even though new forest growth tends to sequester carbon very rapidly, a forest where trees are allowed to get older before harvesting will ultimately store more carbon--because larger trees get made into lumber instead of just chips or pulp.

"Paper is a very energy-intensive activity," says Gunn. "You end up with a product that doesn't stay around very long and may end up in a landfill, where it's emitting methane instead of carbon dioxide. Harvesting bigger trees for longer-lived products looks better over time."

Again, Gunn emphasizes, you can't break it down cleanly between FSC and SFI, but the less intensive the harvesting, "the better it's going to look from the atmospheric perspective."

From trees to forests

It's easy to fall into the trap of sounding like a "tree-hugger" (especially if you literally are one), but we need to move forward with a mature and nuanced perspective that truly balances economic considerations with ecological ones. Whatever our feelings, whether we're talking about jobs or habitats, it's not really about trees at all: it's about forests, which are complex systems that are crucial to human livelihood and well-being. Judicious clear-cutting can sometimes be part of sustainable forestry. Preventing boreal forests from overtaking the arctic tundra may ultimately be crucial to human survival.

The issue of forestry practices and what constitutes "sustainable" harvesting is an emotional and complicated one with a long and divisive history. Trying to take global warming into account on top of everything else isn't going to be easy--but it's one of the most important priorities we have, and our choices make a difference.

2012-03-22 n/a 10090 Webcast – LEED 2012 3rd Public Comment Period and Beyond: The Future of LEED

Free Webcast

LEED 2012 3rd Public Comment Period and Beyond: The Future of LEED

Wed. March 14, 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time Register Now!

With every new draft of LEED 2012, starting in November 2010, then August 2011, and now March 2012, USGBC has redefined our expectations of what the LEED rating systems are. The latest overhaul is likely to be the last, however, as much of the latest revisions amount to fine-tuning, and USGBC plans to put the new system out for member ballot in June, and launch it in November.

LEEDuser has been following the changes closely and publishing guidance on them (see our LEED 2012 page), while also hosting public forums to spur discussion and improve understanding of the changes.

LEEDuser's LEED 2012 experts cover the key issues

Now LEEDuser is pleased to offer this presentation by Tristan Roberts, LEED AP BD+C editorial director for LEEDuser. This live, hour-long webcast will cover the following topics:
  • Where the LEED AP credit and a new Integrative Process credit are going
  • How the Materials and Resources (MR) section has been overhauled, yet again, and where USGBC hopes to take the market
  • What the new Location and Transportation (LT) section and credits mean for LEED-NC projects
  • How the bar is being raised for EAp2 an EAc1
  • The new systems-based approach to low-emitting products

Don't forget LEED-EBOM

LEEDuser is also excited to team up with Jenny Carney, LEED AP O+M of YR&G Sustainability, in the webcast. Jenny and her team (the same team behind LEEDuser's EBOM content) have analyzed the new direction for LEED-EBOM and will share their analysis:
  • How the alternative commuting credit could get a lot harder for all buildings, especially schools
  • New, clearer parameters for performance metrics in the site management section
  • More difficult baseline criteria for water efficiency. Is it truly cost-effective?
  • How a 20% improvement option for energy efficiency is out the window, and what that could mean
  • How new purchasing criteria could make the MR section a bit trickier

Continuing education

LEEDuser will apply for continuing education approval for this webcast, but due to the short turnaround time we cannot guarantee that it will be available. We will share the status of this course during the webcast.

About the presenters

Tristan Roberts, LEED AP BD+C – LEEDuser

Tristan is editorial director for BuildingGreen, Inc., publisher of LEEDuser,, Environmental Building News. and GreenSpec. He is well known on the LEEDuser discussion forums for his explanations of LEED credit tricks and tips, and is a sustainability expert with years of experience writing about key topics in green building. He will gladly share how many LEED APs it takes to change a light bulb.

Jenny Carney, LEED AP O+M – YR&G

Jenny heads up YRG's Business & Operations Team, based in YRG's Chicago office. She oversees YRG project work related to LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) certification, corporate sustainability programming and reporting, and sustainability strategy development for businesses and existing buildings. She sits on the USGBC-Chicago Chapter's Education & Research committee, and is a member of the USGBC's Sustainable Sites TAG (Technical Advisory Group).

2012-03-05 n/a 10067 FSC and Beyond: LEED 2012 Buries the "Wood Wars" Hatchet

After months of controversy, the third public comment draft of LEED 2012 strengthens commitments to both FSC and local wood--while not budging on the importance of life-cycle assessment.

This is Part 2 in our "Wood Wars" series.

Part 1: Are FSC and LEED Killing American Jobs? A Look at the Evidence

Part 3: Three Things You Need to Know About Forests and Climate Change

Next: forests and global warming

In this ad from last year, several heavy-hitting environmental groups attempted to show the difference between life-cycle metrics and performance-based standards--and also objected to the since-revised credits for biobased materials. Click to embiggen.

For years, certified wood has ignited tempers and dominated discussions of building materials in the LEED rating systems.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is clearly ready to expand the scope of that discussion. In the LEED 2012 drafts, this readiness has been reflected in a gut renovation of the Materials & Resources section, which offers a variety of credits having to do with product transparency by rewarding life-cycle assessment and disclosure of chemicals of concern. (See our coverage of the non-wood-related updates on our sister site LEEDuser--where LEEDuser members can participate in forums--and watch for more over at EBN.)

Opponents of these now-controversial credits have been very vocal. Among them is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which has fought fiercely against a focus on transparency that might let unsustainable forestry practices get a foot in LEED's door (see the ad posted here). Just before the release of the third draft of LEED 2012, a group including FSC, Perkins+Will, HOK, Cascadia Green Building Council, and the Healthy Building Network released a slightly softer statement of consensus (PDF) calling for "balanced recognition of leadership performance standards and LCA-based disclosure tools in LEED 2012."

USGBC is also feeling heat from federal and state governments over its promotion of FSC-certified wood, which is falsely perceived as supporting importation.

The third LEED 2012 draft for public comment attempts to answer these concerns by deepening its commitment to both FSC and local wood. At the same time, it doesn't give up on expanding the scope of LEED to embrace transparency, though the new draft does seem to bring more balance to the relative weighting of transparency.

The LEED 2012 Wood Credits

There are three main subsections in the third draft that could potentially apply to lumber products:

  • Building reuse and whole-building life-cycle assessment (1–3 points)

    This option encourages reuse or salvage of onsite or off-site materials. It could include existing wood framing, wood flooring, etc., as well as steel framing and many other materials. Issues of wood certification and transparency don't apply when building products are simply reused, although the effect of wood certification on whole-building life cycle assessment remains to be seen.

  • Material life-cycle disclosure and assessment (2 points)

    This controversial subsection promotes transparency by offering three different options (see more about the conflict in our prior coverage, along with USGBC's rationale for incentivizing transparency). The first two would give one point each for using products that have a third-party-reviewed life-cycle assessment (LCA) or environmental product declaration (EPD); one point is for transparency for 20% of non-structural materials, and one point is for transparency for 20% of structural and enclosure materials.

    The section has been controversial because it rewards transparency without regard to a product's environmental performance: in theory, cedar clapboards harvested using slash-and-burn forestry practices could be used in calculations for achieving one of these credits--just by virtue of having an LCA or EPD associated with it. There are also issues with the ability of LCA (which is the methodology underlying EPDs) to capture ecosystem damage and many other impacts. (See "The End of Greenwashing? Five Myths about Product Transparency" for a quick take on the limitations of LCA.)

    The other option is called "multi-attribute assessment," which is an odd name since it appears to be based on single attributes: materials reuse, recycled content, and local sourcing. This third option sets a high bar for achievement: 50% of nonstructural products.

  • Responsible extraction of raw materials (1–2 points)

    All new wood products used to achieve this credit must be FSC-certified "or better." The only exception to this is wood harvested and milled within 50 miles of the building site--a significant change from prior versions of LEED, which gave credit for "locally" sourced wood and other materials within 500 miles of the site.

    The whole subsection on extraction of raw materials also has local-sourcing tiers for calculating credit, which is based on percentage by cost. Domestic products have their cost value multiplied by 1.5; in-state or in-province products have their cost value doubled; and products from within 50 miles/80 km have their cost value tripled. It's a major incentive for using locally and regionally sourced materials, which fosters local economies and could potentially quell arguments against using LEED for government projects--despite LEED 2012's renewed commitment to FSC for wood sourcing.

Two other subsections could apply to composite wood products:

  • Disclosure of chemicals of concern (1 point)

    While wood products are not the first thing that come to mind, sheathing products or composite countertops, for example, could count toward a credit collected for disclosure of chemicals. Again, the credit is based on disclosure itself--not on whether there are high levels of formaldehyde or other chemicals we should be concerned about.

  • Avoidance of chemicals of concern (2 points)

    Unlike the disclosure credit, which was previously combined with the avoidance credit, this subsection addresses the actual performance of products and rewards them for reductions in chemicals of concern. So a sheathing product or composite countertop that avoids formaldehyde or other chemicals on the list could count toward these credits in addition to the disclosure credit.

Is This a "Back Door" for SFI?

By my count, that makes three points based entirely on transparency that could potentially be used for wood products, as opposed to seven based on specific green attributes. It remains to be seen how opponents of the weighting in the previous draft will react, but there are those who thought that a focus on transparency would let FSC's competitor--the Sustainable Forestry Council (SFI)--in through a "back door" in LEED. Should we be worried about this?

USGBC doesn't think so. "That accusation can't be made without already fundamentally misunderstanding the rating system," said Lane Burt, director of technical policy at USGBC. "Right now you can get credit for any wood within 500 miles [for the Regional Materials credit], and you only have to use 50% of wood that's FSC-certified [for the Certified Wood credit]." That means lots of SFI-certified wood and non-certified can be used for LEED regional points, while the project could still earn the Certified Wood point with FSC material.

Revising local sourcing to 50 miles is a huge change that could close out a lot of previously accepted SFI-certified and non-certified products for achieving this particular credit. If any other wood products are going to be included for LEED credits, if they are not sourced from a 50-mile radius, they'll now have to do it almost exclusively through transparency--by having LCAs or EPDs or by disclosing chemicals of concern.

But that's not really the point anyway, as far as the crafters of the system are concerned. Burt continued, "We're now moving away even from wood and local credits to something more robust and realistic. People can continue to make those accusations, but they are going to be even more fundamentally flawed in their premise."

Eyes on the Prize

Brendan Owens, P.E., vice president of LEED development for USGBC, acknowledges the historic leadership role of FSC and encourages FSC to support efforts to increase transparency. Because standard LCA methodology is currently limited, part of the point, he says, is to incentivize further development of these tools.

"Wouldn't it be great if we had quantifiable metrics that allow us to distinguish between FSC and SFI?" asked Owens. Instead, he said, "We rely on proxies rather than data." In the long term, Owens anticipates "the 2.0 or the 3.0" version of forestry standards--driven by the development of better measurement tools. "We want to push that," he said. But right now, "we're not getting the information that allows us to quantifiably say that the things we are assigning as proxies are necessarily outcomes."

Owens challenged FSC supporters to look at the forest instead of the trees: "One of the things that's important about this is the fact that we are juggling at least seven different environmental and social issues simultaneously across a complex infrastructure for design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings," said Owens. "Buildings are not a wood issue. It's the other way around."

"The Soul of the Green Building Movement"

Jason Grant, a consultant to the sustainable forest products industry and a long-time backer of FSC, sees things a little differently. "Forests matter," he said in an interview conducted before draft three of LEED 2012 was released. "They are one of the key systems for our survival. It is fundamental."

Grant believes that sustainable forestry isn't just about two or three credits. "It's about the soul of the green building movement. It's about the soul of LEED," he said. "Are we going to capitulate to greenwashing and an intense pressure campaign? Or are we going to stand strong for what LEED is supposed to be about? That really matters."

I find both of these passionate arguments moving and convincing. And I don't actually think they're mutually exclusive. LEED is large; it contains multitudes.

I'll be curious to hear what Grant and other FSC supporters will say about the third draft once they've had a chance to mull it over. Does it thread the needle? Or is it a poke in the eye? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

2012-03-01 n/a 9970 Are FSC and LEED Killing American Jobs? A Look at the Evidence

FSC and LEED, with its certified wood credit, are hurting the economy, claim the governor of Maine, a U.S. Senator, and SFI. We take a look at the evidence.

This is Part 1 in our "Wood Wars" series.

Part 2: FSC and Beyond--LEED 2012 Buries the "Wood Wars" Hatchet

The John Mitchell Center at the University of Southern Maine achieve LEED certification in 2005--the second building in the state to do so. A new executive order makes more buildings like this one illegal.

As you may know, the U.S. Congress tried to restrict the military's use of LEED in its recent budget law (it's probably not going to work, as we reported a couple weeks ago). Around the same time, the governor of Maine made it illegal for State buildings to pursue LEED certification at any level.

Both of these decisions stemmed from a common root: the "wood wars" between advocates of the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). An FSC victory of sorts was declared in 2010, when the LEED rating systems continued to recognize only FSC through certified wood credits (MRc7 in LEED for New Construction 2009) to the exclusion of other certification systems, but that turns out to have been just one more battle in an ongoing conflict.

Senator Roger Wicker and Maine Governor Paul LePage both attempted to make an economic argument for their choices. By promoting FSC lumber, the claim goes, the LEED rating systems harm producers of homegrown forestry products--hurting the economy and killing jobs.

Global vs. domestic certification

Exhibit A in the economic case against LEED's preferential treatment of FSC is the fact that most forestlands certified by FSC are outside the U.S. "100% of SFI-certified forests are in North America," said Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of SFI. "90% of FSC forests are outside the U.S. You don't have to be a statistician to know that not recognizing SFI is a problem for domestic forests, communities, products, and jobs."

You also don't have to be a logician to see that Abusow's conclusion does not follow from these facts. While it's true that FSC certifies forests around the globe--and also that SFI currently certifies almost 30% more forestland in North America--what we really need to know is whether architects are specifying imported lumber instead of domestic lumber because of LEED's FSC-only policy.

Corey Brinkema, president of FSC–US, argues that it's not cost-effective to import dimensional lumber--which means that people who are specifying FSC lumber are unlikely to add to the cost premium by getting it from overseas. Furthermore, he said, "There is plenty of FSC-certified supply in the U.S. to be able to provide the necessary wood for all the green buildings in the U.S. and many other industries that are desiring responsible wood."

When I pressed her about whether foreign dimensional lumber is really in competition with domestic dimensional lumber, Abusow simply stuck to her guns: "90% of FSC certifications are abroad, and I don't need to go into depth to know that that's an issue. And so I don't."

Getting credit for local wood

Apparently the Maine executive branch feels the same way--not least of all because SFI has been lobbying in the state, as Abusow confirmed during our call. She claims that LePage's executive order means "wood products from Maine can definitely be used in Maine green buildings."

Bill Beardsley, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation, echoed these sentiments in a press release about the "expanded use of green building materials," explaining that the move "means that the local community college will be able to build using the certified-wood products from the local sawmill."

The Maine executive order effectively outlaws LEED. Click to read the whole order on the State of Maine website.

Anyone familiar with LEED, however, knows that there are credits for both locally sourced and rapidly renewable materials. You can get credit for wood products from the local sawmill regardless of whether it's certified wood or not.

Let's also keep in mind that LEED doesn't require you to use any wood at all. Certified wood, local wood, rapidly renewable materials: these are all things you can get credits for if you choose to. They are not prerequisites that you must achieve in order to seek LEED certification. Buildings made of concrete, steel, and other materials achieve LEED certification without so much as an FSC-certified toothpick in them every day.

If anything, it could be argued that LEED has stimulated the wood market by incentivizing those buildings to include some wood veneer here or wood flooring there to make them eligible for any or all of these three credits.

Outlawing LEED might hurt Maine paper mills

"We have some 4.7 million acres of certified lands in Maine," said Brinkema at FSC–US. "The state truly has a competitive advantage in providing responsibly sourced forest products to the LEED marketplace. With that executive order, they are more or less giving up that competitive advantage."

It's not just the lumber market that could be hurt, according to John Gunn, senior program leader at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. "To me it's misguided," said Gunn. "In Maine still, the engines of the forest economy here are the coated paper mills--the mills that make the magazine and catalogue paper. Especially in the downturn here, the FSC component of their market share has been critical."

Given the fact that pulp wood and lumber often come from the same tree trunk, Gunn is concerned about the implications of the order: "If the government reduces demand for the FSC lumber side, that could reduce availability for the paper side," he said. "For example, if some landowners were to drop their FSC certificates because of that, it could reduce the amount of available FSC pulpwood, which endangers pulp mills. It is a narrow view of the implications for the forest products sector."

Does a life-cycle approach make a difference?

After we'd first reported on the military appropriations bill, it came to our attention through Chris Cheatham's Green Building Law Update that one of the people instrumental in getting LEED restrictions added to the bill was Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi--and that LEED's preferential treatment of FSC was apparently behind his reasoning.

"Standards should take into consideration the full life cycle of wood products, including the environmental benefits provided by our domestic reforestation programs," said Wicker in a statement. "After completing this study, the Department of Defense should use credible standards that more accurately assess U.S. wood products."

I'm still trying to puzzle out just what Wicker is trying to say here, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the new transparency credits that are being hashed out in the LEED 2012 draft. (Watch EBN for coverage of the third public comment draft soon!)

This photo from a group calling itself "Credible Forest Certification" has made the Internet rounds a lot. We're not sure how credible the photo really is--especially since SFI and FSC lands often overlap--but it does express the worst fears of those who oppose a "life-cycle" approach to comparing forestry standards. The sometimes devastating impacts of frequent clear-cutting on local habitats would not show up in a standard life-cycle assessment.

As we discussed in our recent feature article on product transparency, life-cycle assessment does not do a very good job of capturing the local impacts of harvesting raw materials, like wood and minerals, which is one of the reasons we favor a combination of life-cycle assessment and third-party certifications like FSC and SFI. We'll be keeping a sharp eye on any attempts by third-party certifiers to use life-cycle assessment as an excuse to settle for lower standards. (FSC fiercely opposes the transparency credits in the 2012 draft precisely because it fears life-cycle assessment could make SFI's standards for forestry practices look just as good as FSC's.)

What's your verdict?

I've probably made it pretty clear where I stand on the LEED-as-job-killer line. I don't think the arguments hold up under even the tiniest amount of scrutiny. I began my research in good faith and gave SFI a chance to make a credible argument that might justify its lobbying efforts.

I'm afraid SFI's president telling me "I don't need to go into depth" just doesn't cut the mustard.

But I could have missed vital evidence. Might LEED really be a job killer? Could FSC be an accessory to this chilling crime? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

2012-02-23 n/a 9798 Free Webcast: LEED Energy Reporting Made Easy


LEED Minimum Program Requirement #6, requiring energy and water use reporting, is the most controversial and the most difficult to comply with. Our free webcast explains it step by step.

Free Webcast: LEED Energy Reporting Made Easy: Fulfilling LEED-2009 MPR #6

Tues. Feb. 28, 2012 | 1 p.m. Eastern Time

When the Minimum Program Requirements (MPRs) were introduced in 2009, it quickly became clear that MPR #6 would be perhaps the most controversial and the most difficult to comply with. Under the requirements of MPR #6, certified LEED-2009 projects are committed to sharing whole-building energy and water usage data.

Many projects have had questions about how to comply (and if they really have to!), and USGBC has taken time to build out its support for this requirement. Now, the support is there, and LEEDuser is here to help answer your questions--and make MPR #6 easy with this free webcast--register now!

USGBC's MPR #6 expert answers your questions

LEEDuser is pleased to offer this presentation by Lauren Riggs, manager of LEED performance at USGBC. This live, half-hour webcast will cover the following topics:

  • The three options for BD&C projects to comply with MPR #6, including through use of Energy Star or LEED-EBOM
  • The two options for LEED-CI projects to comply
  • Tools under development to support performance tracking in LEED project certification
  • The role of the MPRs in achieving LEED certification--or not
  • Connections to EAc5: Measurement & Verification
  • The Building Performance Partnership (BPP) and its role in MPR #6 compliance

MPR #6 Frequently Asked Questions

The webcast will cover some of the common problems that project teams face in earning MPR #6, among them:

  • Can I get an exemption?
  • How will USGBC use our data?
  • Will my project be decertified if it performs poorly?
  • My project is outside the U.S. Can I use Portfolio Manager?
  • How often should I record energy and water data?
  • When do I have to start reporting data?

Lauren shares specific to-do's, case studies, and tips you can use to make this entire process easier for your project team.

Also, bring your MPR #6 questions to the webcast for a Q&A session with Lauren!

Continuing education

LEEDuser will offer 1 CE hour for AIA and LEED AP credential maintenance, to anyone attending the entire webcast. (Please stay to the end for instructions on logging those hours!)

About the presenters

Lauren Riggs – USGBC
Lauren Riggs, Manager of LEED Performance at USGBC is responsible for the management of the building performance programs central to LEED. These programs include Building Performance Partnership, Portfolio Partners Program and LEED Recertification.  Additionally, Lauren developed and maintains the LEED Online Minimum Program Requirement #6 documentation requirements. Her work emphasizes the imperative linkages between the existing buildings certification process and requirements and ongoing tracking of building performance.

Tristan Roberts – LEEDuser
The webinar will be moderated by Tristan Roberts, editor of, a website that provides how-to resources for LEED certification teams. Tristan is also Editorial Director for BuildingGreen, publishers of LEEDuser as well as Environmental Building News and GreenSpec.

2012-02-06 n/a 9768 Army to Congress: LEED Doesn't Cost More

The Army is still going for Gold and Platinum despite recent legislation calling a halt to LEED spending.

Fort Carson is piloting net-zero energy, water, and waste--and expects to meet that target by 2020.

The federal government has been one of the biggest supporters of LEED certification in the last few years, with the General Services Administration (GSA) requiring basic LEED certification for all federal buildings starting in 2003 and then upping that requirement to LEED Gold in 2010.

The military has been on the cutting edge of green building from the beginning. The Navy adopted sustainable design principles before LEED even existed, as we reported way back in 1998. The Army embraced LEED in 2006 and recently began the much more radical work of moving all its installations to net-zero energy, water, and waste. As Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and the environment, put it to EBN earlier this year, "Energy security is mission critical."

It doesn't cost more

We feared that might all change when we saw that the most recent military appropriations legislation requires explicit justification for any spending on LEED above the Silver level. What's worse, this decision pretends to be about money but appears to have been made over certified wood credits. (Watch this space for in-depth coverage of the "wood wars" in coming weeks.)

Hammack is having none of it. In a call with reporters yesterday, she reiterated the Army's commitment to net-zero and LEED and gave an update about some of the progress that's already been made. "We're finding it does not cost more to design and construct to LEED" standards, Hammack said.

On the warpath for LEED

Will the Army then be submitting cost-benefit analyses for each project, as the legislation seems to require? Hammack said no.

"The challenge right now is one of education," she explained. "If a building got a Gold-level certification and we were striving for Silver, that does not mean there was an incremental cost. We're working to help prepare a report for Congress so they understand the benefit of high-performance buildings."

Hammack clearly views these benefits as, at least in part, financial.

Can they do this?

The legislation in question does have a loophole for LEED Gold and Platinum projects as long as they don't cost more. As we reported at the time, "Exceptions may also be made without a special waiver if achieving Gold or Platinum 'imposes no additional cost'."

That loophole is big enough to blithely drive a tank through without bothering to show ID at the checkpoint. You apparently don't have to prove that it didn't cost more--or the Army is interpreting it that way, at any rate, while working closely with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on "educating" Congress.

Build to the standard but don't certify?

Another reporter asked if you could bypass the requirements by building to LEED standards but not bothering with certification. Hammack wasn't warm to that idea.

"We like the LEED program because it gives another set of eyes on the construction details and helps guide the direction of architects and engineers," Hammack replied. "The cost of LEED certification is very minimal in comparison to the benefits of LEED certification and the recognition that the building has achieved certain goals."

Zero energy wasted on dithering

"With a limited amount of water, a limited amount of resources, and an increasing world population," Hammack said, "we need to improve our stewardship over the resources we have."

Most of the call with Hammack was devoted to the progress on net-zero pilot projects. She and the rest of the Army clearly are not wasting time on questions of whether to LEED or not to LEED.


2012-02-02 n/a 9435 The 10 Biggest Green Building Stories of 2011

Windows, carpet chemicals, spray-foam, and LEED lawsuits: these are a few of your favorite things.

It's been a big year for green building. People are tightening up their buildings even as they tighten their belts. The retrofit market and multifamily housing have taken off in a big way in this new financial landscape.

The most-read Environmental Building News articles of 2011 reflect these new realities. Please check them out below and tell us in comments what you'd like us to cover in 2012! Don't forget that you can also get continuing education credits for reading many of these articles.

(NB: many of our most popular articles are available for BuildingGreen members only. You can check out affordable membership options here.)

Are our readership stats a window into your souls? Be sure to tell us in comments what you most want to read about in 2012.
  1. Better Choices in Low-Slope Roofing.There are big differences in environmental impacts of commercial roofing materials, but the biggest variable may be service life.


  2. Energy-Efficient Multifamily Housing. Now you can get LEED, Energy Star, and other labels for designing or retrofitting high-performance multifamily buildings.
  3. The Chemicals in Our Carpets and Textiles. The array of water-, dirt-, and mold-repellent chemicals added to carpeting and fabrics is dizzying. Which are causes for concern, and how can we minimize exposure?
  4. Measuring Energy Use in Buildings: Do Our Metrics Really Add Up? How much energy our buildings use matters a great deal, but figuring out how to measure that use and compare it from building to building is tricky. Here's a guide to key metrics and how to use them.
  5. EPA Takes Action on Spray-Foam Health Risks. EPA takes another look at spray foam after increasing consumer health complaints. The action plan leaves open questions about how far EPA will go to clamp down on these products, but it's safe to think of this as a shot across the bow from EPA for the SPF industry.
  6. New Plaintiffs Join Amended LEED Lawsuit. Instead of seeking to establish a broad class-action lawsuit representing building owners, taxpayers, and professionals harmed by LEED, the amended lawsuit focuses on the latter. The lawsuit was dismissed later in the year.
  7. Re-Framing Sustainability: Green Structural Engineering. Want to design the greenest building possible? Get a handle on the best structural options available to you, and invite a creative structural engineer to join your team.
  8. Solar Thermal Hot Water, Heating, and Cooling. By creating heat instead of electricity, solar thermal achieves three times the efficiency of photovoltaics at a lower price.
  9. Making Windows Work Better. How to choose curtains, solar screens, awnings, and storm windows? The options are dizzying, but the right choice can cut energy bills.
  10. Choosing Windows: Looking Through the Options. We ask a lot from windows: energy efficiency, aesthetics, durability, affordability, and more. Which window frame materials and low-e glazing options balance these choices best? This article explores all the options and decodes the performance labels we see when buying windows.

2011-12-29 n/a 9415 Guide to Meeting Prescriptive LEED CMP Requirements

Double the fun by reading your favorite EBN articles to help you meet your LEED CMP requirements!

Looking for ways to meet your "prescriptive" continuing education (CE) requirements with the LEED Credential Maintenance Program (CMP)? Here at we have long offered articles to help you earn your credits--articles that will truly help you learn cutting-edge green building information.

But meeting those LEED CMP requirements for GBCI can still be tricky, so we are providing this handy guide. As you're looking for hours to meet each of the various prescriptive requirements, here are suggested courses that you can use. Please read, learn, and earn!

By the way, not sure what these prescriptive requirements are all about and if they apply to you? Feel free to post questions below in the comments section, and also download the CMP guide from GBCI.

Project Site Factors

The Cost of LEED Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Problem with Net-Zero Buildings (and the Case for Net-Zero Neighborhoods) (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Reexamining Priorities in Green Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Sustainable Sites: Primers from Environmental Building News (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World (1.5 CEUs; 1 AIA HSW/SD)

LEED 2012 Second Public Comment Period Opens (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Water Management

The Cost of LEED Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Problem with Net-Zero Buildings (and the Case for Net-Zero Neighborhoods) (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Reexamining Priorities in Green Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Sustainable Sites: Primers from Environmental Building News (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World (1.5 CEUs; 1 AIA HSW/SD)

Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

LEED 2012 Second Public Comment Period Opens (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Project Systems & Energy Impacts/ ND: Neighborhood Systems & Impacts

LEDs: The Future Is Here (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Occupant Engagement–Where Design Meets Performance (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Better Choices in Low-Slope Roofing (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Insulation: The BuildingGreen Guide to Insulation Products and Practices (6 CEUs; AIA HSW/SD)

Solar Thermal Hot Water, Heating, and Cooling (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

LEED 2012 Second Public Comment Period Opens (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Ten Strategies for Growth in a Recession (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Energy-Efficient Multifamily Housing (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Making Windows Work Better (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Measuring Energy Use in Buildings: Do Our Metrics Really Add Up? (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Re-Framing Sustainability: Green Structural Engineering (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Choosing Windows: Looking Through the Options (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Cost of LEED Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Video: Eight Steps to Success with LEED-EBOM  (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Problem with Net-Zero Buildings (and the Case for Net-Zero Neighborhoods) (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Reexamining Priorities in Green Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Retrocommissioning: Big Savings for Big Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Making Your Own Electricity: Onsite Photovoltaic Systems (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Building Envelope: Primers from Environmental Building News (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Rethinking the All-Glass Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Counting Carbon: Understanding Carbon Footprints of Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World (1.5 CEUs; 1 AIA HSW/SD)

Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Acquisition, Installation, and Management of Project Materials

LEDs: The Future Is Here (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Better Choices in Low-Slope Roofing (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Insulation: The BuildingGreen Guide to Insulation Products and Practices (6 CEUs; AIA HSW/SD)

Solar Thermal Hot Water, Heating, and Cooling (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

LEED 2012 Second Public Comment Period Opens (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Making Windows Work Better (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Chemicals on Our Carpets and Textiles (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Choosing Windows: Looking Through the Options (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

EBN Editors Help Untangle Green Certifications (6 CEUs; AIA HSW/SD)

The Cost of LEED Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

What's New in Multi-Attribute Environmental Certifications (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Reexamining Priorities in Green Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Making Your Own Electricity: Onsite Photovoltaic Systems (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Building Envelope: Primers from Environmental Building News (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Sustainable Sites: Primers from Environmental Building News (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Rethinking the All-Glass Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World (1.5 CEUs; 1 AIA HSW/SD)

Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Improvements to the Indoor Environment

LEDs: The Future Is Here (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Insulation: The BuildingGreen Guide to Insulation Products and Practices (6 CEUs; AIA HSW/SD)

LEED 2012 Second Public Comment Period Opens (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Energy-Efficient Multifamily Housing (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Making Windows Work Better (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Chemicals on Our Carpets and Textiles (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Cost of LEED Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Reexamining Priorities in Green Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Building Envelope: Primers from Environmental Building News (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Stakeholder Involvement in Innovation/ND: Stakeholder Involvement & Public Outreach

Occupant Engagement–Where Design Meets Performance (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

LEED 2012 Second Public Comment Period Opens (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Ten Strategies for Growth in a Recession (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Energy-Efficient Multifamily Housing (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Re-Framing Sustainability: Green Structural Engineering (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Cost of LEED Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Video:Eight Steps to Success with LEED-EBOM  (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Problem with Net-Zero Buildings (and the Case for Net-Zero Neighborhoods) (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Reexamining Priorities in Green Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Video: Insights to Success on LEED-CI Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Retrocommissioning: Big Savings for Big Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Making Your Own Electricity: Onsite Photovoltaic Systems (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Integrated Design Meets the Real World (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Counting Carbon: Understanding Carbon Footprints of Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World (1.5 CEUs; 1 AIA HSW/SD)

Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Project Surroundings & Public Outreach/ ND: Land Use and Urban Design

Occupant Engagement–Where Design Meets Performance (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

LEED 2012 Second Public Comment Period Opens (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Ten Strategies for Growth in a Recession (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Energy-Efficient Multifamily Housing (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Cost of LEED Certification (1 LEED-Specific CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

The Problem with Net-Zero Buildings (and the Case for Net-Zero Neighborhoods) (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Reexamining Priorities in Green Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Sustainable Sites: Primers from Environmental Building News (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Rethinking the All-Glass Building (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World (1.5 CEUs; 1 AIA HSW/SD)

Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings (1 CEU; AIA HSW/SD)

2011-12-22 n/a 8998 The Future of LEED: Conflict Comes Before Happy Endings

It's easy to get bogged down in the details of one credit or another, but Greenbuild offered a refreshing look at the bigger picture.

Scot Horst opened the LEED master session series with a dramatic production of the first scene of The Tempest. Here, Prospero and Miranda watch the storm and subsequent shipwreck. The play provided the narrative arc for the whole series. Notably, Prospero chose to use his power to heal past relationships instead of exacting revenge. What will we do?

You might not expect a lot of drama from an early Friday morning conference session about the still-forming guts of LEED 2012. But between a passionate discussion about certified wood and the finale to a week-long riff on The Tempest, this session had more than its share.

Tristan Roberts has already offered a really good rundown of what's new in the draft of LEED 2012, including an update on the second draft, so I won't repeat that here. But the discussion during this session really helped illuminate the reasoning behind the revisions, especially the most controversial ones. Those include expanding the commissioning requirement for the building envelope, designating biobased materials as environmentally preferable, and developing a reasonable "red list" for the proposed chemical avoidance credit.

Emotions perhaps run highest regarding the proposed new credit for providing environmental product declarations (more on this below).

For those keeping track at home, the second public comment period for LEED 2012 has now ended (audience feedback from this Greenbuild session will be included), and USGBC plans to open a third comment period in January or February. The first comment period elicited about 6,000 comments, the second one about 8,000.

'Net-zero environmental impact'

The most impressive thing about this session was getting insight into the long-term goals of LEED. Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED development at USGBC, stated the primary goal explicitly: net-zero environmental impact that can be documented.

There was notably no target year proposed for achieving this ambitious goal, but it's good to know that the changes we're seeing are not just reactive, random, or (as some have feared) responsive to industry demands. They are strategically chosen steps in a clear direction--or that's the intention, at least.

Knowing where LEED is headed in the long run does help explain some of the more inflammatory revisions in draft two, particularly around manufacturer-declared life-cycle assessment and non-certified wood products.

What if we had an FSC for steel?

Net-zero environmental impact might seem like pie in the sky, but listening to Brendan, I really got the sense that they had a plan for baking and eating the thing. Starting with materials transparency is a pretty major part of that plan--because you can't assess and document and decrease the impact of your materials if you don't know where they come from or where they're going to end up when you're done with them.

Discussions of the second public draft seem to have gotten bogged down in certified wood, a very emotional topic for years now, but at the session people were asked to take a step back and imagine a world in which we know as much about extraction of resources for steel, copper, glass, and other materials as we do about wood. That's what USGBC is attempting to move the needle on with credits that reward life-cycle assessment and environmental product declarations.

Transparency is not an end in itself

These transparency credits are controversial because they are awarded regardless of the material's environmental performance. (Materials receiving credit for being environmentally preferable are a little different, as they must also achieve credit for low indoor emissions.)

The overarching goal with materials transparency is actually to build a database of materials' environmental impacts; everyone at USGBC sees it as a transitional phase that will eventually result in stricter requirements. You can't set these stricter requirements if manufacturers don't measure or report the environmental impact of their products in the first place.

Fear and anger

Still, I can understand why people are reacting with fear, confusion, and anger to the new materials credits. While it's easy from the process side to see the 2012 draft as tacking one direction in order to head in a different direction, folks on the design and construction side will be living and breathing the 2012 version of LEED for at least a couple of years, and they don't want the perceived high standards to falter even temporarily.

LEED has significant power in its slice of the building sector, and if the credits incentivize the wrong thing, the market won't respond as desired. Two or three years of that could be at best really confusing for practitioners and their clients, and at worst counterproductive and deeply damaging. In the long run, I don't think anyone thinks it's a good idea to reward product transparency in itself.

On the other hand, maybe all this drama over a relatively small sliver of the LEED rating systems is much ado about nothing. A couple credits in a five-fathom sea of possibilities? How much is really at stake?

The great globe itself

Perhaps this is why Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at USGBC, overlaid the LEED master sessions series with the narrative arc of The Tempest, even going so far as to end the LEED 2012 session with one of Prospero's many famous soliloquies from that play:

The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Wow. I think Scot might be trying to put things in perspective here....

What do you think of the changes to LEED 2012? Do you expect a comic or tragic ending? Do these bigger-picture explanations help you understand them better or accept them more readily?

If you don't like the direction that the current draft is tacking, how would you do things differently? Is there a better way to incentivize materials transparency and get us closer to the happy ending with less conflict in the meantime?

2011-10-11 n/a 9007 Green Building Laws: Are We LEEDing Legislators Down the Garden Path?

Green building is about more than saving money, but policymakers are embracing the business case for LEED and other rating systems--with sometimes confusing results.

A school bike rack is standard, but it doesn't help anyone if the bike rack stays empty. Schools, like all buildings, need to find ways to bridge the gap between design features and the people who end up using them. (Photo: Century Cycles)

What is it about the bike racks?

They seem to come up every time someone has a bone to pick with LEED. So it was in a recent op-ed about public buildings designed to state-mandated LEED Silver standards--the subject of a preliminary report (PDF) on energy savings in public buildings in the state of Washington. I've been keeping an eye on the responses to this report, because I think we'll be seeing green building rating systems used more and more frequently as political footballs as budget-starved states start to rethink requirements established during better economic times.

In the op-ed, the regional director of a conservative think tank lashes out against what he perceives to be green frills:

Only 18 percent of the extra cost to make Lincoln Heights a green school ... was spent on energy efficiency elements. The other 82 percent was spent on mandates like electric car outlets and large bike racks, which did not yield energy savings. Those additions, while costly, were included not because of any real need, but solely to help meet the state's requirements.

This critique has some pretty serious flaws. LEED rating systems do not require bike racks or electric car outlets, so neither is a "mandate." LEED has very few absolute requirements, in fact--the main reason it doesn't work very well as legislation unless the law gives specific guidance on which credits must be achieved.

Furthermore, the credit for bicycle storage and changing rooms (SSc4.2 in LEED for New Construction), is a pretty popular credit to pursue--in part because it costs almost nothing in a building whose program already includes changing rooms and showers. The report doesn't give us fine-grained data, but the idea that even a "large" bike rack could account for a significant portion of a multi-million-dollar construction budget is simply laughable. And don't we normally put bike racks at schools anyway? That's standard equipment, not an extra cost.

LEED is not a building code

With all that said, though, I think this commentator has hit upon a very important point: if I understand it correctly, the State has required that all public buildings be designed to certain standards (LEED and some similar statewide systems), based on the assumption that energy savings will pay for any added construction costs. But it failed to require any actual energy savings.

"The whole standard ends when the design is over," points out Mark Frankel, technical director of the New Buildings Institute. LEED and Washington's own similar programs offer "the potential for better operation"--but how the building is operated and occupied is beyond the designers' control. "There is this wide misconception that you can design to LEED standards and everything will be OK," Frankel continued. "LEED is not a code. It leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding for jurisdictions to use it as a code."

The report estimates that these buildings cost 1%–3% more, and legislators want to know when they'll get their money back: that's why they commissioned the report. LEED, though, is not just about saving energy, water, or money. Depending on the choices the client makes, it can also be about protecting people from carcinogens, supporting the local economy, providing habitat for wildlife, and many other public goods. Like bike racks.

Measuring ROI means tracking energy

While we can certainly look at such choices and see how they improve quality of life and might even save a community or a state money in the long run, we don't get a monthly gas bill letting us know that Little Johnny won't get lung cancer when he's 62 or that our bioswales will help prevent a disastrous flood in 2045.

No, it's probably not fair to mandate a whole-building design standard and then measure its cost-effectiveness by looking at nothing but utility bills. But the green building community has put a lot of effort into making the business case for sustainable building practices. Can we back up our claims with actual performance outcomes or not? Now that policymakers are paying attention and want to calculate their ROI, we have to stick with results we can measure in the short term.

And then we have to measure them. Apparently, building owners in Washington aren't any better at this than anyone else in the country, despite the legal requirement that they do so. While the report pushed some people's political buttons by showing mixed energy results from buildings that actually had data--along with a more promising trend showing better results after the first year of operation--its main finding was uncomplicated and apolitical: there's not enough information. Most people either didn't have a way to collect it, didn't know how to use the equipment designed to collect it, or didn't dedicate staff time to collecting it.

Better performance requires better operation

"Our recommendations were focused on improving data collection," said Keenan Konopaski, legislative auditor for Washington's nonpartisan Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), which conducted the study. Such a recommendation is a tricky business in the current legislative environment, since state agencies "need to improve how they are collecting data" (which means dedicating labor hours to the task) while "they are also reducing budgets."

That's a bit of a Catch-22, though, since energy managers usually end up paying their own salaries. As the report shows, the building managers who could boast the most impressive energy savings were practicing resource conservation management in all their buildings--not just the new ones--and achieving Energy Star across the board, even in historic buildings.

While designers cannot have direct involvement in resource conservation management, the green building community as a whole could certainly do a better job of acknowledging that good energy performance comes from good building management--not just high-performance gadgets.

The latest trend: mandated energy disclosure

Frankel thinks we may need to face the music sooner rather than later. "Things are changing really fast now with disclosure ordinances," he said. "People are not going to be able to run away from that data anymore."

What do you think? Have green building advocates oversold the economic advantages of sustainable design? And can people working on the design side do anything to ensure that building operators and occupants do their part to save energy? Should energy and water tracking just be a standard part of every green rating system? We welcome your comments below.

2011-09-26 n/a 9017 First Class of LEED Fellows Named by GBCI


We grumbled when GBCI overhauled the LEED AP program, introducing specialities, fees, and difficult-to-navigate credential maintenance. Is this the silver lining?

Today and at Greenbuild Toronto we stand and applaud the first class of LEED AP Fellows--the top tier of the LEED Accredited Professionals. Today, GBCI announced the 2011 class, the first of many deserving sustainability professionals to receive this honor. Yes, we may continue to grumble about the hoops you have to go through to get this honor, but apparently those hoops were worth it for at least 34 individuals, and from our long experience with many of them, we know they deserve it.

In the words of GBCI, The LEED Fellow designation recognizes exceptional contributions to green building and significant professional achievement within the rapidly growing community of LEED Professionals. Thirty-four of the world's most distinguished green building professionals were selected to be LEED Fellows through a peer nomination and portfolio review process. Among other requirements, LEED Fellows must have at least 10 years of green building experience and hold a LEED AP with specialty credential."

The 2011 class:

Alan Scott, Green Building Services
Alicia Ravetto, Alicia Ravetto Architect
Anthony Bernheim, AECOM
Chris Schaffner, The Green Engineer, LLP
Christopher J. Webb, Chris Webb & Associates, Inc.
Dagmar B. Epsten, The Epsten Group, Inc.
Dan Nall, WSP Flack + Kurtz
Dan Young Dixon, Opus AE Group, Inc.
Gail Vittori, Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems
Helen J. Kessler, HJKessler Associates
Jerry Yudelson,Yudelson Associates
Jim Ogden, 3QC Inc.
Jim Weiner, Collaborative Project Consulting
John Boecker, 7group
Kath Williams, Kath Williams + Associates
Kathleen Smith, Davis Langdon, An AECOM Company
Ken Wilson, Envision
Kim Shinn, TLC Engineering for Architecture
Kris Callori, Environmental Dynamics, Inc.
Lidia Berger, HDR Architecture, Inc.
Lois Vitt Sale, Wight & Co.
Malcolm Lewis, CTG Energetics, Inc.
Marcus B. Sheffer, 7group
Mario Seneviratne, Green Technologies
Michaella Wittmann, HDR Architecture, Inc.
Michelle Halle Stern, Perkins+Will
Nellie Reid, Gensler
Paul Marmion, Stantec
Prasad Vaidya, The Weidt Group
Rick Carter, LHB Engineers & Architects
Rob Bolin, Syska Hennessy Group
Sandra Leibowitz, Sustainable Design Consulting, LLC
Stephen Carpenter, Enermodal Engineering
Tom Liebel, Marks, Thomas Architects

The LEED Fellows will be recognized in Toronto at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo from October 4-7, 2011. The nomination period for the 2012 LEED Fellow class will open January 4, 2012. For more information on the LEED Fellow program, please visit

2011-09-06 n/a 9090 Look Before You LEED! Online Tool Offers Preliminary LEED for Homes Scores

A new LEED for Homes tool can help designers get the jump on certification--and is great for homeowners too.

A new online scoring tool should make the complex LEED for Homes rating system more accessible for both builders and homeowners. The Web-based application allows users to explore and compare a variety of green building options starting very early in the design process. Designed by BuildingGreen (publisher of for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the tool is intended to make the certification process easier for all team members regardless of their prior experience with LEED for Homes or other LEED rating systems.

"Quick" scores for the new tool break results down by categories and allow the user to view a list of required actions to meet the predicted certification level. Click on the screen shot to enlarge.

After signing up and starting a project, users can choose one of two options: a "quick score" or a credit-by-credit analysis. The quick-score tool asks approximately 20 non-technical questions, alerting the user along the way if a design choice might disqualify a project from LEED for Homes certification, and produces a rough estimate of the project's likely certification level along with a jargon-free list of actions the user would have to take to earn the predicted LEED certification. The quick score might give less experienced users a sense of green design options, and could also help a design team decide on a realistic certification target very early in the process. The more concrete credit-by-credit score allows users to choose which credits they expect to receive for the project, resulting in a more detailed prediction of certification level. This feature, according to USGBC, can help designers manage multiple projects or try out different scenarios regarding the same project. "The credit-by-credit path encompasses the entire LEED for Homes program, showing you that you may be closer to achieving LEED certification than you think," said Nate Kredich, USGBC's vice president of market development. The tool is available at The tool does not accept LEED documentation or provide a final score for certification. While LEED Online fills those functions for nonresidential LEED rating systems, LEED for Homes is documented through a provider network that includes field inspections.

2011-03-08 n/a 9100 LEED 2012 Points—or, How we'll eventually get points
This screen capture from the webinar shows how each piece of the matrix is filled in in the Assessment Tool. Here, you can see the three associators (relative efficacy, benefit duration, and benefit control) and their respective options.

The USGBC recently hosted an “Introduction to LEED Rating System Weightings Process” webcast detailing how point allocations for credits in the next version of LEED, a.k.a. LEED 2012, will be determined. As with LEED 2009, the system will still be based out of 100 points (plus 10 “bonus” points), with no credits earning less than one point. The webcast was led by Brendan Owens, Vice President, LEED Technical Development, and was also presented by Corey Enck, Director, LEED Technical Development, and Chrissy Macken, Associate, LEED Technical Development.

As many people noticed, the recently closed first public comment round on LEED 2012 did not include any point allocations. According to the LEED development team this omission was intentional and helped focus the first comment round exclusively on technical content; the second public comment round will include proposed point allocations. The LEED development team is deriving those allocations from its new LEED Weighting Database.

The database is a rather complex tool. Part of the Database is the Associations Tool, which is a matrix system based on seven new Impact Categories (Climate, Health, Water, Biodiversity, Resources, Transformative Processes/Green Economy, and Community). This differs from LEED 2009, which used EPA TRACI Impact Categoriesto determine point allocations. As the presenters said, the TRACI categories are characterizations of negative impacts that happen when building and operating a building, such as climate change and habitat impacts.


The new weighting system has more positive, “mission-aligned,” priorities. According to Owens, weightings for LEED 2012 will be based on “the relative importance (across the 2012 impact categories) of the outcomes realized when a credit is achieved”—asking, “what do we want these projects to accomplish, or be good at?” instead of “what should we avoid?”

So, how will weightings differ from LEED 2009?

The short answer: the team isn’t entirely sure yet. Why? There are plenty of complexities in the weightings database still being worked through. Let’s go over some additional terminology they’re working with.

Associations: the linking of sub-credits to components through the Associations Tool.

Compliance Path: this refers to any option, case, path, or tier within a LEED credit.

Impact Categories: determined by USGBC to reflect the outcomes LEED buildings should address (listed above).

Components: each impact category contains between 3–5 components, reflecting more specific outcomes within each category.

How are associations determined?
Basically, the Associations Tool produces a value for each association. The value is assigned based on three associators:

Relative Efficacy: If the compliance path being evaluated is related to a specific component then it’s relative efficacy on that component is rated as stronger, weaker, or counterproductive.

Benefit Duration: Assesses how long the benefits of an achieved compliance path strategy will last—in years: 1–3, 4–10, 11–30, or 30+.

Benefit Control: Who controls the outcome of this benefit?—Occupants, operation and maintenance staff (or construction crew), owner (or developer), or “passive” meaning multiple.

For example the installation of a bike rack: though this credit has high efficacy the owner has limited control over how it gets used. In other credits simply achieving the credit is its whole function, and so controllability is not an issue.

In the words of the team, “the link between a LEED credit compliance and an impact category [is] an association. [It] is a link [between] a particular credit strategy [and] a particular outcome.” For example when you reduce the energy use of a building you also “reduce the building’s carbon footprint (most of the time), and that is an association.”

The team assigns the associations based on the outcome realized when a LEED project earns a credit relative to an impact category. There are 40,000 associations in LEED-NC alone! The Associations Tool has been made available to people outside of the USGBC and includes matrixes (or models) for CALGreen 2010 Draft, ASHRAE 189.1P, and LEED 2009 ND, EBOM, and NC among others.

Once completed, these associations will be the basis for point values. Some of the determinations are “value laden and somewhat subjective,” but the team has “tried to make them as quantitative and objective as possible.” The USGBC is taking care to be as transparent as possible; there are plans to make the completed matrix available to the public, possibly during a comment period, however this does not mean there will be opportunity for the public to dissect the decisions that have been made for each association—the USGBC simply doesn’t have the capacity to address concerns at that level.

“How can we come back to Earth?”

One of the best questions asked  during the Q&A portion of the presentation was “how can we come back to Earth?” The Database is complex, intensive, and detailed.  According to the presenters, “at the end of the day what a LEED user gets is a scorecard, the one they have been used to. The points may not be exactly the same as before, but the output of this tool is a scorecard.” For those who want to look beyond the scorecard the Weighting Database is available to support the Team’s decisions.

Additional notes
The webcast was laden with fascinating content. Here are some additional tidbits.

  • There is a “soft” cap of 50 for the number of credits allowed in a LEED rating system; this number allows the flexibility to allocate points to emphasize more important credits.
  • The new weightings will not be tied to geographical location, though this ability has been built into the tool. It may be something we see in a future version of LEED, beyond 2012.
  • In LEED 2009 many of the Materials & Resources credits dropped in relative point value. This is being reassessed for 2012; manufacturing companies’ ability to encourage market transformation is apparently part of the calculus.
  • When asked if cost-effectiveness could become part of a LEED credit, the presenters stated that “performance [is] the sole arbiter of achievement” and they pointed to outside market controls as being sufficient to avoid a situation where someone might cover their building in solar panels to achieve net zero energy, while not changing anything about their practices—this would not be cost-effective and thus does not need to be considered in LEED.
  • The total number of points available in Innovation is not likely to change, but, according to the presenters, “there may be a change to the one point for one strategy” policy.
  • The weighting system will not take into consideration the time or effort it takes to achieve credits; points will be based on the outcome in terms of environmental value and building performance.
  • This version, unlike LEED 2009, will not ask project teams to pilot test the whole system, but rather just individual credits.
  • The next version of LEED still has a planned launch date of November 2012.


More on Impact category descriptions

As mentioned above, the following impact categories were created by USGBC to better reflect its mission of positive impact on the built environment. The team is in the process of deciding the best way to weight the impact categories.

Climate includes energy use, energy supply, and other non-energy issues; efficacy, duration, and control across these three specific aspects of climate change were considered.

Health is focused on enhancing the overall well-being, productivity, and vitality of occupants; ensuring buildings provide healthy indoor air quality.

Water includes reducing consumption and pollution, considers regime/natural hydrology, and encourages the protection and restoration of water resources.

Biodiversity, habitat, and open space should be protected, restored, and enhanced—locally, regionally, and globally. The category also includes reducing air and water pollution.
Resources should be conserved, renewed, used efficiently and extracted sustainably. Recycling and materials reuse is categorized here as well.

Transformative Processes/Green Economy—build a greener economy—focuses on creating demand, supply, innovation, and integration.

Community addresses social equity, environmental justice, and quality of life through affordable, accessible, and resilient neighborhoods. LEED projects should promote human rights and wellbeing and create a sense of place through cultural, recreational, and social opportunities.

Looking at LEED 2012

The second public comment period for LEED 2012 is expected sometime in July or August 2011, with a ballot projected for August 2012. While you’re waiting for that, you'll want to see the first drafts of this system and what people had to say about it.

2011-02-07 n/a 9119 What's behind the proposed changes to the LEED AP credit for LEED 2012?

Among the key changes coming down the road for LEED, as I recently wrote about (Your Guide to the New Draft of LEED), is a change to the LEED AP credit, formerly IDc2, now dubbed IPc2 (that's "Integrated Process" credit 2).

Up until now, projects have been able to earn a point for having one LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) on the project team. If the current proposal were to take effect, that would no longer be enough. First, a LEED AP with a relevant specialty (such as LEED AP BD+C, or LEED AP Homes) must be on the team. In addition, two other team members must also be LEED APs (any specialty--gotta have one, though), or LEED Green Associates (LEED GA).

There has been a lot of rumbling about this change from the ranks of the 100,000+ "legacy" LEED APs who worry that their credential loses value under this proposal.

I spoke with USGBC's Corey Enck to understand the proposal a bit better. Here are some things we discussed.

  • Unlike changes to other major sections of LEED, like Materials and Resources, which comes under the Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group (MR-TAG), there is currently no volunteer committee responsible for the ID section of LEED. This proposal came through several other committees, including the LEED Steering Committee, the LEED Market Advisory Committee, and the LEED Technical Committee.
  • "It's the logical next evolution of the LEED AP credit," says Corey. "It is our most achieved credit." Corey told me it has a 100% achievement rate for LEED-NC, and over 99% ("Ninety-nine-point-something percent") for all LEED rating systems. "This draft is really just raising the bar for this credit."
  • The intention behind the credit language is to require three individuals. (I had thought the language was ambiguous and could be met with two individuals.)
  • "I think what the committees focused on was adding the specialty to the requirement, which essentially requires the LEED AP to stay up-to-date with continuous maintenance," Corey said.
  • Does the proposal devalue the legacy LEED AP credential? Corey's response: "If they choose not to opt in, that LEED AP is still and will always be valid for all existing rating systems that are out right now," including LEED-NC v2.2 and LEED 2009. The lion's share of projects will be in those systems, even for some years after the next draft of LEED is introduced. (I do think USGBC could have done more during the mass LEED AP signup of 2008–9 to predict the change for 2012.)
  • "Project teams should be aware that it is still a credit," said Corey. "In making these changes we're not requiring any project teams to go out and become a LEED AP with specialty or opt in."
  • Corey also noted: "This is definitely a first draft of the rating system and we really want feedback from all of our stakeholders. This rating system is projected to be out in two years--that's a lot of time for people to adapt to the new requirements and for people to give us feedback."

Given that the public comment period is open till Dec. 31st, what will you tell USGBC about this proposal? There have been some interesting, detailed proposals over on this LEEDuser forum, so I encourage you to review those ideas and add your two cents. I have one request: if you're opposed to the change on the grounds that it disses legacy LEED APs, what do you say to the argument that this credit needs to be made harder, since LEED is a leadership standard and literally every single LEED project earns the credit?

A modest proposal

Don't hold me to this, but here's my thought: ditch the credit entirely and move on. LEED is getting more complicated--let's actually get rid of a credit that's outdated. The true value of the LEED AP credential has always been the familiarity with LEED and its requirements, and its promotion of integrated design, that a LEED AP  brings to the project. Any LEED AP worth their salt should be able to make the case that they bring plenty of value to a project team--it's redundant to reward this with a credit. It's all the more redundant now that an Integrated Process credit is on the table in the same draft of LEED.

Corey's response to my idea? "We'd be open to a serious modification or deletion of the credit if that's the way people want to go."

Please register your opinion in the comments below, or in this LEEDuser forum!

2010-12-07 n/a 9129 10 Questions with 2010 Hanley Award winner Alex Wilson

Alex Wilson, the founder of our company and our current executive editor (i.e., my boss), is being named the 2010 Hanley Award winner in a special event here at Greenbuild 2010 tomorrow. In recognition of this achievement, and to better understand how this innovative, always-curious visionary looks at the world, I recently asked him 10 questions. Here's the conversation.

Congratulations on being the 2010 winner of the Hanley Award. How would you sum up your feelings on this honor?

Thanks Tristan. It's a tremendous honor--and an honor for all of us at BuildingGreen. EBN, GreenSpec, LEEDuser and our other products are all group efforts from the whole company. I'm truly humbled to receive this award.

What are your thoughts on following Ed Mazria, FAIA in winning the Hanley Award?

That makes it even better. I have tremendous respect for Ed and what he's done to engage the design community as well as governments in the goal of reducing our carbon footprint. I knew Ed, though not well, when I lived in Santa Fe in the late '70s, and I have a well-worn copy of his Passive Solar Energy Book in my home library. He is a pioneer in the true sense of the word, and I'm deeply honored to be following Ed in receiving the Hanley Award.

You've built your reputation in part on taking stands on issues like dangers of treated wood, brominated flame retardants, and the global warming impact of some insulation products, while drawing attention to cool new ideas like passive survivability. What's a stand that you've taken that you wish had caught on more?
A couple come to mind. I was really hoping that the concept of "transportation energy intensity" would catch on as a metric of building performance. My analysis, which we published in EBN in 2007, showed that, on average, in an office building in this country we expend 30% more energy getting people to and from the building than the building itself uses--assuming national-average commuting distances, mode of transportation for commuting, square footage per person, etc. For an office building built to the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 energy code, transportation energy use is 2.3 times greater than the building energy use! Yet, we rarely think about this in the green building movement. For me that article was a real wake-up call; I think it was the most important article we've ever run in EBN... so far!

I 'm also disappointed that "passive survivability" hasn't caught on more. In retrospect, it may have been a mistake to chose such a negative term. "Resilient design" might be better from the standpoint of a term that would gain traction. The issue, no matter what the term, is really important, and I think it will eventually come back into the conversation much more actively. For that to happen, though, I'm afraid, that it will take a tragedy of some sort (such as a major heat wave coinciding with a prolonged drought that causes widespread, extended power outages in southern cities during the summer). I'm sure I'll be returning to this topic in the future. The design criterion of passive survivability makes a lot of sense.

EBN is well-known for not running advertising on its pages. What was the moment when you made that decision?

Nadav [Nadav Malin, current president of BuildingGreen] and I decided not to carry advertising before we launched EBN. For me there were two reasons: first, we wanted to be free to say what we wanted to say about products and emerging technologies without having to worry about push-back from advertisers; and second, I knew that I didn't want to spend my time selling ads. I had seen other people start publications and end up not being able to spend time on the content. I didn't want to go that route.

This is such a hackneyed question, but, what the heck: If you could have a conversation with anyone, alive or dead, that you're not currently in touch with, who would it be?

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) would be right near the top of the list; I'd like to sit on a porch with him and listen to his satire in person. It would be great to go for a long hike with John Muir and learn about his motivations in launching the environmental movement. And I'd like to stand in the corner of a dimly lit pub in 1775 and listen to Thomas Jefferson debate with his cohorts how to create a nation from scratch.

What are you reading right now?

I'm reading Ecotopia, a classic novel from 1975 that describes a utopian nation created when Washington, Oregon, and Northern California split off from the U.S. I'm reading it because I'm thinking a lot about how you can inspire change in a society. In the same vein, I just finished reading a new novel, Solar, by Ian McEwan (Doubleday, 2010). A copy was sent to me by the publisher (perhaps because one of the subplots is about how dumb building-integrated wind energy is?). It's mostly about this has-been, womanizing scientist who is still coasting from a long-ago Nobel prize in physics, but he happens into a synthetic photosynthesis technology that may be the holy grail that everyone has been looking for to save the world. I should note that it's rare for me to read novels in such a short timespan; I'm usually reading a few nonfiction books about water resources, climate change, and the like--you know, the doom-and-gloom stuff.

You often say that green products don't make a green building, but you also have an incredible curiosity and excitement about about cool green products. Why?

It's really fun to see what new products are coming along--and figure out how they can be part of the solution in creating a low-energy, low-carbon future that shifts us towards sustainability. I've had a lot of fun this year writing the "cool product of the week" blog. I wish I could spend even more time researching new products. I've also enjoyed helping choose and then presenting BuildingGreen's "Top-10 Green Products" each year--this will be our ninth year; I'll be announcing this year's picks at the Greenbuild conference.

With Katrina, with the BP oil spill, I've heard lots of prognosticators say, "Maybe this is the disaster that will really wake us up to our environmental problems," but so far none of them seem to be right. Do you think we'll ever turn things around? What will it take?

For 40 years I've been called an alarmist or Chicken Little, warning that the sky is falling. I keep thinking that new evidence will wake up the general public to the problems we're facing, but I keep being proven wrong. This is frustrating.

Even the BP oil spill, which galvanized interest in environmental protection for a while, will likely be quickly forgotten or--even worse--be presented as evidence of how quickly nature can rebound, with the conclusion that we don't need to worry so much about safeguards. I'm afraid that the only things that will really galvanize attention on what we need to do are things that affect the general public directly: dramatically higher energy prices, actual shortages of fuel or prolonged power outages, or dramatic heat waves and changing weather patterns. I read in The New York Times that with the heat waves and fires in Russia this summer, everybody is talking about global warming. To date, Russia hasn't engaged much in the discussions about reducing greenhouse gas emissions; perhaps now they will. If Washington, D.C. bakes at 110°F for a few weeks perhaps our politicians will take notice.

The Hanley Award recognizes a long and distinguished career--with a lot yet to come, we hope. What's your advice to students or those earlier in their careers in design and construction on how to help meet our environmental challenges?

What I almost always recommend to students--in any field--is to include in your studies some science. (I've been only marginally successful in this with my own two daughters!) Whether going into architecture, construction management, journalism, or foreign policy, learning how to investigate a problem scientifically and objectively evaluate courses of action will usually result in better solutions. I believe that if more politicians had a background in science they would be creating better legislation and policies. Relative to building design, some training in science will come in handy in understanding everything from the offgassing of VOCs in adhesives to the moisture dynamics in walls--and help you design better, healthier, more durable buildings.

You've been with the green building movement since the 1970s. Today we have global warming deniers, "green fatigue," and a green movement that's big enough to have factions divided over issues from nuclear power to the LEED rating system. What do you see as the green movement's biggest challenge (and hopefully, opportunity) in the twenty-teens?

I wish I had a good answer to this question. It's key to our future. Last night I watched a screening of the film "Carbon Nation." It's a great documentary and speaks very effectively to those who already get it--but it needs to be repackaged to reach the audiences that it really needs to reach. It turns out that I know the producer, and I plan to contact him and discuss some ideas for doing that. For Fox News fans and the Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh crowd, I think it's going to be pretty hard to change minds without something dramatic happening. But if we go through a year in the United States like Russia is going through this year (where temperatures are as much as 20°F higher than normal), perhaps that would begin to convince even them.

And if that crowd comes around to the reality of climate change and the importance of doing something about it, can you imagine the influence they would have? If Beck and Limbaugh were to issue a joint statement urging action on greenhouse gas emissions, I think even the dozen or so newly elected global-warming-deniers in the Senate would have to pay attention. Unlikely, yes, but stranger things have happened.

Illustration by Stacey Curtis, BuildingGreen (Awesome)

2010-11-16 n/a 9134 Your Guide to the New Draft of LEED

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has released a draft of the next version of the LEED rating systems, and has opened the first public comment period for that draft. The comment period will run from Nov. 8, 2010, to Jan. 14, 2011 (lengthened from the original period which was set to end Dec. 31). According to USGBC's website, a second public comment period is expected in mid-2011, and the rating system itself is expected to be released in November 2012. Although it had been dubbed "LEED 2012" informally during development, after the current "LEED 2009" system, the new version of the rating system is officially unnamed.

USGBC gave me a sneak peak of the draft just before the public comment period opened. I've posted my analysis of what's (mostly) the same, what's different, and what's totally new in an EBN article. I focused my analysis on the LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC) rating system, but readers should see the rating system draft for all the rating systems, including details on LEED-NC that I didn't have space (or time) to discuss.

If you have comments on the draft that you would like to share with USGBC, you are welcome to comment below, or join the moderated forum on our sister website, LEEDuser. Relevant comments from that forum will be submitted to USGBC.

While LEED 2009 has 49 credits and 9 prerequisites, the new LEED draft has 49 credits and 15 prerequisites. They are organized into 10 credit categories--up from 7 for LEED 2009. Structurally, the biggest changes are:

  • The rating system begins with a new "Integrated Process" category
  • A new Location and Transportation category collects location-related credits from LEED-NC with others from LEED for Neighborhood Developments
  • At the end of the rating system, a new "Performance" category includes the commissioning credits (moved from Energy and Atmosphere) along with a handful of new measurement and reporting prerequisites and credits.

 A credit-by-credit guide to what's new and what's not new is posted here.

Image: Sue Brown, CEO of Dobson Floors, stands next to a LEED plaque in the company's Frisco, Texas store.

2010-11-08 n/a 9137 What do LEED lawsuit reactions say about us?

In the years that I've been reporting for Environmental Building News, I can't think of another news story that has drawn as much immediate and widespread interest as our recent coverage of the filing of a $100 million class-action suit against USGBC for allegedly defrauding the building industry based on misrepresentations of the performance of LEED-certified buildings. I interviewed several of the parties involved, including the lead plaintiff, Henry Gifford.

The merits of the lawsuit itself aside (and it's got problems, as noted in the EBN article), I have found it particularly striking how many people have used the news as a flashpoint for complaining about LEED and USGBC. Following are some of the more reasoned opinions from around the Web that are generally anti-USGBC and anti-LEED:

Can we agree that USGBC through LEED has gotten too big for it's own (and architects') good? We have an outside party telling the public that they, and not architects, are the primary source of eco-build data and techniques. Architects have been quick to buy into the program, seeing that LEED AP is quickly added to their credentials. I hope the expansion of LEED under v. 3 (finally) makes people in the profession reassess their wholesale adoption of the program. (Anonymous, at

The suit is on point, I have been involved with two many LEED AP's that were interior designers in their life before they took the AP Certification and they are telling the MEP Team that we do not know anything about thermal transfer, building shell performance, and proper design for an efficient system. It is time to make this work across all certifications. If you are receiving a professional certification. (Anonymous, at

Most LEED buildings have energy performance no better than most new and old buildings, and in too many cases, it is worse. Between compliance with ASHRAE 90.1 and the measures to get more LEED energy points, buildings become so complex that they cannot be operated efficiently, and too often they waste energy efficiently. (Larry Spielvogel, at the Green Real Estate Law Journal)

I've also been impressed by many people taking a more sympathetic view of USGBC, and their own measured view of the situation. Following are some notable comments.

I would only say to Gifford that this discussion is not going to be effective in court. The question is a scientific and social one: How do we create a better built environment and reduce dependence on fossil fuels? Law professionals may not know to answer this question, which is more fitted as the subject of a green building conference. (Gahl, at

Having been with LEED from the beginning, I have my share of frustrations w/ it. But that's mostly from various blinkered applications of LEED on the part of clients, design professionals, and contractors. We are all learning this stuff together. If LEED was any more stringent than it is, even more building owners would just ignore it altogether. (Julie, at

To sue the USGBC because LEED buildings don't always save energy is like suing an apple tree because it doesn't deliver oranges. LEED rewards energy savings, along with dozens of other optional strategies like reducing toxics or saving water.... Sustainability is organic and comprehensive, not limited only to energy. (Scott, at

If Gifford's, or anyone else's foundational belief is that LEED is imperfect, I agree. I have also seen LEED-Certified buildings that were not very impressive once up and running either because of poor operations and maintenance or inacurrate submissions by the engineering & construction team during the process. However, it is still the best prescriptive guideline to incorporate sustainability into a building. (Anonymous, at

I don't know of anyone who would claim LEED is perfect- the USGBC itself has acknowledged and tried to correct its shortfalls-- and I don't think it's "sold" as a guarantee of energy savings. It's also entirely optional, run by a non-profit with open participation by members. (Anonymous, at

If you're in one of these camps, which I've characterized as anti-LEED versus sympathetic to USGBC, what practical experience have you had in the industry that helped form your viewpoint? Please comment below--no prognosticating without sharing a specific experience that happened to you (such as work on a LEED project), that shaped your viewpoint.


Innovation point: based on your experience how should LEED, USGBC, GBCI, or the green building movement change to better advance sustainability?

2010-10-26 n/a 9158 Park51—The World's First LEED Mosque?
Previously a Burlington Coat Factory, the new community center at 45-51 Park Place, New York, will be a LEED certified space upon completion. Photo: Michael Appleton for The New York Times

The first mosque, in the world according to an article in The Daily Green, attempting LEED certification could be located in Lower Manhattan—in proximity of “Ground Zero”—the hallowed ground of the Twin Towers and 9/11. The proposed location of the new community center and mosque, Park51, has sparked controversy; some argue the location of Park51 is disrespectful. It should also be noted that Lower Manhattan is not very large and most buildings are in proximity to Ground Zero. And it’s difficult not to be excited about a project pursuing LEED certification, especially a community center.

Religious freedom is an important tenet of these United States—it should apply to all religions, in any part of America, even if the location is controversial. That’s particularly true for a building that, as noted above, may be better called a community center than the “mosque” label that it’s been tagged with. According to the Park51 website, the community center will be “dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet.”

Park51 has the potential to serve as a reminder of the distinct separation between the Muslim community and Islamic extremists—shedding light on issues that are often shrouded in misinformation—all while saving energy and creating a sustainable public space.

The building is owned by Soho Properties, a well-established New York company whose chief executive officer, Sharif El-Gamal, has been working with this project for 4 years. In an interview with Sharif El-Gamal said, “Moving forward, I hope and pray the dialogue reaches more New Yorkers and Americans. People have concerns and questions, and we want to answer them in a meaningful way, in a way that lets people know who we really are, what we want to do for the city and how they can be a part of Park51. We have to appeal to the undecided, and change the conversation about Muslims in America. Because of that, we’re offering an open door.” But please, make it a revolving door (to save energy), and no smoking within 25 feet—this is supposed to be a LEED building, after all.

For more information:

2010-08-24 n/a 9166 Highlights from the LEED-EBOM 2009 addenda

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has now released several sets of LEED addenda for LEED-EBOM 2009—corrections and changes to the rating system since its official release. The earliest of these start in November 2009, and the latest batch came out in July 2010.

Following is a summary of the more useful LEED-EBOM addenda to date. Most of the rest is less critical to project teams unless you need clarification on things like understanding that "includesincludes" on page 23 of the Reference Guide really means "includes."

  • Janitor sinks out. WEp1 no longer includes janitor sinks.
  • It's 1994! Also in WEp1, the pre-/post-1993 fixture baseline has been changed to pre-/post-1994. This only affects buildings with plumbing systems installed during 1993 or 1994, but it's good news for a 1994 building. This represents not a policy change in LEED, but a return to the original intent for this credit.
  • What is landscaped area? WEc3: Water Efficient Landscaping had already allowed for sites with planters but not earthbound vegetation, but an addendum  makes the definition more specific: Calculation  “A site without vegetation or ecologically appropriate features on the grounds is eligible for this credit if its roof and/or courtyard garden space or outdoor planters constitute at least 5% of the total area. Project site viability is determined by calculating the portion of the total building site area covered with planters and/or gardens.”
  • WEc4 division. WEc4: Cooling Tower Water Management already had two separate “options” but these have been redefined as credits: WEc4.1: Cooling Tower Water Management—Chemical Management, and WEc4.2: Cooling Tower Water Management—Non-Potable Water Use. The requirements are unchanged, but this change makes it a bit more obvious that one can pursue either or both credits.
  • MRc2 division and clarification. Same thing with MRc2: Sustainable Purchasing—Durable Goods. The two options have become separate credits. MRc2.1: Sustainable Purchasing—Durable Goods, Electric-Powered Equipment, and MRc2.2: Sustainable Purchasing—Durable Goods, Furniture. Examples of electric-powered equipment have also been added to the credit language: “office equipment (computers, monitors, copiers, printers, scanners, fax machines), appliances (refrigerators, dishwashers, water coolers), external power adapters, and televisions and other audiovisual equipment.“
  • More EAc1 points. If you’re following Case 2, Option 2B under EAc1: Optimize Energy Performance, you can now earn nine points, not seven. You would be following this case if your building type is not eligible for Energy Star, and if you have three years of historical data.
  • Benchmark change. With EAp2: Minimum Energy Efficiency Performance, there has been a subtle change in wording to the benchmark requirement. Twelve months of metered data is required for the building being certified, but not for comparable buildings being used as a benchmark.
  • EP for MRc8. You can earn Exemplary Performance under MRc8: Solid Waste Management—Durable Goods. “Project teams can earn an additional point by diverting 95% or more of waste generated by durable goods from disposal to landfills and incineration facilities.”
  • Carbon Trust gone. Since the Carbon Trust has removed its natural ventilation guide from publication, IEQc1.3: Indoor Air Quality Best Management Practices—Increased Ventilation no longer references it. CIBSE manuals are now exclusively used.
  • Containment drains removed. IEQc3.5: Green Cleaning—Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control had contained  a requirement for “containment drains plumbed for appropriate disposal of hazardous liquid wastes in places where water and chemical concentrate mixing occurs for laboratory purposes.” As LEEDuser had noted, this requirement was vague—how broad was the definition of “laboratory purposes” and how was it supposed to be documented? This requirement is removed.
  • Pilot credits. A third path has been added to IOc1: Innovation in Operations. The pilot credit library now offers a path, in which project teams try out a new LEED credit and can earn a point under IOc1. LEEDuser has a dedicated section for the pilot credit library on its site. Unfortunately, none of the pilot credits available currently apply to LEED-EBOM.

Some of these changes are new as of July, while some have been around for a while. They're all included here for your convenience. All the links above go to LEEDuser's guidance on the respective credits, which is fully up-to-date with the changes.

Did you notice anything else interesting in the addenda? Please post it in the comments below. Stay tuned to this blog for highlights from the other LEED rating system addenda.

Editor's note: Emily Catacchio performed much of the research for this article.

2010-07-27 n/a 11979 New Support for LEED-NC v2.2 Projects After months of development, LEEDuser (which is powered by has added direct support of LEED for New Construction version 2.2 (LEED-NC v2.2). That means that you can access support to all LEED-NC v2.2 credits using LEEDuser's credit browser, and through our directory of LEED credits. For every credit in the LEED-NC v2.2 system, you can read our quick overview page with a diagram view of the credit, use our "Getting It Done" checklist of steps to earn the credit, view the verbatim requirements from USGBC (the only place on the Web you can see this without downloading a PDF), use documentation tools and samples, and more. All of this is customized content for LEED-NC v2.2 projects, written by experienced LEED-NC v2.2 project certification teams and LEED reviewers. Why v2.2 now? We launched LEEDuser with a focus on support of LEED v2009 because it was new last year and lots of teams had questions about using it. We wanted to be ahead of the curve in bringing you the best help. But we also knew that we'd want to support LEED-NC v2.2, because so many project teams are using that system. And they have found our support quickly. Here are some key LEED-NC v2.2 credits on which good forum discussions have sprung up: Get started today by selecting a credit!

2010-05-17 n/a 11967 New Data on the Cost of LEED, Credit-by-Credit

We've just released a neat new report on what it costs to achieve specific LEED credits. Based on the current LEED-NC 2009 rating system, "The Cost of LEED" draws on the experience of veteran cost estimators to provide prices for specific measures a project team would consider. The report helps a team understand the implications of LEED on the cost of its own particular project, with lists of "standard" approaches compared to "high performance" options, along with cost premiums for those options.

Over the years we've reported in Environmental Building News and on about various attempts to measure what it costs to get a building LEED certified. Notable among these were:

Our new report adds to this pantheon. I hope you'll find it worthy of its predecessors, while adding a new level of utility. Here are a few bits from our press release on the report:

While previously published studies have taken an aggregated approach, trying to predict overall cost impact of LEED from looking at previous projects, this report draws from the resources and experience of veteran cost estimators to present the cost of specific measures a team is likely to consider.

"The goal of this report was to get a handle on the ways in which LEED credits can be achieved, and to understand the cost implications of those actions within a building project" says Stephen Oppenheimer, AIA, of Tsoi/Kobus & Associates, coauthor of the report. "We were not interested in generalizations of what a LEED Silver project might cost. We wanted much more detail than that."

"The Cost of LEED" doesn't provide hard numbers for every credit--there are some that are just too project-specific for that to be useful. What's the cost of locating a project near mass transit, for example? But it does offer real numbers for measures that a cost estimator can work with, be they low-flow fixtures, CO2 sensors, or moving contaminated soil from a brownfield. This information should help teams get a handle on the ways in which LEED credits can be achieved, and to understand the cost implications of those actions within a building project.

This new report looks exclusively at construction costs--any additional design work, credit documentation, and special analyses are left to the designers to work out based on their own fees and expectations. Compiled by a team of seasoned practitioners who have collaborated on LEED-certified buildings, this report benefits from real-world experience in identifying the construction cost areas that matter.

In addition to BuildingGreen, the authors come from of Tsoi/Kobus & Associates, AHA Engineers, and Vermeulens Cost Estimators. A hard copy of the report is available from for $49. Or, you can buy a PDF for the same price on

2010-04-16 n/a 11948 Handy Reference Tool for LEED Regional Priority Credits What are the environmental priorities in your region? How can you find out?

As you may know, USGBC responded to the longstanding call for regionalization of LEED by establishing Regional Priority Credit 1 (RPc1) in its LEED 2009 family of rating systems (NC, CS, CI, Schools, EBOM).

Regional priority credits are identified by USGBC Regional Councils for each zipcode within their region, with input from USGBC Chapters. These bonus points are granted for meeting requirements that have been designated as particularly important for your project's specific geographical area.

Not new credits

The RP points are for normal LEED credits, not new ones written for your region. To me, this is both good and bad. I would have liked to see more regional innovation around LEED, with credits written for specific regions going after issues near and dear to those regions. That could get pretty unwieldy, though, so the solution of offering bonus points for existing credits makes a certain amount of sense. You don't have to do anything to earn the RP points.  You enter your project's zipcode when you register in LEED Online, and the system automatically credits you with a bonus point when you earn a credit that is designated as a regional priority credit for your zip code, up to four bonus

Know what you're aiming for

The key thing is to know what you're aiming for. The bonus points mean that if you're on the fence about going after a certain credit, or deciding what threshold to aim for, an extra point might help you make your decision.

To find out, you have two options. One, use the rather clunky spreadsheets offered by USGBC. A key thing here is to make sure you've selected the right tab from the bottom of the window for your rating system.

To make things easier, we at LEEDuser (in collaboration with Environmental Building Strategies) have just launched a quick LEED Regional Priority reference tool. Enter your zipcode and rating system, and voila! As a bonus, the six credits you get for results are linked directly to LEEDuser's how-to guidance for each credit. So if you're not clear on the exact requirements or thresholds, or you need some sample documentation, it's right there.

Your experiences?

After launching this tool today, I heard right away from a person doing a project in New Jersey whose zipcode wasn't listed. I double-checked our tool, and then USGBC's spreadsheets (again, where we get our data) and it was indeed missing. I have heard of some instances of this as USGBC has launched this whole thing, but I was a little surprised at this, to be honest. Nonetheless, keep an eye out for oddities like this, and if you see something that doesn't seem quite right, don't be too surprised.

 What are your experiences with RPc1? Your opinions on LEED regionalization in general?

2010-03-22 n/a 11954 Doing LEED SSc8? Light pollution reduction in a nutshell.

The following is a video that we recorded at our booth at the 2009 Greenbuild conference, when we transformed BuildingGreen's booth into the "Ask LEEDuser" experience, including talks on specific credits from LEEDuser's "guest experts"--the top LEED minds on specific LEED credits.

Here, Joshua Radoff of YRG sustainability reviews some of the key considerations behind achieving SSc8: Light Pollution Reduction in the 2009 NC, CS, and Schools rating systems. (Links go to further guidance on the LEEDuser site.) Josh covers what you have to do in terms of interior AND exterior lighting, and what you need from your designer. A highly recommended two minutes and 21 seconds! 2010-03-15 n/a 11820 New LEED AP Exam Writer Tells All 12/1/09 Update: If you're looking to keep up to date on LEED 2009, I recommend checking out our own, which was recently launched Editor's Note: When Matt Macko, a principal at Environmental Building Strategies, told me that he was the only energy expert in the room when the new LEED AP BD+C exam was written, I asked him to write the story of his experience for Here's what he told us. The details of the new LEED AP credentialing program were also announced today. You can also follow this topic on Twitter. – Tristan Roberts, LEED AP In early February 2009 I received an email stating among other things that the GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute) was looking for volunteers to write the new LEED for Building Design & Construction (BD+C) 2009 exam. On the flight from San Francisco to Washington for the three-day mid-week exam writing session, I reflected on my own LEED v2.2 exam experience and what value I could add. I had brutally memorized the Reference Guide like a cramming college student, had some background with green building in the residential sector and knew energy modeling from experience at my company. What I didn't know is that I would be virtually the only one there with energy-related knowledge. Once we arrived in D.C., we were expected to hook our brains to a Prometric knowledge draining machine for 10 hours a day, a pretty intense job in exchange for travel costs and room service. This device pulled from us anything and everything we knew about green building and LEED. Actually writing the exam tested our ability to remember the Reference Guide, follow strict question-forming instructions, work with partners, and most importantly tested our ability to search PDF's. For three days we searched the new LEED 2009 Reference Guide to dream up questions about green building subjects we had interest in. Even though the experience was intense, the atmosphere bubbled with excitement as if we were creating the next great Harry Potter novel, knowing that eager minds would be relying on our work to join the LEED AP ranks. I enjoyed collaborating with like-minded (and in many cases even more intense) people I began to meet. Everyone was surprisingly excited to work for GBCI and produce this material. Who knew three days away from their regular work schedule could be so satisfying? Well over 110,000 LEED AP's have been accredited under the old testing version. This leads me to believe either that green building is dramatically growing or the economy is bad enough that people are looking for new forms of education to differentiate themselves. Either way, or both, it's good for the industry and the planet, and will hopefully curb the gluttonous lifestyle our buildings have enjoyed through the last half century (pretty much since the invention of air conditioning). With the advent of the new LEED system, many people probably have questions as to what has changed and what needs to be done to stay on top of things. The new LEED AP or LEED AP + specialty will be a much different than its predecessor. Beginning with the commitment, skill, and diverse knowledge required to pass the exam, followed with the need for project experience, as well as a commitment to 30 hours of Continuing Education, and 4 hour time slot needed to sit for the two-part 200 question exam. The current green building climate necessitates that there be a distinction between professionals and their certification and accreditation criteria. As a result of these industry changes, the USGBC and GBCI are representing their stakeholders in the green building community such as architects, engineers, and construction workers, by ensuring the LEED AP is an appropriate representation of a green building professional of today. It is important to note that we in the professional "green" world demanded these changes and the responses to Job Task Analysis surveys showed GBCI what was important to its stakeholders. The USGBC and GBCI responded by making the changes listed below:

  • If you do nothing and/or don't wish to be an AP+ Specialty you retain your LEED AP.
  • If you sign up for the Credentialing Maintenance Program (CMP) and follow the Disciplinary Policy guidelines, you will become a LEED AP+ specialty, joining the new regime. Once you sign up for the CMP, if you took the original AP exam under the New Construction Track you will automatically be "mapped over" to the new LEED AP BD+C (Building Design and Construction) – The same is true for Commercial Interiors; you will be automatically "mapped" over to the LEED AP ID+C (Interior Design and Construction) designation.
  • The same is true for Existing Buildings; you will be automatically "mapped" over and have the LEED AP O+M (Operations & Maintenance) designation.
  • All of these changes will begin August 3, 2009, at which point a LEED AP will have two years to switch over. Thereafter, a $50 fee is required to maintain your AP+ Specialty status.
Here are some things you need to know if you're thinking of becoming a LEED AP under the new system:
  • GBCI has publicly stated that the changes to the exam system reflect the rapid advances in green building technology and practice in the marketplace. Therefore, the new exam system will help ensure that LEED professionals have the latest knowledge and understanding of green building practices AND that their proficiency is recognized.
  • The new exam handbook emphasizes the three hierarchical cognitive levels in which questions were written to. They are Recognition Items, Application Items, and Analysis Items. GBCI states the definition of them as: Recognition Items: These items assess a candidate's ability to recall factual material that is presented in a similar context to the exam references. Application Items: These items provide the candidate with a novel problem or scenario that the candidate can solve using familiar principles or procedures described in the exam references. Analysis Items: These items assess a candidate's ability to break the problem down into its components to create a solution. The candidate must not only recognize the different elements of the problem, but must also evaluate the relationship or interactions of these elements. (GBCI LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook, July 2009, Page 5)
  • A test taker should expect questions that were written related to each of these areas in order to demonstrate knowledge. Analysis items will test the ability of a person to analyze scenarios, breaking down the LEED elements and investigating the possible synergies that exist. This context of question breakdown did not exist in previous Candidate Handbooks.
  • The AP+ Specialty will be a person who has an advanced depth of knowledge in green building practices and specialization in a particular LEED Rating System such as Building Design and Construction (BD+C) or Operations and Maintenance (O+M). The AP+ Specialty exam and designation is representative of an individual who has passed the exam and possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the design process, to support and encourage integrated design, and to streamline the application and certification process.
  • The LEED Green Associate is a person who possesses the knowledge and skill to understand and support green design, construction, and operations. The LEED Green Associate exam is designed to measure your skills and knowledge against criteria developed by Subject Matter Experts and to assess your knowledge and skill to understand and support green design, construction, and operations. This exam is most appropriate for anyone entering the world of green building as well as someone who supports the LEED system.
  • The LEED AP + Specialty exam is designed to measure and assess the candidate's skills and knowledge of green building science, the LEED Rating System, and the certification process as set forth in the most recent Job-Task Analysis that was conducted by GBCI during the 3rd quarter of 2008.
In addition to the study materials listed in the candidate handbooks, I would recommend studying sustainability and the principles of green building. Understanding green building holistically will benefit a test taker greatly. From there, you will understand how the USGBC is using LEED to assess the principles of green building. On another note, since many preparatory sites out there are as "green" to this new exam as you are, I would wait until they have their bugs worked out before buying into the idea that whomever wrote their sample exams knows how the new exam is different.
2009-07-28 n/a 11704 A LEED-certified building walks into a bar... What's so funny about green building? Email me and let me know, or comment below. Here's my latest contribution to the genre of green building jokes:
A LEED-certified building walks into a bar around closing time. It orders a drink, throws it back, and leaves. The next night, it comes in again, asks the bartender for a shot, throws it back, and leaves. It does this every night for the next year, without fail. On the 365th night, after the building has had its shot, the bartender is surprised to see it sidle up to the bar's piano instead of leaving. The building grabs a microphone and warbles Sinatra's "My Way." Before the bartender can interrupt, the building starts immediately into a shaky rendition of "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" from "Oklahoma!" Again, before the bartender can interrupt, the building continues right on, belting out Abba's "Dancing Queen." After the third song the bartender is finally able to get the building's attention. "What's going on?" he says. "All you've done for the last year is come in here and quietly have a drink just like any other average person after a day of work. Now all of a sudden you think you're the entertainment." "What's the problem?" the building replies. "All I've been hearing since I was designed is 'It looks good so far, but wait till we see its actual performance numbers after a year of occupancy.' Well, here they are."
Image: The Schmitt Music Mural in Minneapolis, MN.
2009-01-28 n/a 11689 Closing date announced for LEED AP exam registration, and the disciplinary policy! 7/1/09 Update: If you're looking to keep up to date on LEED 2009, I recommend checking out our own, which was recently launched Since the Green Building Certification Institute announced big changes to the LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) program (chronicled here), a few other key items have come out. First, the final date to register for the LEED AP exam in its current form has been set at March 31, 2009. The final date for "exam retirement" has not been set (meaning you can take the exam after that date, as long as you're registered), but is expected to be late May or June 2009. If you're planning to take the exam before it changes over, register before March 31! Why does it matter? A lot of people who currently qualify to become LEED APs by passing the exam will not qualify in the future, because they will need to also demonstrate actual LEED project experience. We've also recently learned about the disciplinary policy that all LEED APs will be required to sign. This gives GBCI legal ground to protect the good name of LEED APs everywhere if anyone starts acting badly. The general principles are fairly predictable: individuals must respect GBCI intellectual property and comply with GBCI rules, etc. GBCI also requires that individuals:
  • Abide by laws related to the profession and to general public health and safety.
  • Carry out their professional work in a competent and objective manner.
Nothing earth-shattering here, but interesting in that basic standards for the work of LEED APs will be the law of the land. It would be interesting (if unlikely) to see this policy grow to encompass environmental issues, to the extent that not being green enough would be grounds for disciplinary action. Who's the judge? GBCI lays out a disciplinary review procedure. But all it takes to get the ball rolling is an anonymous complaint:
Persons concerned with possible violation of GBCI rules are encouraged to contact GBCI. The person should submit a written statement identifying the persons alleged to be involved and the facts concerning the alleged conduct in detail, and the statement should be accompanied by any available documentation. The statement should also identify others who may have knowledge of the facts and circumstances concerning the alleged conduct. The person making the complaint should identify him-/herself by name, address and telephone number. However, GBCI will consider anonymous complaints.
Is this a good policy? Does it go far enough toward establishing a green "standard of care"? Read it here and let us know what you think.
2008-12-29 n/a 11658 Major changes announced for LEED AP credential program 7/1/09 Update: If you're looking to keep up to date on LEED 2009, I recommend checking out our own, which was recently launched Posted from Greenbuild '08. Update posted 11/24/08, below: Do existing LEED APs need to retake the exam? If you thought the proliferation of various different types of LEED rating systems was confusing, wait till you find out what the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) has in store for LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED APs), the folks who can pass an exam to be recognized as an expert in LEED. (GBCI, by the way, took over the LEED AP program about a year ago from USGBC.) First, I'll explain what GBCI has planned for the 65,000 people (like me) who are already LEED APs. These people will be known informally as Legacy LEED APs:
  • With LEED 2009 being launched in March 2009, the current LEED AP exam will be phased out. The final opportunity to take the current exam under the current rules will be May 2009.
  • Starting in June 2009, Legacy LEED APs have two years to opt in to the new system. Once you decide to opt in, you have another two years to complete the requirements. If you haven't updated your credential by then (a maximum of four years if you're deadline-driven), you can no longer use it and must start from square one.
  • Legacy LEED APs must sign on to a disciplinary policy, which is basically a code of ethics for LEED APs. (Interestingly, there may be some kind of peer enforcement system here.) There will also be credentialing maintenance (continuing education) requirements, which haven't been outlined yet, and a biannual "maintenance fee" of $50.
Sometime in Spring 2009 (probably around June), a new LEED AP regime takes effect. The most radical feature is multiple tiers. (Quotes are from a back-of-the-room handout at GBCI's announcement, which was just posted to GBCI's website.)
  • Tier I: LEED Green Associate. "Evoking both environmental protection and growth potential, the LEED Green Associate credential attests to demonstrated knowledge and skill in practicing green design, construction, and operations." To be eligible, you must "Be employed in a sustainable field of work or engaged in an education program in green building principals [sic] and LEED." Beth Holst of GBCI explained that this is intended for students, or employees at companies supporting LEED such as manufacturers. You must pass the basic "Green Associate Exam" to earn the credential. Biannual education maintenance of 15 hours.
  • Tier II: LEED Accredited Professional. "Signifies an extraordinary depth of knowledge in green building practices and specialization in a particular field." To be eligible, you must "Document work on a LEED project, within the last two–three years." LEED APs at this level will be distinguished by a specialty, including ID+C (interiors), BD+C (new construction), O+M (operations & maintenance), HOMES (um, homes), and ND (neighborhood development). Biannual education of 30 hours.
  • Tier III: LEED AP Fellow. "LEED AP Fellows enter an elite class of leading professionals who are distinguished by their years of experience." To be eligible, you must demonstrate "Major contributions to the standards of practice and body of knowledge for achieving continuous improvement in the green building field." Applicants obtain the credential by peer review. According to Holst, the GBCI Board of Directors has approved the creation of this credential but has not "framed out" in detail what it means.
In support of this new regime, the LEED Green Associate exam will go through beta testing with volunteers in February 2009. You can volunteer for this by emailing The exam will be launched in Spring 2009, probably around June. There will probably be a short period of downtime, about a week, when no exam is available. Exams for LEED AP specialties (the Tier II folks) will go through beta testing starting in February 2009 with OM, in March with HOMES, and later in the spring with BD+C and ID+C. Those actual exams will be launched in spring and summer. There is no timeline offered yet for ND. The credentialing maintenance program will also launch in the summer. Why all the trouble? GBCI is responding to the fact that there are 65,000 LEED APs and counting, some of whom have in-depth experience with dozens of LEED projects, and specialized knowledge in the rating sytems. Some of those, on the other hand, may have taken the exam years ago when it was easier and before LEED went through quite a bit of development, and have not maintained LEED expertise since then. A lot of people fall somewhere in between. The new regime creates an objective distinction among different levels of expertise, which has obvious benefits for all. GBCI is also attempting to comply with ISO 17024 as part of its evolution into a more standards-driven organization. Will there be confusion? I'm confused. I spent 10 minutes in the back of the room with a GBCI rep, and I still don't understand what happens to legacy LEED APs -- if they become fully rolled into Tier II with its specializations, or if they remain generic LEED APs. The GBCI website, as usual, isn't very good at anticipating and answering actual questions. Try to figure out how the LEED AP exam is scored, for example. If you're thinking about taking the test sooner than later, here are two posts from me on studying to be a LEED AP and taking a practice exam. Update: The key question for many existing LEED APs is "Do I need to take an exam to keep my credential?" Despite attending the program's rollout, I remained unsure about this, because it didn't seem clear how Legacy LEED APs fit into the new structure of specialty LEED APs. (By the way, GBCI's new FAQ introduces yet another term for this Tier II group: LEED AP+.) The answer from GBCI's Holst: When a Legacy LEED AP opts into the new system by signing the disciplinary policy, they are placed directly into one of the Tier II designations based on the exam they originally took, and general expertise. No exam needed.
2008-11-20 n/a 11630 Lies, Damn Lies, and... (Another Look at LEED Energy Efficiency)

Maverick NYC mechanical systems designer Henry Gifford has long been a critic of LEED, arguing that it encourages the wrong things, and doesn't go far enough to ensure that certified buildings really save energy or provide good air quality. I have great respect for Gifford and the work he does to design and commission low-energy buildings with great ventilation on very tight budgets. Unlike too many practicing engineers, he knows exactly how much energy his buildings are using. Gifford is also a thorn in the side of many policymakers, because he has little patience for initiatives and programs that don't live up to his ideals.

Recently he's been distributing a paper attacking a study of actual energy use in LEED buildings. The study in Gifford's sights is from New Buildings Institute and USGBC, Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings. It analyzed actual energy usage in buildings that were certified based on predicted energy use.

The study compared actual to predicted energy use, and compared both to national average energy use in existing buildings as reported in the U.S. Department of Energy's Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). USGBC and NBI reported on many interesting findings from that study, some of which were summarized in the December 2007 issue of EBN.

graphic from the NBI study

Gifford's paper is especially critical of the primary finding that LEED buildings were shown to be, on average, 25% to 30% more efficient than the national average. He provides an alternate analysis of the data that concludes that the LEED buildings are, on average, 29% lessefficient than average U.S. buildings.

The differences between Gifford's analysis and those of USGBC and NBI are based on two areas of disagreement:

1) First, the LEED buildings are compared to the CBECS data set of all existing buildings, regardless of year of construction. Gifford argues that they should have been compared only to new buildings. The 2006 CBECS summary shows that buildings built between 2000 and 2003 use, on average, about 10% less energy than the complete data set for all existing buildings.

NBI's Mark Frankel disagrees, noting that some of the LEED buildings are actually renovations of older buildings, so it may not be fair to compare them to new buildings. Further, he notes that CBECS generally groups its buildings by decade, and those three years don't represent enough of a trend to rely on. Historically, he points out, when CBECS published data for just a few years it looked better, only to worsen when the full decade's data were compiled. And the trend for full decades or more since 1920 shows that new buildings use just as much energy as old ones.

2) Gifford's second adjustment is to use the mean of the LEED data set instead of the median used by NBI. (The LEED mean was not published, but NBI provided it to Gifford upon his request.) Depending on who you choose to believe, NBI used the median because it made the LEED data look better (Gifford's contention), or because it was statistically the more meaningful approach (more on this below).

Interestingly, the distinction between mean and median isn't all that significant if you omit the "high energy use" building types (labs and data centers, primarily) that constitute 13% of the LEED data set. Omitting these makes some sense, because the CBECS data has a negligible number of such high energy using buildings. But if you include those buildings, the difference between mean and median is huge:

    All buildings in the LEED data set, in kBtu/ft2/year:
      Median: 69; Mean: 105
    Without the high energy building types:
      Median: 62; Mean: 68

The CBECS numbers are means, so, Gifford argues, the LEED data should be analyzed based on means. (Actually, the CBECS numbers are averaged on a per square foot basis, meaning that larger buildings count for more. The LEED means are simple averages.)

By including all buildings in the LEED data set, and comparing based on mean instead of median, and comparing them to the CBECS 2000-2003 mean, Gifford shows that the LEED buildings' energy use exceed the CBECS baseline by 29% (105 divided by 81.6). On the other hand, median is often "a better indication of central tendency" than mean when the data is skewed (which the LEED data is). That's the same reason the authors give in their report for making that choice.

Also, the NBI study was peer reviewed by researchers from EPA, Pacific Northwest National Lab, and UC Berkeley, and none of them objected to this comparison. USGBC claims that other researchers who have since done further analysis using the data corroborate their approach as well. The NBI study used the median value rather than the mean, and compared it to the CBECS average for all existing buildings, to show that the LEED buildings use 24% less energy (69 divided by 91). I think that they could have just as easily have used the mean excluding the high-energy buildings (68) and gotten nearly the same result.

They did go much further, comparing building types in the LEED set with comparable buildings in the CBECS set, and found that the LEED buildings outperformed the CBECS buildings in every category except labs. (There is no category for labs in CBECS, but by any measure LEED labs aren't performing very well.) In the case of offices, the most common building type in both data sets, the median LEED buildings use 33% less than the CBECS average. Even without the labs and data centers the LEED buildings may be unfairly handicapped, because CBECS includes a lot of warehouses and vacant buildings, which use relatively little energy. But NBI chose not to adjust for that difference.

Gifford raises some other questions about the study, most notably the suggestion that the buildings for which actual data was provided likely performed better than those who couldn't or chose not to provide data. Given that 552 projects were contacted but data was only included from 121, this skepticism appears justified.

Frankel responds that at least some of those who supplied data had no idea how good or bad it was. (In one extreme case he contacted the owner right away to alert them to an energy hemorrhage.) He also notes that half of the 552 wanted to provide data, but some were rejected for various technical reasons, such as not having a full 12 months of data, or being located outside the U.S. Finally, they used statistical methods to test for this bias, but that's going over my head again.

In the end, I'm not entirely convinced on this one. Self-selection may have skewed the LEED results, at least a little. NBI's own responses to Gifford's challenges are posted here. Gifford doesn't raise the problem of first-year weirdness, although he does mention later in the paper that actual data should only be collected from year two of occupancy and beyond.

First-year data is often abnormally high, because systems haven't been fine-tuned. But it can also be low, if the building wasn't fully occupied for the entire year. I don't know how many of the 121 buildings in the study provided year-one data.

After attacking the NBI study on some good and some not-so-good grounds, Gifford gets back to addressing the core problem of predicted versus actual energy performance. On this front, he suggests that LEED plaques should be removable, and that someone should actually remove them if a building fails to live up to its promised performance.

That idea came up at early LEED meetings I attended, but was eventually abandoned as impractical. Gifford has an intriguing fall-back suggestion — rather than reward points based on predicted energy use, he suggests that mechanical system peak capacity would be a better indicator of performance. He doesn't propose how the baseline for that metric should be determined, however.

It's too bad that Gifford concentrated so much on attacking the study, because it's a distraction from the more important points he makes about how LEED is being misused. The good news is that LEED insiders share many of those same concerns, and are working on them. Everyone agrees that it's the actual performance, not the prediction, that really matters, and that more has to be done to improve that actual performance.

2008-09-02 n/a 11601 Toilet paper is major emitter of bisphenol-A As a key component in polycarbonate plastics such as those used for reusable water bottles, baby bottles, canned-food liners, and some building materials, bisphenol-A (BPA) has become the new chemical to fear. Despite that, I had to track down a paper from the Transactions of the Wessex Institute on research conducted at Dresden University to understand better what may be the next problem area to emerge for BPA: toilet paper. Backing up, it's really about the thermal paper that has become ubiquitous in the form of credit card receipts and other point-of-sale printouts. Thermal paper is a very smooth type of paper with a thin coating of leuco dye, and a phenol developer such as BPA. This chemical cocktail is like an invisible ink that reveals a message under application of heat, usually with a laser. The heat causes the chemicals to melt and react; as they do, the dye changes form and is able to reflect visible light. According to a source in Denmark, about 1,500 tons of BPA was produced in Europe for thermal paper in 2003. I'm sure it's a lot more now, and much more in the U.S. When that thermal paper is recycled, a lot of it goes into toilet paper, in which high recycled content has become quite common. And when that toilet paper is flushed, and digested in municipal wastewater plants, that BPA is released into surface water and groundwater. According to the Dresden research, the concentration of BPA in toilet paper can be 430 mg/kg dry mass. The researchers conclude:
Toilet paper, thus, was shown being an important source of xenoestrogen emissions to wastewater. Thermal paper again is assessed as being a major source for the contamination of recycled paper products with BPA. Because of the distinct contamination with xenoestrogens, both paper waste and recycled paper products should not be mixed with biological waste e.g. for co-composting or co-fermentation in order to derive organic fertilisers.
Pay in cash and bring out the bidets? (The photo above came from zigzag zombie.)
2008-08-26 n/a 11613 How the LEED AP exam is scored 7/1/09 Update: The LEED AP exam has significantly changed, and the following sample exam has not been updated to reflect this. By the way, if you are looking to learn about the LEED 2009 rating systems, there's no better tool out there than our own Eighty multiple choice questions, a score range of 125–200, a passing score of 170. If you've taken or are considering taking the LEED Professional Accreditation exam to become a LEED AP, you're familiar with these numbers. And you might have wondered, how does it all add up? What does my score mean? The official explanation from the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) and its LEED Candidate Handbook mentions a scaled score but does not explain how it is calculated. The information compiled here is from correspondence with Peter Templeton, a senior V.P. at the U.S. Green Building Council, and Beth Holst, recently hired at the GBCI as V.P. overseeing the LEED AP program. If I miss any details, I certainly hope they'll correct me. First, there are what Holst calls "multiple forms" of the 80-question exam. In other words, there are a finite number of question sets. Those question sets are not mixed and matched; questions are not randomly delivered from individual sets. How many sets are there? Neither Holst nor Templeton would tell me. Does that mean that there aren't very many? I don't know. When the test was developed, each of the question sets was delivered to a number of guinea pigs. The results were compiled, and, to no one's surprise, some question sets were found to be harder than others. Rather than try to make all of the question sets equally hard, the USGBC used that experimental data to establish a coefficient, or multiplier, for each question set. A raw score--the number of questions you get right--is multiplied by the coefficient for that question set to arrive at the scaled score. For more difficult question sets, a higher multiplier is used to convert a lower raw score to a higher scaled score, and vice versa. This process of coming up with the "scaled score" could mathematically result in a score higher than 200 or lower than 125, but what typically occurs with scaled scores, and I assume is the case here, is that any score higher than 200 is called 200, and any score lower than 125 is called 125. How was the passing score of 170 determined? Says Holst:
A representative group of LEED AP Professionals recommended to GBCI a standard of what a minimally competent professional needs to know about the tested content to obtain a passing score. The chosen passing score was selected by GBCI and was then converted to a scale score.
Key points:
  • No partial credit, and all questions are worth the same amount.
  • The same raw score on two different 80-question sets will result in different final scores via a scaling process based on the relative difficulty of the questions.
  • Your score on the LEED AP exam is neither the number of questions you answered correctly nor the percentage of questions you answered correctly. But if you divide it by two and look at it with squinty eyes it might be kind of close to the latter.
  • If you've taken a practice exam and want to know how you've done relative to the real exam, a passing score of 170 correlates roughly with a score of 85% on a practice exam, or 68 out of 80 questions correct. But this is only a rough guide. Don't let a practice exam score of 85% give you confidence. Let your confidence in the material give you confidence.
All of this leads me to wonder: How many LEED AP exam authors does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 1.85 if it's hard to reach, but 0.90 if it's right on your desk. More green building humor is here. The equations shirt (image above) is here.
2008-08-05 n/a 11572 Why doesn't USGBC sell a PDF of the LEED Reference Guide? 7/1/09 Update: If you are looking to learn about the LEED 2009 rating systems, there's no better tool out there than our own, which was launched since this post was made. LEEDuser makes the LEED credit language available online, which is a great step up, in my book! In studying for the LEED-AP exam, the best advice I received was to read the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for New Construction Reference Guide version 2.2 -- and read it again, and memorize as much specific credit by credit information as possible. Since passing the exam, that's become the advice I give most often. I'm glad I work at a company, BuildingGreen, that already has a copy of the Reference Guide in its library and supports firmwide studying for the exam, because the cost of the guide is $150 plus $7.50 shipping. You can download other LEED-related documents, but non-members looking to learn more about LEED and potentially take the test can't download a copy. Let's look at the other costs USGBC puts in the way of the LEED-curious:
  • Taking the exam is $300 for USGBC members and $400 for non-members. I hope you pass the first time, but a lot of people don't and pay that fee again.
  • USGBC course on "Essentials of LEED Professional Accreditation" -- $150 for USGBC members, $200 for non-members. Optional but helpful.
  • Additional study materials or courses -- anywhere from $50 to $1,000 and up.
The LEED-NC 2.2 Reference Guide, all three pounds of it (yes, I weighed it), should be available as a PDF. There aren't any downloadable resources that offer the detail that it offers for LEED practitioners and potential LEED practitioners (the LEED candidate handbook is helpful but far from essential). Sure, sell it to recoup costs of writing it and maintaining the LEED rating systems, but sell a PDF at a lower cost to:
  • Making it easier for people to get familiar with LEED, expanding the green audience
  • Save the financial and environemental costs of printing, shipping, and disposal. It's already in its third edition and is about to be eclipsed by LEED 2009. Get with the digital age, USGBC.
Will people pass it around to each other for free, depriving the USGBC of revenue? Sure. Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not. If there is that much demand, then USGBC should be capitalizing on that by signing up new members, certifying more projects, and gaining more LEED APs, all of which it is doing fairly successfully -- so why not open up the tent for more. A lower price of entry will make also make LEED more sustainable when the slowing economy takes its toll on green building. Finally, they can mitigate any revenue lost by updating the reference guide more frequently with key CIRs, policy changes, innovation credits, improvements to the writing, and, even better advice on how to actually achieve credits -- thus making purchase even more essential. Because once you've earned that LEED-AP credential, the work has just begun.
2008-06-12 n/a 11518 LEED AP Practice Exam 7/1/09 Update: The LEED AP exam has significantly changed, and the following sample exam has not been updated to reflect this. Please use the information if it's helpful--but no guarantees of anything. And by the way, if you are looking to learn about the LEED 2009 rating systems, there's no better tool out there than our own 4/4/09 Update: For all those who have asked questions about specific questions on this sample exam, I have posted a comment below with comprehensive answers. The exam has also been updated as of today for minor corrections. 11/21/08 Update: I've posted a report from Greenbuild on what GBCI has planned for overhauling the LEED AP credit. Get ready to be a "Legacy LEED AP"... Dear LEED-AP Exam Taker,

The attached document (see the end of the post) is a sample LEED-AP exam, available to members of You can join for as little as $12.95 for one week, which is all you need to downoad the exam. I designed it to help me assess my command of the LEED-NC material in preparation for the LEED-AP exam. I wrote many of the questions based on fairly specific tenets of the LEED Reference Guide and associated materials. You'll have to not only understand the general intent and requirements of credits, but you may also have to go back to the material and and dig in deeper to understand the answers. The questions are challenging, so unless you really know the material, you will have to go back to the LEED Reference Guide and other sources to understand the answers. This approach helped me study and pass the exam, and I think it will help you. I want to pause here and emphasize that passing the LEED-AP exam, and more importantly, working in green building in general, is about more than memorization. I spent a year and a half immersed in green building – on staff at Environmental Building News and taking sustainable design classes through the Boston Architectural College's online certificate program – before I decided to study intensively and take the exam. Without the broader understanding of green building that I gained in that way, I would have had a much harder time passing the exam. Even if I had passed it, I wouldn't have known what to do with it.

Therefore I'd like to recommend the following resources to you:

  • Environmental Building News. Since 1992, EBN is the authoritative source on green building news and information, including keeping you up to date on LEED. Subscriptions are well worth the modest price tag.
  • GreenSpec Directory. Our editors screen out the greenwash, and organize over 2,000 green products by CSI section, and cross-reference them by green attributes (such as recycled content) and by LEED credits. Available in print and online.
  • BuildingGreen Suite. Our online resources are rolled into a product we call BuildingGreen Suite, which lives on our website, There are numerous membership options.
Before you download the exam, I leave you with these last notes:

  • This exam is not designed to simulate the actual LEED-AP exam. I wrote it myself with no firsthand knowledge of the exam. Now having passed the test, I think it's great training material.
  • I have taken several of the sample exams out there, and I most highly recommend the USGBC Colorado Chapter practice exam. The Colorado exam is particularly helpful because it comes with an entire study guide, and the answers are explained, which is not the case here, although you can refer to many of the comments below for explanations.
  • I recommend taking at least two sample tests – one fairly early in your process, and one fairly late. The first one helps you orient to the demands of the exam, assess where you're at, and focus on where you need to work. The second one helps give you confidence before the exam, and refine your approach. So while I recommend the Colorado exam, this exam can be a second option.
  • There is an answer key but not explanations of answers. All questions are drawn from available materials such as the Reference Guide and the USGBC and GBCI websites, so answers can be explained through reference to those materials. If you want to discuss any specific questions or aspects of the exam, however, please do so in the comments section below.
  • Use of this sample exam, like all material on, is subject to this disclaimer.
  • You may only obtain this exam from this website: do not share it with others, or accept it from others. Please share the link to this page instead. If there are any revisions or updates, you will be getting the most recent version. When this test becomes outdated at the end of June 2009, we may withdraw it from use pending writing a new exam.
Finally, good luck!

Tristan Roberts, LEED AP
Editor, Online Commercial Products
BuildingGreen, LLC

2008-03-13 n/a 11493 Getting professionals in your firm LEED accredited 7/1/09 Update: If you're looking to keep up to date on LEED 2009 and related issues, I want to recommend checking out our own, which was recently launched. For firms or individuals contemplating the new LEED AP CMP system, I particularly recommend this article!

I was glad that my employer, BuildingGreen, picked up the cost of my LEED-AP exam. Becoming a LEED Accredited Professional through the Green Building Certification Institute (the new manager of the exam for the U.S. Green Building Council) costs a small chunk of change, in addition to the study time. How do firms approach this investment?

The Zweig Letter, "the voice of reason for architecture, engineering and environmental consulting firms," a weekly newsletter that we subscribe to, recently ran an article by Khrista Trerotola asking, "How does your firm get employees LEED accredited and how is the process handled and the costs covered?" From the article:

Adam Gross, principal at Ayers/Saint/Gross (ASG) (Baltimore, MD), a 140-person architecture and planning firm:

"ASG has 51 staff members who are LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED AP). This represents 51% of our architectural staff. The firm set a goal of getting more than 50% of our staff LEED AP, which we achieved by the end of 2007. We are also proud that 77% of our principals and 72% of all titled staff are LEED AP.

"We have a Sustainable Team within each office that coordinates general sustainability efforts relating to our projects. ASG encourages all its employees to become LEED APs.... ASG reimburses all employees when they pass the LEED exam for the full cost of the test. Up until the end of 2007, the cost of the test was $250 per person; currently, it is $300. To date, certifying our staff has cost ASG $12,750. We also compensate staff for 2.5 hours of time to take the test. As we have many staff who have already passed this test, the office has a strong support system in place to assist others with this effort...."

David Ohlemeyer, principal at The Lawrence Group, Inc. (St. Louis, MO), a 200-person building design, planning, and project delivery firm:

"Peer-led study groups for each section of the LEED... exam began here in August 2006.... The group was named Lawrence Group LEEDers. Volunteer teams presented material that is on the LEED accreditation exam to help participants gain an overall understanding of the LEED process and intent. The study group was open to anyone in the company, and The Lawrence Group provided the main conference room, lunch, and enormous encouragement. To date, The Lawrence Group has assisted 24 designers in becoming LEED APs."

How do your firms and businesses support you and your colleagues in becoming LEED-APs? How effective and useful is that support?

2008-02-27 n/a 11483 Will the New List of LEED Innovation Points Lead to Greener Buildings — or Just More Points?

Innovation point for the Hearst Tower in New York: reduced steel in the structure.

In the first few years of LEED, you could count the Platinum-rated buildings on one hand. Now it's hard to keep up with the announcements. There are several reasons for this evolution — more experienced project teams making better buildings, and more buildings going through LEED in general, for example. At risk of exposing my cynical side, however, I have to admit that I suspect that much of the change has to do more with teams having figured out how to work LEED for the most points, as opposed to really making better buildings. One way that teams are getting more sophisticated is in knowing which innovation points are the best bet. It's now well established, for example, that certain specific activities — like entering a case study in DOE's Database — earn you a relatively easy innovation point for "occupant education." To find that information, however, you had to talk to someone in the know, or dig through the online database of credit interpretation requests (CIRs). The scorecard that USGBC publishes listing the points each project has achieved identifies the innovation points by name, but it doesn't provide any details on what was done to achieve those points. For years, designers have been pleading for a more accessible list of previously approved innovations. Why force everyone to reinvent the wheel? If the point of LEED is to help the industry as a whole innovate its way to greener buildings, shouldn't USGBC be doing all it can to share that information? As far as I know, no one at USGBC disagreed with that argument, but the perpetually over-extended information technology (IT) staff there had more urgent fish to fry. Well, it seems that they've finally come up with a way to share this information. It's not pretty or slick, but it does serve the purpose of getting the information out there. This 28-page PDF file lists about 200 innovation points achieved (or approved as CIRs), with summaries of what was done to achieve them. Presumably it will be updated over time. As a long-overdue first effort, this file is certainly welcome. It would be more useful if it identified which rating system each innovation credit was achieved in — some of them only make sense from the perspective of an existing facility, so there is not point in teams working on new projects wasting time on them. And others just list actual credits, such as the LEED for Commercial Interiors credit 4.5 on low-emitting furniture, presumably because this credit earned an innovation point in some other version of LEED, where it isn't listed as a credit. But USGBC is trying to de-emphasize the different flavors of LEED as it moves towards it's One LEED vision, so we may be stuck with those confusing listings for now. The main point is that teams now have a handy new resource to mine for possible innovations in their projects. Let's hope that those translate into more real, beneficial innovations and environmental benefits, and not just into more points.
2008-01-15 n/a 11461 Studying for the LEED-AP Test 7/1/09 Update: The LEED AP exam has significantly changed, and the following information has not been updated to reflect this. And by the way, if you are looking to learn about the LEED 2009 rating systems, there's no better tool out there than our own The LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) exam consists of 80 questions, and is scored on a scale of 125 to 200, with a score of 170 being good enough to pass. I thought that writing for Environmental Building News and earning a master's certificate in sustainable design online through the Boston Architectural College, I was in good shape for taking the LEED-AP test and joining the ranks, so I scheduled my accreditation exam for later this winter. I remember the drill from taking the SATs in high school -- practicing actual questions is the best way to study. So I started looking for sample tests and other test prep junk, which led me to the popular ARE Forum, where I got my first reality check. Here's what some people said about the test: "I took the LEED NC 2.2 test on Friday and scored a 168 out of 170. I plan on taking it again this week. Kills me as I was so close. The test was pretty fair but hard. There about 5 questions that I believe were unfair." -ReddFL "The report said I failed bad in the credit intent and understanding which confuses me as I know the requirements like the back of my hand....well for most of them." -Hobstar "I just got back from failing the exam... 163. I'll be retesting next Thursday. The proctor told me that if I had gotten one more question right, I probably would have passed. IF. I now despise that word... IF. " - it aint ez bein green I'd heard that the test had gotten harder since the early days, but comments like these really underlined that. So I've dug in, taken (and failed) a practice test, and made up flashcards to learn just what are SMACNA, IPMVP, BMP, and good ol' EPA, and in what credits they are relevant (the University of Florida also has free online flashcards). One way of looking at LEED is as a standardized test for buildings, an approach that has pluses (it's democratic and transparent, or at least tries to be) and minuses (it encourages building by checklist, much like American schools "teach for the test"). The LEED-AP exam, then, is a standardized test to qualify to proctor a standardized test. That about sums up how much it has to do with actually building a green building. In the plus column, now I've finally learned what is SCAQMD. (I had been picturing a bureaucracy of squid doctors, when in fact it's the South Coast Air Quality Management District, it regulates stationary sources of air pollution in Orange County, CA, and its standards are referenced in EQ Credits 4.1 and 4.2, Low-Emitting Materials). What are your LEED-AP exam experiences? For those who have earned them, how do you feel about having those letters after your name? 2007-12-30 n/a 11474 Green Building Jokes

"Humor is a serious thing. I like to think of it as one of our greatest natural resources, which must be preserved at all cost." —James Thurber

We talk a lot about energy efficiency here at Environmental Building News. If we follow Thurber's lead and add environmental humor to our concerns, what do we get? The green building light bulb joke, of course. I wrote these for your enjoyment. Feel free to add yours below!

  • How many daylighting consultants does it take to change a light bulb? None—the sun will be back up in exactly 10 hours.

  • How many LEED Accredited Professionals does it take to change a light bulb? Four—one to tell you how to earn LEED points by changing it, one to change it, one to document the change, and one to deliver the check to the U.S. Green Building Council for certifying the change.

  • How many product manufacturers does it take to change a light bulb? 10,001. Ten thousand to resist the change for as long as possible, and then the same 10,000 to tell you how many LEED points you can earn from making the change with their product. Oh, and one to change it.

  • How many occupants does it take to change a light bulb? None. They'd rather curse the broken light bulb, the electrician, the landlord, and the architect.

  • How much actual energy performance data does it take to change a light bulb? Don't know—we're still waiting for information from the engineer, who's waiting for information from the utility, who won't provide information until a submeter is installed, and the owner decided not to pay for it.

  • How many salvage contractors does it take to change a light bulb? Two—one to change it, and one to sell the broken light bulb as aggregate for landscaping around the new light bulb.

  • How many code officials does it take to change a light bulb? CHANGE?! I think not.

  • How many life-cycle assessment experts does it take to change a light bulb? Two—one to change it, and one to change it back again after more data has come in.

  • How many LEED credits does it take to change a light bulb? One—but you need a writer, 18 committee members representing manufacturers, government, the environmental community, the social justice community, and the health and safety community, three draft versions, two public comment periods, one life-cycle analysis, one pilot period with 100 pilot light bulbs, one member ballot, and one competing system with completely different standards.

  • How many State of California regulations does it take to change a light bulb? Three—one to require that you change the light bulb, one to warn you that changing it could cause cancer, and one to ban disposal of the old light bulb.

  • How many inventors of new lighting technology does it take to change a light bulb? It just looks like it's broken—the color temperature on these is in the Celsius scale.

  • How many Forest Stewardship Council-certified light bulbs does it take to change a light bulb? None—the indigenous light bulb population won't allow it. And that new light bulb isn't certified for chain-of-custody, is it?

  • How much greenwashing does it take to change a light bulb? Don't change at all. Just fund an "independent" organization, use it to write a "sustainability" standard, and put this cool planet logo on the same old light bulb.

  • How many advocates for market transformation does it take to change a light bulb? Just one to write a green light bulb standard, changing the light bulb market forever. Oh, and one to specify a light bulb certified under that standard; one to start a foundation to subsidize purchases of the certified light bulbs; one to search the ends of the Earth for the actual product; one to buy it, and one to change it.

  • How many William McDonoughs does it take to change a light bulb? The real question is, how do we love all the light bulbs of all species for all time? Let's eliminate the concept of the broken light bulb.

  • How many commissioning agents does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to note the problems with the light bulb, the design of the lighting controls, the lightshelves, and the shading system, and one to change the light bulb.

  • How many owner's representatives does it take to change a light bulb? Sorry, that item has been value-engineered out!

  • How many U.S. Green Building Council Cascadia Chapter members does it take to change a light bulb? You can change the light bulb, but only if there was already a light bulb in that socket before, if you use a light bulb with no PVC, formaldehyde, or halogenated flame retardants, and if the new light bulb is beautiful and inspiring.

  • How many natural builders does it take to change a light bulb? Two—one to change it, and one to sculpt a decorative mud-and-straw wall around the old light bulb.

  • How many lighting designers does it take to change a light bulb? Uh... "light bulb"? That's a lamp, what you are calling a "socket" is a luminaire, and I think you'd get better efficacy if you changed the ballast instead.

  • How many Environmental Building News editors does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change it, and one to write, "One billion light bulbs will be changed in 2008, according to U.S. Department of Energy statistics. It's critically important that we use energy-efficiency light bulbs to replace the broken ones, but unfortunately, many light bulbs don't meet our GreenSpec standards, and changing light bulbs entails numerous health and environmental risks that you have never heard of before. In this article, we will examine the history of the light bulb, from its origins with tungsten filament..."

  • This just in...
  • How many LEED AP exam takers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Let's see... EA Credit 1, EA Credit 5, MR Credit 2 if you recycle it, and maybe SS Credit 8, depending on the location. Sorry... what was the question?

2007-12-03 n/a