Taxonomy Term en 10191 Biobased Materials—Increasing Our Scrutiny

It's natural that we should gravitate toward biobased materials. But many of them are energy-intensive and toxic, so how do we judge what's best?

O Ecotextiles is an example of the kind of leadership company that has worked diligently to address environmental impacts at every step of their product's production--including careful attention to responsible sourcing of biobased materials. We discussed Ecotextiles in EBN and had them on our top-10 list of 2008.

It still seems like biobased materials should be better for the environment. Even after the LEED Wood Wars, even after all the stories of pollution and waste from industrial agriculture, it just seems logical that resources we grow as part of a natural cycle are greener than the ones we mine or extract.

This intuitive attraction may explain why various versions of "biobased" and "natural" claims, like the "rapidly renewable" credit in LEED 2009, have had so much staying power, why the building industry is just starting to take a much-needed closer look, and why it's still hard to figure out how to effectively evaluate the impact of these materials in our industry.

I applaud USGBC and its proposed LEED 2012 "sustainable sourcing" credit for trying to tackle this issue and appreciate the challenge USGBC faces in doing so. However, there's still some work to be done. There has been a great discussion on LEEDuser about this, particularly comments by Tom Lent of the Healthy Building Network and Mara Baum of HOK. Baum put it well when she said, "Wouldn't it be great if in 5 or 10 years we had an FSC equivalent for all major raw material industries? However, we still need a usable, justifiable version of LEED between now and then."

Here are some steps I propose for increasing our scrutiny.

First, Admit You Have a Problem

The environmental and health hazards associated with biobased products are myriad and complex, depending on the material. Below are some issues, but even this long list is not exhaustive.

  • Agriculture: intensive land use and deforestation, chemical use, fuel use, nutrient runoff and other pollution concerns, treatment of agricultural workers, etc.
  • Market realities & social justice: competition between food crops and crops used for fuel and products like building materials can disadvantage the already disadvantaged by raising the cost of food.
  • Processing: While 'biobased' materials can include materials like wood that are used almost as-is, many materials require extensive processing which can be quite energy-intensive, toxic, and polluting, and requiring fossil-fuel-based additives and processing aids.
  • Health: While many people assume that the VOCs from 'natural' materials don't present the same kind of health hazard as industrial VOCs, there's no definitive answer. Formaldehyde, which so much good and justifiable effort has been made to minimize, is common and naturally occurring. Also products made with biobased feedstocks are not necessarily any less hazardous than those made with fossil fuel feedstocks--it depends on what else is in them.
  • Percentages: Is 8% soy polyol worth getting excited about? At what percentage biobased content should we start paying attention?
  • Durability and end of life: In some cases biobased materials are compostable, but often not. Biobased plastics can complicate the recycling stream.
  • Emissions and more: There's a lively debate whether wool is good or bad for the environment. There's no doubt it's renewable, and can be produced in ways that appear low-impact, but whether methane emissions from sheep counteracts all the other good stuff is an open question.

Second, Set a Strong Goal, but Use the Stepping Stones We Have

Improving practices and figuring out how to assess and document more sustainable practices is going to take a while. There is no ready equivalent to FSC for most biobased materials aside from wood.

Certification to organic standards or other sustainable agriculture standards can provide guidance in some cases. There are any number of international certifications looking at different aspects of cotton production, including social concerns, and that's just scratching the surface. While not perfect, many of these ensure practices that are far preferable to standard agricultural practice and represent an existing raw material supply that can respond to a growing market generated by LEED. Leading manufacturers have already, appropriately, turned to these sources in seeking out responsible sourcing for biobased materials.

It seems only prudent to capitalize on the work that's been done while still providing direction for further improvement. This touches on the broader issue of the role of product (and manufacturing or harvest process) certifications in LEED around which there continues to be extensive debate. Biobased materials is yet another area where it behooves us to carefully assess the relevant concerns and possible mechanisms to address them, and then take great care in selecting approaches to fill in the gaps.

Deeper Research Is Coming

BuildingGreen and Healthy Building Network are collaborating on deeper research of these questions, so look for deeper treatment in an upcoming EBN feature article and in Pharos--digging into the issues for different materials and different product categories, what certifications and other measures exist now to help us evaluate 'sustainable sourcing' and other aspects of biomaterials, and what manufacturers are taking leaps beyond the norm in addressing these issues.

We welcome comments and insight on manufacturers you think are going above and beyond, issues you think are all too easily overlooked, or frameworks and certifications that address these issues.

2012-03-20 n/a 9037 LEED Pilot Credit 43 and Product Disclosure: Right Direction, Wrong Weighting

There's already been a lot of excellent debate around the new LEED Pilot Credit 43. I find myself agreeing with both sides! Here's where I stand in what may be the eye of the storm.

LEED is supposed to be about buildings--and market transformation

On the one hand, LEED is fundamentally supposed to be about designing high-performing green buildings, and product and material selection is one integrated component. It's not supposed to be about cobbling together a building out of greener products and materials. If the core purpose gets lost amidst the debate surrounding one material (yes, I'm talking FSC/SFI), we all lose.

On the other hand, LEED is at this point a major market driver for green building products. We need to use all the levers we can find to create truly sustainable manufacturing and sourcing if we're ever going to make it through these pivotal times into a vibrant, thriving, truly sustainable world. So we ought to use LEED for all it's worth in pushing real substantive improvements down through the supply chain.

We really need better disclosure around products--and better products

We have neither the certifications nor the information on which to base truly robust comparisons between material alternatives. We're desperately in need of better disclosure on the environmental characteristics of products--and so far it's been like pulling teeth to get it. Given this state of affairs, we need every effort to encourage more comprehensive, comparable disclosure, like what EPDs have the potential to provide--so if LEED (along with UL and others) can really help with that, I'm all for it!

Once there is robust disclosure, there are numerous alternative ways for preferred purchasing to drive improvement; we've barely scratched the surface of what could be possible (imagine being able to select the lower-impact assembly based on the data aggregated up through your BIM tool).

On the other hand, we're desperately in need of dramatic leaps forward in terms of the life-cycle environmental performance of products. We're not going to get a sustainable world out of championing baby-steps forward, or any steps back to status quo. We need to be really clear that disclosure does not equal performance. Just because it has a nutrition label doesn't make it good for you. We need standards and certifications that push the industry toward continually higher performance--and we need all the market pull we can get (from LEED and elsewhere) to encourage their creation.

It's also a lot simpler to specify, and rally behind, BIFMA level 3 certified furniture or FSC wood, than read and understand the fine print for every product choice--and these standards and certifications can cover things that aren't so easily quantified in an EPD. Back to FSC/SFI-- think of all that goes into a forestry certification, and the finer points that differentiate them. Now imagine, as a designer, trying to read comprehensive disclosure on forestry practices for every batch of wood sourced. It's either incomprehensible and takes too much time or doesn't cover all the areas of concern. There's something to be said for choosing a certification you trust as the starting point.

End unequal scrutiny of product categories--by looking more closely

By the way, we also need to end the highly unequal scrutiny on the environmental impact of different building product categories. There are far too many product categories for which the scrutiny is very mild or woefully incomplete (don't get me started on the list of concerns that go unaddressed for other "biobased" materials--and that's just one category).

Right direction, wrong weighting

I think LEED is going in the right direction with the overall thrust of this credit, but USGBC needs to be really careful with the weighting, and I'm not convinced they've got the balance right. We need to increase scrutiny on every product and material type, not just focus on wood, but we also need to be very clear that along with greater disclosure, the performance bar will be raised. Just having a nutrition label doesn't help if there are no healthy options.

I wonder how much this whole debate is overblown by interests on both sides. I gave a webinar on green building product certifications to specifiers associated with CSI and raised the question of whether designers ever switched away from wood to another material when they couldn't find FSC. I was told no, they look for FSC--and if it's not available they go with SFI or one of the others.

I didn't get the indication that designers were choosing between, say, steel and wood, merely based on ability to get a point for FSC or recycled content. I'd be interested to hear of specific examples to the contrary, but to me that's good news, because what's missing in the FSC/SFI debate is a similarly in-depth, chain-of-custody view of the environmental and social impacts associated with sourcing of wood alternatives. So this takes me back to the pilot credit.

Refocus the energy of the wood debate

If USGBC can find its way out of having to expend so many resources on the FSC/SFI debate, refocus most of that energy on driving creation of high-performance green buildings, while at the same time leading all industries to provide comprehensive disclosure and truly sustainable products, we all win. I'm not sure Pilot Credit 43 gets us there now (although I think it could develop in that direction), and I'm not sure folks on either side of the FSC/SFI debate will ever let up, but I do hope that somehow USGBC can use this pilot to navigate treacherous waters into a solution that does work. To my mind it'd be a shame if the positive direction implied by this pilot credit got trumped by its current weaknesses.

Disclosure: I'm research director at BuildingGreen and on the Technical Committee at USGBC, but this post is purely my own current viewpoint. The complexity is far too great, with far too many perspectives, to speak as representative of anyone else!

2011-07-06 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 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 11961 LEED AP Credential Maintenance: Cracking the Code I'm a "Legacy LEED AP"--one of the 150,000 or so people who became LEED APs before the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) retired the old exam and overhauled the LEED AP program in 2009.

I've got questions. Is it worth opting in to the new system of LEED AP + a.k.a. LEED AP "with specialty"? GBCI is allowing legacies to opt into the new system until 2011 without having to take the new exam. If I opt in, how do I satisfy the 30 hours of continuing education requirements I'll be beholden to? Is that something I can do with a mix of presenting, self-study, LEED project work, and Greenbuild attendance, or will I have to seek out additional avenues?

If you're a LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) or already a LEED AP + you might share some of these questions.

The person I've been turning to for help lately is Mara Baum, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, EDAC, of Anshen + Allen. In her words: "When GBCI came out with the new LEED AP credentialing maintenance program last spring, I started to evaluate the program for our firm's 75+ LEED APs. What started as a quick look at GBCI's handbook evolved into a major research project."
GBCI has a number of helpful resources on the program, but sometimes I need an outside perspective on it all. Someone who's trying to understand the system from the outside, like me.

I asked Mara to present a webinar on what she's learned for LEEDuser, our how-to website for LEED projects. She obliged on February 23rd, and the recording, which includes over 10 minutes of Q&A from the 200 audience members, is a great resource that we've just posted

I recommend checking it out over on the LEEDuser website (the site is a membership resource, but this page is free).

With my help Mara also took some additional questions in writing after the webinar was over, and these are shown on the LEEDuser page. Here's a couple particularly helpful ones.

Q: Right now I am working on LEED registered project, how can I report those hours into CMP record?

A: Through the self-reporting mechanism on the GBCI website. Once you have opted into the new system, go to the "My Credentials" page, then select "Review/Report CMP Activity." For LEED credit work, document the hours under the category and subcategory closest to the credit topic. The language may not align perfectly, but do the best you can. It's not clear what category to use to document project administrator work.  "Stakeholder Involvement In Innovation" and subcategory "Ways to Earn Credit" seems like the closest fit right now.

Q: When does the two-year cycle start?  The date I took the LEED AP v2 test and passed?

A: If you are opting in as a "Legacy LEED AP", then the two-year period begins on the day that you opt in to the new system.  There is no relationship with the date you took the "old" LEED AP exam. If you are taking the new exam, the cycle starts on the day you pass the exam. If you take the two exams on different dates, then the cycle starts on the day you pass the second exam.

Interested in more? Check out the article "Video: LEED AP Credential Maintenance" on LEEDuser. There's also a Q&A forum right there to engage further with the LEEDuser community. Feel free to also comment below!
2010-03-03 n/a 11930 Is Worker Safety a Missing Piece of the Green Puzzle? If the jobsite for a green building isn't any safer than the jobsite for a conventional building, is something missing from our definition of "green"? That is the question raised by a new study, "Impact of Green Building Design and Construction on Worker Safety and Health," published in October in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. The authors--two university professors and a safety supervisor with the Hoffman Construction Company in Portland, Oregon, went hunting for any statistical difference in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordable and lost time injury and illness data for green and nongreen projects. The number of projects surveyed, 86 (38 green and 48 nongreen) is modest but impressive, considering the difficulty in extracting data from firms. Nine of 15 firms surveyed supplied data. For statistics geeks, the study reveals some suggestive tidbits, but bottom line? "There appears to be little or no difference between green and nongreen projects in terms of construction worker safety and health." Greener projects, as measured by LEED credits achieved (see graph) did not see a statistically significant reduction in safety incidents. The authors conclude:
Because no difference in safety performance is experienced, LEED projects are perhaps sustainable environmentally but not sustainable in terms of worker safety and health. The writers believe that, similar to end-user safety and health, construction workers safety and health must be considered if a project is to be labeled as sustainable.
Should LEED and other green building efforts pay more attention to worker safety? Some argue that social justice as a wider cause is under-represented in our definitions of green building, as explored in this provocative Environmental Building News feature article (requires membership). What do you think? Please leave your comments below. Thanks to a note on the Society of Building Science Educators listserv for mentioning this study.
2010-01-07 n/a 11932 Top-10 LEED Snafus.... And Tips to Avoid Them
It could be worse.
Happy New Year from, and from our credit-by-credit guide to getting LEED done, LEEDuser. (Which, I want to add, is available for only $9.95/month!) I hope you'll enjoy this fun compilation of common (or not-so-common) LEED problems, with links to LEEDuser credit guidance. On a more serious note, you might also enjoy my recent post, Hard-Won Lessons From a LEED 2009 Early Adopter.

Snafu #10: Being threatened to be hung from the construction crane if the project doesn't earn LEED Gold.

LEEDuser tip: Create a detailed checklist with tasks delegated to individual team members, allowing each member to focus on assigned tasks. The checklist can function as a status tracking document and, finally, the deliverable for LEED Online.

Snafu #9: Installing bike racks for residents of an assisted living facility.

LEEDuser tip: In determining whether to pursue this credit, project teams should carefully consider climate, terrain, project location, cultural norms, and other factors that may affect bike ridership.

Snafu #8: Working with the mall developer who thinks that maybe hybrid owners "prefer" to park in the back of the lot... next door.

LEEDuser tip: "Preferred parking" refers to parking spaces near the building entrance, or to discounted parking rates (minimum 20% discount), which must be offered to all eligible parking customers.

Snafu #7: A certain project team member (who will remain nameless) won't stop calling it "LEEDs."

LEEDuser tip: Sorry, no tips for this!

Snafu #6: When the owner wants to earn the Integrated Pest Management credit for LEED-EBOM despite fumigating the building once a month as standard practice.

LEEDuser tip: When mechanical controls or least-toxic chemicals do not sufficiently address pest infestations, you are permitted to use toxic chemicals as a last resort, as long as you provide universal notification that complies with the credit requirements.

Snafu #5: Walking into the middle of an IAQ flush-out and seeing that the painter is just getting started.

LEEDuser tip: Many teams consider the flush-out option, but ultimately choose the testing option for practical reasons, such as difficulty in scheduling.

Snafu #4: The contractor is changed three times during the project--and we only end up recycling 1% of construction waste!

LEEDuser tip: Identify a hauler with a strong construction waste recycling program.

Snafu #3: The project decides to take FSC-certified wood out of the specs, but after 100% CD's (late in the process, in other words!) decided to go for FSC after all--incurring a huge mark-up.

LEEDuser tip: Revisit the baseline wood budget as the design evolves to make sure your numbers remain accurate and that you remain on track to achieve your goal for the credit.

Snafu #2: Following a change order, high-VOC paint was used in a fire-protective application--but we used a lower-VOC paint to cover it up!

LEEDuser tip: If noncompliant materials are used onsite accidentally, or due to a warranty or other issue, you can use the VOC budget method.

Snafu #1: The LEED kick-off meeting in the construction trailer.

LEEDuser tip: You'll most likely have to significantly exceed your local energy code. Achieving this energy reduction requires special attention to detail by your entire team from the beginning of the design process.

What are your top LEED snafus? Share in the comments below.

2010-01-05 n/a 11913 Hard-Won Lessons From a LEED 2009 Early Adopter Editor's Note: Erica Godun, AIA, LEED AP, an associate with FXFOWLE Architects shared the following account with us. I've included links throughout to specific credit guidance (including the official credit language) on our LEEDuser website (available by subscription). By the way, LEED projects can upgrade to 2009 anytime. We've analyzed whether it's worth it here.

LEED 2009 an "interesting" challenge

We thought that being one of the first projects to use the new LEED 2009 Interior Design and Construction rating system would be an exciting challenge. It is turning out to be more "interesting" than "exciting" as in the ancient Chinese proverb. We started a 25,000-square-foot interior renovation project in summer 2008. Our client was committed to building a sustainable project and wanted LEED certification. The objective was to get as high a rating as possible without spending money on sustainable strategies just to earn additional credits without real project benefits. As we advanced the design, the LEED analysis showed us being comfortably in the upper end of LEED Gold certification. LEED 2009 was on the horizon so we suggested to the client that we not do a design submittal under LEED-CI v2.0 but wait to see what the final version of the new rating system looked like. So we waited and waited and waited and then in April 2009, it finally arrived – the LEED Reference Guide for Green Interior Design and Construction. We had been keeping an eye on the proposed changes through the drafts and public comments so we were aware of the major items like the new prerequisites. Now it was time to get into more detail. So we reviewed and compared and did more checklists and discovered that with LEED-CI v2.0 we were just shy of submitting for a Platinum rating but with LEED 2009 we were just over the Platinum threshold. So of course everyone got very excited and we decided to make the switch. The new Reference Guide is 450 pages long and similar enough to the old Reference Guide that it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of security. Then you hit one of the little changes buried in all that text and it's similar to driving over a speed bump – no problem if you know it's there and go slow, but like hitting a wall if you're speeding. As we move through the submittal process and actually filling out the paperwork, the little things start causing big headaches.

A few specific issues

It all begins in Sustainable Sites Credit 1: Site Selection. SSc1 Path 4: Heat Island – NonRoof – In LEED-CI v2.0 SSc1 Opt D had listed under the 'Underground Parking' section an additional half-point would be awarded for Exemplary Performance if 100% of the parking was underground. This is not repeated in the specific "Exemplary Performance" section but seems very clear. The LEED 2009 version of this credit requires compliance with two of the compliance paths (instead of one) but the reference to 100% covered parking is no longer there. Since all of our building's parking is underground, this change prevents us from getting an easy additional credit. It turns out it almost doesn't matter, though, because this isn't the major change in SSc1. SSc1 Path 12: Other Quantifiable Environmental Performance only allows you to get one point. The comparable path in LEED-CI v2.0 (Option L) allowed you to get up to three points--the maximum allowed for the credit. Previously, if your building had many sustainable features that weren't listed in Options A–K, you could still maximize your credits. Now you can't. All you can earn is one point in the "other" category and that includes any Exemplary Performance points you might be eligible for under the listed paths. We were so surprised but this seemingly restrictive change that we even confirmed with the USGBC that they really meant to do this. MRc7: Certified Wood now has different submittal requirements. Previously you filled out the Letter Template and only provided back-up documentation if requested. Now the vendor invoices with specific information are part of the submittal. Fortunately the information required on the invoices is clearly outlined in the Reference Guide. Unfortunately, anyone who has done a LEED submittal knows how much paperwork is collected and filed. Though we had all the info on the certified wood products, going back through the files to extract the additional paperwork for submission and asking the contractor to provide more specifics and details is very time-consuming. IDc1: Innovation in Design no longer has a past. The library of CIRs that has been built up over the years of LEED submittals can no longer be used as back-up for the innovation credits. Without being able to reference the CIRs, there's no way to know if your proposed innovation will get you a point unless you prepare you own CIR and pay the fee to have it reviewed. More money, more time, more paperwork.

On the positive side

One new feature that has been added to LEED Online that has great potential is the Licensed Professional Exemption (LPE). From the website: "Licensed Professional Exemption (LPE) is an optional credit documentation path in which professionals can submit license information and a declaration of compliance in lieu of a number of otherwise required submittals." We're still a little wary about this compliance path since it shifts all the responsibility to the professional rather than submitting documents for review. There are some liability concerns. However in some cases it does have benefits. LEED 2009 definitely has its positives. The new credit weightings heavily favor urban projects. We often joke there should be a checkbox on the Alternative Transportation and Development Density credits that says "New York City" and exempts you from having to fill in the rest of the form. For the SSc2: Development Density credit for this project we used the new "Streamlined Path: LPE." For other credits that have the LPE we might have some concerns about allowing the professionals involved to take full responsibility for the credits instead of doing the paperwork. For a project in NYC, you need to work to find a location that couldn't comply with the density requirements so it's not much of a risk. Also an improvement, EAc1.4 Optimize Energy Performance: Equipment and Appliances now has four points available with additional tiers of compliance. Previously there were only two tiers – 70% and 90%. With the addition of 77% and 84% levels we have the opportunity to encourage the replacement of minimal older inefficient equipment with new to get the benefit of an additional point as well as the energy savings for the client. For the materials credits, an expanded definition of what "material costs" means is now included. We always knew that the material costs meant material only and did not include installation. The new definition makes it clear that the costs should include all expenses to deliver the material to the project site, so transportation and taxes are definitely part of the total.

Nothing derailing our quest

These are the things we've found so far though there will probably be more as we complete the submittal. So far these have been mostly headaches (sometimes big ones) and have not derailed our quest for LEED certification. Once you switch a project to LEED 2009 you can't go back, which is good because on some days it would make things so much easier to be back on old familiar ground--but what fun would that be?
2009-12-31 n/a 11887 Is LEED on Track to Save the World? Rob Watson recently published "Green Building Market & Impact Report," his second annual report on the impact LEED is having in addressing environmental problems. The report highlights the continuing remarkable expansion of LEED: 2009 registrations for new design and construction projects in the U.S. may actually exceed total new construction starts! (This is possible because projects don't typically register when they start construction, and a flurry of projects were registered just before the requirement to use LEED 2009 kicked in, to keep their options open.) Watson takes note of the shift from whole building construction to Commercial Interior tenant fit-outs (CI) and Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (EBOM) registration and certification. And he compares 2009 certifications to registration numbers from 2006 and 2007 to see what fraction of projects are making it through the system. (In this analysis he assumes a three-year registration-to-certification timeframe for all except LEED-CI projects, for which he assumes two years. I would have given EBOM projects a shorter turn-around as well — in our market analysis for LEEDuser we assumed 18 months.) Analyzing certification and registration trends is not Watson's main point, however. His focus is on the environmental benefits that follow. And that focus is what really caught my attention. I'm thankful he's taken that on, because it's so easy to forget what LEED was created for in the first place. So, how is LEED doing at achieving its original goal? Watson explores this question category by category, looking at numbers of projects in each of the various rating systems that have achieved certain credits. Through 2009, for example, he credits LEED projects with 780 million avoided vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and 15 billion gallons of water saved. He finds that operating energy use in 2009 led to CO2 emissions reductions of 2.9 million tons. He then extends these estimates to 2020 and 2030, with magnified results. Watson's overall conclusion — at least in terms of carbon emission reductions — is that LEED is effective but is not going far enough to help head off a climate crisis. In reaching this assessment Watson does take time to address accusations that LEED buildings may not be saving any energy at all — that debate was covered in detail in a previous post. His arguments are unlikely to win over the skeptics — but that's a tough thing to do. In producing this report he has had to radically oversimplify the analyses, any one of which could easily become fodder for more than one doctoral thesis. And it's worth noting that, as the "father of LEED," he's hardly the most unbiased of analysts one could pick to take this on. But he cares enough to do it and is willing to put out numbers for others to react to, both of which are worth a lot. Looking at the specific analyses, I think he has managed to radically overstate the impact of LEED and radically understate it. Yes, both. At the same time. Whether or not the two cancel each other out to make his estimates valid — well, we'll have to wait for those doctoral candidates to sort that out. The Overstatement The report overstates the impact of LEED because it attributes to LEED the environmental benefit of a project having achieved a certain point, without exploring the question of whether or not LEED actually contributed to that decision, choice, or action. For example, lots of LEED buildings are in urban centers, where they get points for being located near public transit and basic services. Watson associates those points with reduced vehicle miles traveled, which is the intent of those credits. But wouldn't most of those projects have been in those locations regardless of whether or not they pursued LEED? The only way I can think of to correct for this assumption would be to interview a representative sampling of LEED project teams about their decision-making process for each credit, and find out which points were actually affected by their decision to go for LEED certification. To some extent this is a matter of semantics. In talking about reduced VMT and water use, Watson refers to the "savings from LEED," but in discussing operation energy savings he refers to the benefits "from LEED buildings." The latter is less presumptive, because it doesn't imply that LEED itself is responsible for all those benefits. The Understatement Watson describes a few assumptions he's made to keep his projections on the conservative side. But there are some others that he doesn't mention, such as the number of buildings that are built to LEED standards that never sign up with GBCI. The report does include a factor for "built-to-LEED" projects, but Watson only includes in this category buildings that are registered but don't reach certification — about 30% of the total. (My guess is that many of those registered-but-not-certified projects never get built at all.) There is a much larger group of projects that use LEED as a design and construction guide, either at the request of the owner or to meet government regulations. How well these projects actually follow LEED and ultimately perform is anyone's guess, but there are a lot of them and they must have some benefits. Even more significant, but harder to quantify, is LEED's market transformation impact. LEED is not affecting just individual buildings. It is educating and inspiring project teams, leading to more aggressive energy and environmental codes, and generally having an impact on the way all buildings are built (at least in some locales). Watson's report doesn't try to factor in these secondary benefits of LEED. I don't know how one might do that, but I suspect that they're huge. In Conclusion There are many places where a more nuanced analysis would be helpful. For example, Watson describes the growing evidence that workers in green buildings are more comfortable, and conservatively assumes a 1%–2% productivity gain. But other studies have indicated that these benefits are most strongly correlated with daylighting and increased ventilation, which are not achieved as often in EBOM projects as in the others — so assuming those benefits in the rapidly increasing EBOM-certified space is something that needs a closer look. Ultimately, even though the report quantifies a range of benefits, I don't think it intends for those numbers to be taken too literally. The report represents the results of a thought exercise about how LEED is doing at accomplishing what it set out to do. And that's a great thing, because it gets us all thinking about the things that LEED was created to address in the first place. 2009-11-30 n/a 11889 GBCI doubling LEED project registration fees As editor for our LEED how-to website, LEEDuser, I pride myself on staying top of all LEED-related news. But I guess I have not been staying glued enough to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) website (this is the body that administers LEED certification, while the better-known USGBC runs the LEED standard itself). I just noticed the announcement that LEED project registration and certification fees are changing, and, absent any press releases from GBCI or other news coverage that I've been able to find, I have no idea how long the announcement has been up. So at risk of repeating something that is old hat to you, here's the deal: As of January 11, 2010, LEED project registration and certification rates will change. In some cases, double. Here are some key figures: Current Fees: Effective through January 10, 2010
  • USGBC Members: $450
  • Non-Members: $600
Project Registration Fees: Effective January 11, 2010
  • USGBC Members: $900
  • Non-Members: $1200
Changes to certification fees are all over the map, with some not changing at all, while one key design review fee is going up by 60%. GBCI has the new registration and certification fees posted on its website. What do you think? Will this change your project's calculus in pursuing LEED?
2009-11-25 n/a 11880 Double Dipping for LEED Materials Credits When you can and when you cannot count one material as contributing to more than one credit in the Materials and Resources category of LEED has confused me for years. Even the LEED Reference Guide doesn't lay it out clearly. So, after sorting it out for LEEDuser, I thought laying it out in a table might help.
Multiple MR Points for the Same Material: When is it allowed?
Building Reuse
* Exception: Waste left over from use of these materials and diverted from the landfill can count towards MRc2 as well.
** Reused materials can count as waste diversion if the material was salvaged onsite and is not considered building reuse for MRc1.
Mat. Reuse
Recycled Content
Regional Mat.
Rap. Renewable
Certified Wood
Here's an example. Cotton insulation is typically post-industrial recycled material AND it's a rapidly renewable plant material. So LEED allows you to count the cost of that material towards both MRc4 (Recycled Content) and MRc6 (Rapidly Renewable). If it also happens to be manufactured locally, in LEED-CI you could claim it towards MRc5 (Regional Materials) as well. Three-for-one! But if you're using salvaged timbers to earn MRc3 (Resource Reuse), you cannot also claim them as recycled materials for MRc4. Sometimes a material can count towards one credit or another — you can choose which, but you can't claim it for both. Of course, the fact that you're allowed to count one material towards more than one credit only applies if the material actually has the characteristics that both credits require. FSC-certified wood counts for MRc7 and MRc5, but it only gets the latter point if it actually was harvested and manufactured (or, for LEED-CI, just manufactured) within a 500-mile radius of the project. Anyone have further examples or experiences that might help clarify this situation?
2009-10-13 n/a 11864 "The drama of a 2x4 shot from an air cannon at glass windows" Architectural testing concern HTL will be at GlassBuild America shooting missiles at windows again. The demonstration/demolition follows the Miami-Dade large missile protocol by shooting 2x4s at impact-resistant and non-impact-resistant windows. A press release from HTL quotes NGA Industry Events Director Susan Jacob: "There is nothing quite like the drama of a 2x4 missile shot from an air cannon at glass windows." Wish I was going! I checked HTL's website for some footage, but was left wanting. There's a link for client videos (and there's some top name clients in there), but they all seem to be password-protected. So it was off to YouTube to find this:
Another interesting short video — less than two minutes — was shot at last year's Glassbuild conference; a reporter from e-Glass Weekly played word-association with a few exhibitors. If this small sampling is any indication, the fenestration industry does not like the NFRC at all; was optimistic (as of last year) about commercial construction; and thinks green building and LEED are the future.
2009-09-23 n/a 11870 LEED 2009: Should You Upgrade Your Project? LEEDuser, still in its free beta release, is already proving to be a tremendous resource. The Credit Browser, with its increasingly deep pool of information, is much more than just handy — and Strategies section is starting to reveal its potential value as well. A new article titled Upgrade to LEED 2009? How to Choose for Your Project just went up; it's a demystification grand slam. Projects registered for LEED certification prior to June 26 can upgrade to the appropriate LEED 2009 program for free until the end of the year — but is it worth it? There are a bunch of benefits to switching, but whether or not it works to a project's benefit is entirely case by case. Just when it all couldn't get any more crazy-making, along comes something like this to shine a light right where you need it. 2009-09-04 n/a 11855 One-Stop Shopping for Critiques of LEED Any college student writing a term paper on the history of the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED rating system, and criticisms of LEED over its history, now has a cheat sheet. The motherlode of research comes courtesy of Pat Murphy of Community Solutions, according to its website, "founded in 1940 as a ... non-profit organization that educates on the benefits and values of small local community living." In an article titled "LEEDing from Behind: The Rise and Fall of Green Building" Murphy offers a special report showing the history of LEED relative to energy performance. Actually, it's the first part of a promised three parts. In the second part, promised in June but not yet out, Murphy promises an analysis of "LEED additional building costs" and "energy performance obtained from those costs." In Part III, Murphy promises "options to the LEED rating system." The paper helpfully breaks down the history of LEED, and lays out many significant arguments against it in a chronological framework. ("Concerns about LEED: 2005–2006," "Concerns about LEED: 2007–2008," etc.) Murphy clearly has not been drinking the LEED Kool-aid, which leads to analysis that reads at times as if it were written by very naive space aliens:
LEED ratings are not given by any popularly used metrics (such as BTUs of energy consumed per square foot per year) but by names of metals including silver, gold and platinum for the levels of certification.
Just how "popularly used" are metrics like BTUs per square foot? How about some context for the limitations of those measures, such as their lack of accounting for building type, occupancy hours, etc.? In repeating certain arguments uncritically, Murphy seems to align himself with other critics of LEED who blame USGBC for creating a imperfect tool, not acknowledging that it did something:
Brook [Daniel Brook, of Fast Company] points out that the LEED certification process may seem woefully oversimplified, yet it doesn't even have the benefit of being cheap. Certification can cost more than $100,000 with all the paperwork and consultants, a lot of money for smaller firms and nonprofits. He asks if these dollars might be better spent on features that actually make a building green (meaning lower energy use) rather than simply winning certification. Brook thinks that just closing the loopholes in the checklist will only take the USGBC so far. In Europe, which has had baseline standards for energy efficiency since the mid-1990s, all new buildings are green buildings to some extent. [italics added]
Note that in the italicized portion, Murphy does not make it clear if he is quoting Brooks, or, as it actually appears, marshalling his own arguments in support of Brooks. I have no problem with articles (like many written by myself for EBN), combining analysis with some opinionated conclusions. I simply wish, however, that report writers like Murphy would make it clear when they are quoting Joe Expert and when they are speaking for themselves in support of Joe Expert. Speaking myself to the argument made by Brooks/Murphy, I would note that USGBC does not have the option of imposing baseline standards for energy on the entire U.S., although that is a cause that it supports through efforts like Standard 189. Rather, USGBC has offered us a voluntary green building rating system. Wait let's also underline voluntary, because that's pretty key (although I need to acknowledge here that the voluntary-ness is being undermined by LEED legislation in many places). One could go around to any building and pick out things (granite lobbies, water fountains, public art) that could arguably be jettisoned in favor of better energy features. Why pick on the cost of LEED certification above all of these, if the owner decides that it adds value? Back to the title of the report, and the "Rise and Fall of Green Building" -- it would be more fairly written as the "Rise and the Failure of LEED," because clearly green building does not equal LEED, and neither has fallen as I write this. Okay, enough picking apart Murphy's paper, which overall performs a useful service in pulling together a lot of research into one place. I simply hope that Murphy will either do a better job of presenting criticisms in context, or acknowledge his biases in parts II and III of the report, which should be forthcoming from Community Solutions.
2009-08-05 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 11834 LEED User? Word's been filtering out recently about, which — marked by today's press release and a notice in the current issue of Environmental Building News — has officially soft-launched in beta with partial content. Registration is free, but only for a while. What is it? The press release explains:
Responding to the need for comprehensive help with the new LEED rating systems that's based on real-world experience, BuildingGreen, LLC, publishers of the widely respected Environmental Building News and GreenSpec Directory, have created LEEDuser with support of the U.S. Green Building Council. This new website, at, provides credit-by-credit guidance for teams working on LEED certification. Included are clear descriptions of credit requirements, tips to streamline LEED submissions, online calculators, and online user forums related to specific credits. LEEDuser facilitates LEED certification for projects using the five recently launched LEED 2009 rating systems: New Construction, Core & Shell, Schools, Commercial Interiors, and Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance.
Real Life LEED has already weighed in, noting, "If you've been a long time reader of this site you might remember that I think these guys are top-notch, and what I've seen on the site so far gives me no reason to expect anything less from LEEDuser." From the press release:
LEEDuser is available now in beta release with free registration. It already covers the credits that users have found most challenging, and it will continue to expand throughout the summer. Beginning in October 2009 the website will be available by subscription.
For a view from deep inside the project itself, take a look at what one of its technical web developers — our own Brian Fending — wrote. Here's a snippet: "It's INSANE how good this is at delivering the required content... Impossibly awesome and without a single peer in this and many regards."
2009-07-08 n/a 11790 LEED for Homes: Tips for Successful Projects Who could be more qualified than one of the principal authors of LEED for Homes to provide insight on the best ways to make the program work?
LEED for Homes, like other rating systems, is an assessment tool. This means that while it provides some "how-to" information (at the level of individual strategies or "credits"), it doesn't offer any guidance for how to approach the design and construction of a high-performing home differently than a conventional project. Ann Edminster will offer some of that missing guidance in this webinar.
It gets better. Not only do you not have to jet off to some city to sit in some auditorium during some high-priced conference to take this in... it's free. Just sign up and it's yours for the taking on June 2, at 2:00 pm Eastern (1:00 pm Central, noon Mountain, 11:00 am Pacific), right on your computer. A gift from The presenter, Ann Edminster, is a longtime green building mover and shaker. In addition to being one of the main people who developed LEED for Homes (she was its co-chair through most of its making), she's also a past member of the LEED Steering Committee, and a member and past co-chair of the USGBC's Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group. She co-authored Efficient Wood Use In Residential Construction: A Practical Guide to Saving Wood, Money, and Forests, has written bunches of technical papers and articles, and has been an invited speaker at dozens of regional, national, and international green building conferences over the past 15 years. She's the founding principal of the environmental design consulting firm Design AVEnues.
2009-05-16 n/a 11796 BSR/ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA green building draft standard open for public review The long-time-coming "BSR/ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA Standard 189.1P, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings" is open for public review until June 15, 2009. From the forward:
"Standard 189.1 addresses site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and the building's impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources. This is a standard for high-performance green buildings. It is not a rating system, though it could be incorporated as the baseline in a green building rating system. It is not a design guide."
From EBN, March 2006:
"The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE), U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) announced in February 2006 that they will cosponsor the development of ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA Standard 189P: Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings."
From EBN, December 2006:
"Work continues on ASHRAE Standard 189P, a joint project between USGBC, ASHRAE, and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA)... the standard is intended as a way of putting minimum LEED performance into the form of a building code. Its place would likely be as an addendum to official building codes for municipalities that choose to require a basic green building standard for all new construction."
From EBN, October 2008:
"What was supposed to be a new minimum, code-enforceable standard for green buildings now faces an uncertain future. In a move that came as a surprise to its partners, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has disbanded the committee..."
From EBN, March 2009:
"ASHRAE has now reconstituted the committee with 34 voting members, including 16 from the previous group. New members include individuals representing timber, steel, utility, and commercial real estate. ASHRAE's move appears intended to insulate Standard 189 against procedural appeals from those industries, but it remains to be seen whether the larger committee with its broader array of interests can complete the development of an effective standard."
2009-05-03 n/a 11797 LEED for Neighborhood Development: 2nd Public Comment Opens Today From the USGBC:
The consensus-based process that drives the development of the LEED rating systems is key to ensuring LEED encourages the very best in building, design and development practices. As LEED grows to cover the way we plan and build our neighborhoods, it's especially vital that we hear as many diverse voices as we can. The second public comment period for LEED for Neighborhood Development opens today, Friday, May 1, and will close Sunday, June 14, at 11:59 p.m. PDT. Please don't miss this chance to be part of the development of the rating system! See the updated rating system draft and submit your comments » During the first public comment period that ended earlier this year, we received more than 5,000 comments, and we have posted responses to each of those comments at the link above. Please note that, in the second public comment period, only changes to the draft that were made after the first public comment period are open for comment. The LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system integrates the principles of smart growth, new urbanism and green building into the first national rating system for neighborhood design. The program is the result of a collaboration among USGBC, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The rating system has been in pilot since July 2007, with nearly 240 projects participating. Feedback gathered from those projects, as well as countless hours of USGBC volunteers' time, have led to the current, more-sophisticated and market-responsive draft of LEED for Neighborhood Development.
2009-05-01 n/a 11743 Last-minute extension for LEED-AP registration You're aware of the major changes that are coming to the LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) system. If you pass the exam now, you come on board through the older, more familiar system that doesn't require actual LEED project experience. The key dates for the changeover have finally been announced. Now all that's left to do is register for the exam by March 31, 2009 on the Green Building Certification Institute website. Oops... the GBCI site isn't working. According to an announcement just posted to the USGBC site, "Due to unexpected website maintenance, we are extending the deadline for registration for the LEED AP NC and CI exams to April 1, 2009 at 11:59 pm (Pacific Time)." You have an extra 24 hours. The winner here is anyone who takes the exam on April 1 and fails. That's because after registration closes, you only have one shot at it, before you have to wait a few months for a completely different exam. If you fail tomorrow, hurry home and register again! (Bringing your vinyl credit card with you, of course.) Good luck everyone! Thanks to my colleague Mark Piepkorn for noticing this situation. 2009-03-31 n/a 11755 Interview with a Green Building Movement Pioneer Sea Change Radio recently had a great discussion with Alex Wilson. From their website:
Alex Wilson founded BuildingGreen in 1985, when the green building movement was in its infancy. As executive editor of Environmental Building News, the bible of green building, Wilson has provided the information that has formed the building blocks of the movement. In November 2008, Wilson received the Leadership Award for Education from the US Green Building Council, whose board he served on from 2000 until 2005, the crucial period when the organization created the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Wilson launches the conversation with a primer on green building and its history, starting with an explanation of LEED. He then compares indigenous structural design, such as the Anasazi, who oriented their dwellings toward the sun to capture solar energy, compared to design that developed in the age of cheap fossil fuel, which abandoned age-old principles of efficiency. Wilson points out, however, that the Anasazi civilization collapsed due to reliance on unsustainable water use — a fate our current culture may share with them. Wilson highlights solutions, such as green roofs and urban agriculture which integrates into the built environment, citing the example of City Farm in Chicago. He then proposes the idea of passive survivability, the notion of designing our buildings to survive the kinds of challenges that will become more prevalent as the climate changes, such as power outages and water shortages. The beauty of this idea is that it's exactly the kind of design we need to achieve sustainability.
Download the interview, or stream it at the Sea Change Radio website. Alex starts about 5 minutes in.
2009-03-16 n/a 11739 Remembering Gail Lindsey

At the 2008 "Summer Camp" in the Adirondacks.
Photo: Mike Cox
The green building industry lost one of its pillars this week. Less than two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2007, Gail Lindsey, FAIA, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, passed away on February 2nd. She had been recovering from a third round of chemotherapy when a sudden recurrence of liver cancer was discovered late last week. Gail has been a key part of the green building movement since its earliest formative days. She was one of EBN's most enthusiastic supporters since joining our advisory board at the beginning of 1994, and was always willing to share wisdom and encouragement whenever asked. For architects, Gail was perhaps best known as chair of the National AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) during a particularly formative period when the annual Top-10 awards were launched. For thousands of architects, builders, developers, and facilities managers, Gail is remembered as an enthusiastic and inspirational teacher. She led more than 200 workshops and charrettes on green building, and never failed to brighten and inspire those participants. I remember sitting in one of those charrettes — I can't remember where or when. After each of the 30 or 40 of us sitting in a circle introduced ourselves, I was astounded to hear Gail repeat each of our names. It was one of Gail's many gifts, and it helped each of those participants feel listened to and important. It was all about them, the students, not about her, the instructor. Among the many charrettes Gail was involved with were the Greening of the White House, the Greening of the Pentagon, the Sustainable Design Initiatives for the National Park Service, and the Sustainable Design Training Program for the Department of Defense. I remember her describing the bizarre ending of a charrette at a military base on September 11, 2001. President Bush was diverted to this base on his return from Florida to Washington after the terrorist attacks. The military personnel didn't know what to do with these civilian instructors in their midst so, in the panic, locked them up in a room.
Photo: Mike Cox, December 2008
Gail was involved in creating the LEED Rating System, the Army's SPiRiT rating system, the North Carolina Triangle J High Performance Guidelines, and the International Green Building Challenge Assessment Tool. She was one of the first twelve LEED trainers for the U.S. Green Building Council, and she co-chaired the U.S. Team for the International Green Building Challenge starting with its inception in 1996. We worked very closely with Gail in creating the Green Building Advisor — not our new online tool, but the CD-ROM-based brainstorming tool of the same name that BuildingGreen produced ten years ago in partnership with Gail's company, Design Harmony, and the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST). The early meetings about this tool at our home in Dummerston, Vermont are fond memories; Gail connected with my two daughters and always asked about them in the years since. In recent years, Gail was focused on the evolution of green building beyond energy and water and materials — the holistic aspects of this field. In 2005, Nadav worked closely with her, Bill Reed, Joel Todd, and others on the Expanding Our Approach workshop supported by the General Services Administration. A year later, I was fortunate enough to join Gail and thirty other visionaries in a symposium on biophilia. Last summer Jim Newman, on our staff, participated in a five-day "Summer Camp" in the Adirondacks organized by Gail and a few others pursuing deeper connections, personal growth, and fun (a pursuit that Gail thought didn't get enough attention in our meetings and conferences). When Gail was recognized in 2007 with a Leadership Award from the USGBC, Nadav noted, "Gail's influence on BuildingGreen, and on me in particular, has been nothing short of profound." Gail will be sorely missed by all of us at BuildingGreen and by thousands of others in the green building field whose lives she deeply touched. We offer our deepest sympathies to her beloved husband Mike, who has cared so ably for Gail these past two years, and to her wide circle of supportive friends. During her illness, Gail gave as much support to this circle of friends as we were able to give to her. Gail's endearing smile will live on for all of us. — Alex Wilson
2009-02-04 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 11651 Being 22.1% (give or take) of the Top Ten Feels Darned Good! Preston Koerner, over at Jetson Green, posted his "Top 10 Tidbits from Greenbuild 2008." Check out numbers 2, 4, 6, and 7:
2. The LEED AP Program undergoes major overhaul and the GBCI talks about LEED Green Associates, Legacy LEED APs, LEED AP Fellows, and the other family of LEED APs (ID+C, BD+C, Homes, O+M, and ND).
This item links to a post our own Tristan Korthals Altes wrote here on's blog.

4. BuildingGreen soft launches a new online information resource on residential green building and remodeling called
That's us.

6. The USGBC gives 2008 Leadership Awards to Alexander Karsner, Alex Wilson, Scot Horst, Ted Strickland, CB Richard Ellis, San Diego Gas & Electric Sustainable Communities Program, and the founding members of AIA COTE.
Alex Wilson! BuildingGreen's founder.

7. BuildingGreen announces their seventh annual list of green building products with the 2008 Top-10 Green Building Products
That's us, too.

Seriously, it's great to be a contributing cog in an organization that was a major player in defining the green building movement at its inception and is still at the forefront after all this time. Here's to the next 23 years.
2008-11-22 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 11660 Sculpting his way to LEED credits Posted from Greenbuild '08. As my colleague Nadav Malin has written, attempts to achieve LEED credits, particularly in the materials and resources category, sometimes involve "magical," that is, wishful, thinking. At a session this morning on green blogging, a guy popped out of the audience who wields a much more interesting and perhaps even more audacious type of magic toward achieving LEED credits... sculpture. Dwayne Bass of Twovital takes on-site construction waste and turns it into permanent on-site sculpture. I didn't catch which LEED credits he has successfully achieved, but this kind of work would clearly contribute to MR Credit 2: Construction Waste Management (although more durable materials that could be sculptural, like rebar, are likely to be recycled anyway), and particularly if a project leaned on the educational angle, could earn a point for Innovation in Design. In Dwayne's words (from his website):
In 2007, Dwayne Bass, a seasoned sculptor, had contacted Dave Radlmann, a green builder/developer, to discuss opportunities that there may be in any of Dave's projects for a sculpture. After hours of discussion, they came to the conclusion that there is a need in green building and development for sculpture and art. Thus, the birth of Twovital's pioneering sculpture out of construction waste. Dwayne worked with Dave to receive a green credit under the UGGBC's LEED program and has the first sculpture placed at Commonwealth Braselton in Braselton, GA. Successful completion of the project yielded both approved LEED credit and an engaging sculpture to greet building visitors. The majority of construction projects do not recycle waste that is accumulated while building. Twovital provides a positive alternative solution to simply hauling off waste to landfills. Even the construction of our sculptures takes the sensitivity of the environment into account. Environmentally sensitive adhesives are used in all sculptures rather than using welded joints. The end result is a synergy of artistic value, environmental stewardship, and recreational functionality.
Green or greenwash? You be the judge. I would be careful to not overstate the environmental benefit, but this seems like a win for art and education, and a win for the environment. More press and photos are here.
2008-11-20 n/a 11669 Affordable Housing Summit at Greenbuild - Report By Peter Yost and Allyson Wendt, posted live from Greenbuild. It's common knowledge that green building is anything but affordable. Or is it? You would have had a pretty hard time convincing the 100 or so folks at the USGBC's Affordable Housing Summit. They are convinced that green is actually affordable, both in terms of investment and operations budgets. Heather Clark — from one of the largest property owners of housing in the U.S., Winn Development — stated that water efficiency improvements alone in 76 of their properties cost only $376,000 and saved them over $1.2 M in the first year! In this case, they were paying the water bills, but even if the retrofits had benefited the tenants directly, saving money is still saving money. And saving water is saving water. I (Peter) have to confess that if I hear the term net present value one more time in the context of green building, I may pass out. Net present value is based on an assumed discount rate. And just what discount rate should we use for the next 5 years, much less 10, 20, 30, or 40 years? We have to stop supporting the myth that we can evaluate the "worth" of really long term investments in high performance building enclosures (energy-efficient and durable) by "predicting" just what the price will be 25 years from now for materials much less energy. We continue to do this when, in less than one business quarter, oil went from nearly $150 a barrel to nearly $50. Lenders, investors, insurers, appraisers — they all need to stop this Ouija board nonsense. Our hyperfocus on payback periods simply does not work for conventional buildings, much less green affordable ones. Another myth that got some busting at the Affordable Housing Summit was single-minded green building. We could call this "green damage." It happens when we focus on just energy efficiency and ignore moisture. It happens when we reduce green building to the right product selections rather than the right construction processes that go with those materials. Considerable time was spent discussing ways to document and value comprehensive building performance, rather than just one or two aspects of it. While Peter was learning about net present value and green damage, I (Allyson) was learning about the struggles of building green when you can't pass the incremental costs onto your clients, homeowners below the median income. Payback figures don't mean much to the developers in these cases, since the savings are realized by the homeowner, who hasn't paid for the up-front costs. As we enter a recession, finding funding for all projects is getting more difficult, and "extras" like solar hot water or super insulation are almost out of the question. And certification? Unless you're lucky enough to get a grant, forget it! The summit attendees spent the afternoon in ten groups: charrettes for a wide range of real housing projects, ranging from hundred-plus unit partial rehabs to one single family detached Habitat for Humanity (HFH) home on Nantucket. It felt to me (Peter, in the HFH Nantucket group) that we did a lot of green wondering and wandering. But interestingly, our group and the others felt that they had learned a ton — from what in the world is a vapor profile to how USGBC and The Home Depot Foundation financially support LEED certification for affordable housing projects. In my (Allyson's) group, we were looking at a retrofit of an old mill building in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Un-insulated brick walls, solid wood floors, older double-pane windows — and restrictions because of historic building tax credits. The group discussed options for insulating the walls and insulating the units acoustically from each other. The design was already pretty far along, so we probably didn't affect the architect's choices much, but it was helpful to think through the issues as a group. I think we all learned quite a bit. The long and short of it is this: of all those who need durable, low maintenance, energy and water efficient homes, it is the folks dedicating the most of their income to those same costs that need green building. We can't afford for green building NOT to be affordable! For more information from the Affordable Housing Summit, go to the LEED for Homes website next week. 2008-11-19 n/a 11681 BuildingGreen — Sessions at Greenbuild We'll be at Greenbuild in force this year — I think it's more than a dozen of us — checking out your booths, staffing our own (come see us at #1728, almost smack-dab in the middle), going to sessions... and giving a bunch of sessions as well. On Monday the 17th, during the two-day Green Affordable Housing Summit that happens before Greenbuild proper actually starts (but which is a little-known part of it), Peter Yost is chairing a panel on residential retrofit and rehab. My info is a little fuzzy, but it seems that our own Allyson Wendt may be on that panel, or somehow else involved. On Tuesday, Nadav Malin does a preconference LEED workshop on "Costs and Returns." Peter Yost pops up again on Wednesday at 2:00 to teach education session BL01 in room 104ABC, titled "Call it REGREEN," about the Regreen residential remodeling guidelines. Also on Wednesday, also in the 2:00 time slot, session BL07 in room 156ABC — "Nutrition Labels for Products: Taking Control of Deciding What's Green for You" — features our ace researcher Jennifer Atlee. The next day, Thursday, Nadav Malin sits on a panel talking about lessons learned from a couple case studies of high-profile LEED buildings. This is Specialty Update session SU16 in room 160ABC, at 2:00. And Alex Wilson has back-to-back presentations on Thursday. He'll announce the annual Top Ten Green Products during a Specialty Update session that also begins at 2:00... though, oddly, I can't quite figure out where. This is generally a pretty popular thing. When I find out, I'll post an update here. UPDATE: Room 104 ABC, on Thursday from 2 - 3 pm. Then at 4:30, Alex sits on a panel for a Homebuilder's Day presentation titled "Green Products and Technologies: Making Sound Choices in the Age of Hype" — session BR3d in room 257A. When Friday rolls around, Tristan Korthals-Altes is on the panel for a 9:00 a.m. session, PL16 in room 204AB, on "Greening our Historic Legacy: Sustainability and Preservation Standards." And finally, also on Friday, Peter Yost is giving a half-day workshop on those Regreen residential remodeling guidelines. 2008-11-11 n/a 11610 Wishful (Magical?) Thinking on Products and LEED's Materials Credits In my years as chair of LEED's Materials & Resources Technical Advisory Group (MR-TAG) I've gotten lots of questions and comments about interesting interpretations and claims from product manufacturers. Most manufacturers are sincere in their efforts to understand the credit requirements and present their products in a positive light. Sometimes they just don't go far enough in studying the credit language before making their claims. Sometimes they just lapse into wishful thinking. Perhaps the best examples of wishful thinking that I've seen are those who claim that if a product is formed or molded on the building site than they can claim that it contributes to the regional materials credit because it was manufactured on site. Terrazzo flooring manufacturers all seem to jump on this wacky interpretation (here's just one example), and I've heard that spray-foam insulation companies are making it as well. Another claim I see a lot is for products that supposedly meet LEED's requirement for low indoor emissions, even though they are not in one of the categories to which that credit applies. Those categories are adhesives & sealants, paints & coatings, carpet, composite wood, and (for LEED-CI) furniture. The carpet category has now been extended to include other flooring. Insulation doesn't count as a sealant in LEED, even if it is a foamed-in-place product that reduces air infiltration. Finally, there is the wild west of recycled content claims. Some products and material sources admittedly fall into a gray area, so it's hard to blame companies for interpreting things to their benefit. Others are not so excusable. Float glass manufacturers, for example, have always recycled off-spec glass back into their product, and it's recycled right back into the same production line. Those conditions clearly violate LEED's definitions of what constitute recycled content, even under the older guidelines which were based on Federal Trade Commission rules. LEED for New Construction has updated its citation to reference ISO 14021, which is clearer on these matters — but nothing is clear enough, apparently, to survive wishful reinterpretations. 2008-08-14 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 11591 Replacing LEED's heavy metals: Silver, Gold, Platinum How can LEED hope to transform the building industry in an environmental mold if, to highlight the achievements of buildings, it relies on outmoded stores of value whose extraction and use does vast environmental and social harm: Silver, Gold and Platinum? Those, of course, are the three top tiers of achievement for green buildings in the LEED Rating System. The lowest tier? Plain-vanilla "Certified." C'mon, USGBC, you couldn't pull out palladium or beryllium as a consolation prize? These tiers are also spreading a pox of heavy metals in the green building world. They've recently been spotted in the NSF-140 sustainable carpet program, and in the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) product certification program, whose founders, William McDonough, FAIA, and Michael Braungart, Ph.D., should know better. Speaking of C2C, it was Braungart himself who suggested to me last year that there should be a more environmentally conscious tier system. His suggestion at the time was something like: 3) Microbe
2) Ant
1) Butterfly
I guess he likes insects and other creepy crawlies. I've come up with a few ideas of my own, and please send me yours. The best ideas will be noted, with proper credit, in a future post on I'll also present them to USGBC. The fundamental problem is that LEED is a point-driven, hierarchical system, and nature resists that. So we could go with: 3) Fox
2) Panda
1) Tiger
But what does that say about our sympathy for animals with faces, out of all of the species in the world? To put the lie to that focus, we could come up with a tier system just with mammals that have become globally extinct this decade: 3) Western black rhino
2) Pyrenean ibex
1) Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey
Or, how about a little reminder of what our future looks like if we don't change our environmentally destructive ways: 3) Tyrannosaurus rex
2) Brontosaurus
1) Stegosaurus
Or, from a more human perspective: 3) Jimi
2) Elvis
1) Tupac
I can see it now.... "We are pleased to award a LEED-Elvis certification to this new drug-treatment center." In all seriousness, here is my suggestion for a system appropriate to my region (New England). These three species are found together in the same forest, with none "on top" of the hierarchy: 3) Hemlock
2) Beech
1) Maple
Sadly, all three are faced with threats of anthropogenic origin: the woolly adelgid, beech scale, and climate change, respectively.
2008-07-17 n/a 11569 Quick Facts: LEED 2009 USGBC is distributing the following email:
The USGBC public comment period for LEED 2009 will be open until this Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 5 PM PST. Any member of the public may comment on the proposed changes to LEED. USGBC will respond to all comments and post the comments and responses (without commenter names or organizations) to the USGBC Web site. If changes are made as a result of comments, a 15-day second public comment period will be conducted on those changes. The resulting draft will then be sent to USGBC membership primary contacts for ballot. Visit the public drafts page for more information and to participate. Since the opening of the public comment period, we've gotten lots of questions about how LEED 2009 will (and won't) affect other USGBC program areas. Here are some quick facts to respond to the most frequently asked questions:
  • LEED 2009 is part of LEED Version 3 (v3); LEED 2009 refers to the LEED technical rating system.
  • The current versions of the LEED AP exams will be available through 2008.
  • Beginning in early 2009, after the new version of LEED launches, the AP Exams will be updated to reflect the changes.
  • Updated LEED Workshops that reflect LEED 2009 will be offered beginning at USGBC's annual Greenbuild Conference & Expo in Boston during November of this year.
  • Projects registered under a current version of LEED will have the option of either "updating" to LEED 2009 or continuing with the system under which they originally registered.
  • LEED 2009 only applies to commercial building applications and their existing rating systems (LEED for: New Construction, Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, Commercial Interiors, Schools, and Core & Shell). LEED for Homes will be updated next year for anticipated release in 2010.
Please contact with any questions. Visit the LEED 2009 page for more information.
2008-06-18 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 11548 COTE's Top Ten Green Projects Presentation at AIA'08
Michael Wentz being interviewed after the presentation
The AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Green Projects awards for sustainable design excellence is a big deal, and the nearly hour-and-a-half presentation was standing room only. David Miller and Henry Siegel, along with jury members Rebecca Henn (see her post "How the 2008 AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects were chosen"), and Marvin Malecha providing color commentary, presented this year's winners. BuildingGreen was given a nice shout-out in the introductory remarks, described as "one of the most important partners over the years" of the Top Ten awards, with special thanks given to Michael Wentz for his extensive assistance. COTE has ten measure of sustainability that it considers:
  1. Sustainable design intent & innovation: Sustainable design is an inherent aspect of design excellence. Projects should express sustainable design concepts and intentions, and take advantage of innovative programming opportunities.
  2. Regional community design / connectivity: Sustainable design values the unique cultural and natural character of a given region.
  3. Land use & site ecology: Sustainable design protects and benefits ecosystems, watersheds, and wildlife habitat in the presence of human development.
  4. Bioclimatic design: Sustainable design conserves resources and maximizes comfort through design adaptations to site-specific and regional climate conditions.
  5. Light & air: Sustainable design creates comfortable interior environments that provide daylight, views, and fresh air.
  6. Water cycle: Sustainable design conserves water and protects and improves water quality.
  7. Energy flows & energy future: Sustainable design conserves energy and resources and reduces the carbon footprint while improving building performance and comfort. Sustainable design anticipates future energy sources and needs.
  8. Materials & construction: Sustainable design includes the informed selection of materials and products to reduce product-cycle environmental impacts, improve performance, and optimize occupant health and comfort.
  9. Long life & loose fit: Sustainable design seeks to enhance and increase ecological, social, and economic values over time.
  10. Collective wisdom & feedback loops: Sustainable design strategies and best practices evolve over time through documented performance and shared knowledge of lessons learned.
While each of the ten projects excelled at more than one of these attributes, they were each presented in conjunction with one measure. The award winners are not ranked. The guy next to me dozed fitfully through much of the presentation, but the crowd on the whole was interested and enthusiastic.
Attending award-winners, COTE leaders, and jurists
Measure 1: Sustainable design intent & innovation
Yale Sculpture Building and Gallery; New Haven, Connecticut
Though budgeted for LEED Silver, the design team achieved LEED Platinum. They met weekly during the scant 21 months they were given to design and construct this university building. Measure 2: Regional community design / connectivity
Macallen Building Condominiums; Boston, Massachusetts
A LEED Gold spec-built 140-unit condo designed to promote green lifestyle for residents and nonresidents alike. (It was noted that a nonchemical cooling tower water treatment system was used, but not which one. Blowdown is captured to irrigate one of the green roofs.) Measure 3: Land use & site ecology
Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center; Flushing, New York
Set in a legacy site of two world's fairs, more than a third of the materials used to build this free-and-open-to-the-public center were local. Measure 4: Bioclimatic design
Garthwaite Center for Science and Art; Weston, Massachusetts
A high school building designed with student involvement. A design team member noted, "It was exciting to se how proactive students were in developing green strategeis and holding us accountable." Measure 5: Light & air
Lavin-Bernick Center; New Orleans, Louisiana
This student center at Tulane University built out from the concrete structure of an existing building is passively cooled for five months of the year in that hot and humid climate. "If there's an example of Alex Wilson's passive survivability, this is it," noted Rebecca Henn. Measure 6: Water cycle
Cesar Chavez Library; Laveen, Arizona
Despite having a lawn in the desert, the jury — after long and lively debate — came away impressed with the rooftop rainwater collection system that balances this building's water use. Measure 7: Energy flows & energy future
Aldo Leopold Legacy Center; Baraboo, Wisconsin
One of the highest scoring LEED Platinum projects, most of the wood for this net exporter of energy (the owner challenged the designers to make it a carbon neutral project) was not only FSC certified, but came from trees harvested on the site that were planted by the family in the '30s and '40s. An engineer from the project team noted that they were able to downsize just about everything in the thermal comfort and ventilation systems by completely separating them, including the ducts. Measure 8: Materials & construction
Pocono Environmental Education Center; Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania
An unusual visual aspect of this National Park Service building is the use of wall shingles site-cut from dead auto tires, many reclaimed from the the Delaware River. Measure 9: Long life & loose fit
South Lake Union Discovery Center; Seattle, Washington
A temporary, modular exhibit space designed for disassembly and relocation. "It's not about its site — it's about several sites." It uses air-source heat pumps for conditioning. Measure 10: Collective wisdom & feedback loops
Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex; Hillsborough, California
Marvin Malecha summed it up: "A great integration of simple, climate-based design approaches that goes beyond any checklist," adding wryly, "It's not a typical schoolbuilding that children have to confront." Honorable Mention
Internal Revenue Service, Kansas City Campus; Kansas City, Missouri
Nearly a million square feet! "A building type that could have been awful in so many ways..." "Poor performance could have resulted in gargantuan consequences..." Yet they managed to avoid what so easily, and so often, are the hallmarks of these kinds of buildings.
2008-05-17 n/a 11556 Legally Green — Legal and Practice Issues of LEED (AIA'08) This morning began (for me) with a 7:00 (early!) session called "Legally Green: Legal and Practice Issues of LEED," presented by Betsy del Monte and William Quatman. The room had a capacity approaching 400, and got close to filling up. Betsy's presentation was, for the most part, understandably basic. The big majority of the audience, by show of hands, had not worked on a LEED certified project, or a LEED certifiable project, and were not LEED APs. They were there for continuing education. More on that shortly. Betsy's take on legislation and owner requirements for buildings to be LEED certifiable, but not certified, falls just a bit short. She noted that the cost difference between a certifiable project and a certified one is marginal at best... and that when somebody says that they saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by not pursuing actual certification, it means that they almost certainly did not build a certifiable building. According to Betsy, USGBC fees are the smallest amount of the increased costs of a certifiable building. Bill's part of the presentation addressed the potential legal concerns facing architects that are working in the greenstream. There was quite a bit made of the fact that the AIA's policies, contracts, and code of ethics all demand — not just support — sustainability and environmental proactivity by its members. (He admitted that the bar is sometimes pretty low, however.) He presented research showing that 83% of designers feel that they have a responsibility to present green options to their clients — but that only 17% actually do it. Does this constitute negligence? — "conduct below the professional standard of care"? If green is a requirement of practice, and you don't do it, are you negligent? He asked if having LEED APs on staff raises the bar. Does it represent expertise? Does citing performance standards and LEED AP credentials in your marketing imply a warranty that can create potential liability? With green building increasingly being required by legislation, new liabilities arise. "Strict Liability" means that if legislated requirements aren't met, a jury isn't needed to convict you (as opposed to "Negligence Per Se.") If a statute requiring LEED certifiability isn't achieved, you're guilty. No trial needed. He noted that a CD can be requested from the AIA Trust that contains all the information he covered. Now, about the continuing education thing: It's a requisite part of AIA membership, and AIA members get continuing education credits for attending these sessions. It's a good thing when a professional organization demands that its members stay abreast of their field. But I was disappointed to see all but about 40 people stampede for the door when Q&A started. It begged the unasked question: Were they only here for the continuing ed credits? To put in their minimum requirement? The people who stayed were deeply engaged — leaning forward in their seats, taking notes, participating. They are the future, and they give me hope. 2008-05-15 n/a 11525 Walking the Talk: A Realtor's LEED for Homes Platinum Gut Rehab in Washington, DC.

Amy Levin and friends
photo: Heidi Glenn, NPR
I was a pretty lucky guy this past week. Firstly, I got to be in Washington, DC near the peak of their spring blossom season on a picture perfect day. Secondly, I was there to talk with National Public Radio's Robert Siegel and realtor Amy Levin about her LEED for Homes Platinum (pending) gut rehab of a townhome in Mt. Pleasant, the first such project in Washington, DC and one of just a small handful in the nation. The best way to learn more overall about this amazing project is to hear the story that recently aired on NPR's All Things Considered. But BuildingGreen LIVE decided to talk a bit more with Amy Levin to learn just how and why a realtor took such a deep plunge into the world of green building. Coming from a family of realtors, Amy has been involved in housing, property improvement, and property investment most of her life. But about two years ago, she became convinced that building green presented a real opportunity — that building green can pay builders back, even though there may be some additional up-front cost, because the public is willing to pay for the small premium. She set off looking for an existing property to prove it. "When 1834 Ingleside Terrace was listed, my offer was the first of many great ones," says Amy. "But it was the fact that I wanted to do a green renovation that convinced the owner to accept mine." A pretty good start to her sense of what green building can mean in the marketplace.

photos: Amy Levin
Amy then turned her attention to just how she was going to green the gut rehab. "I wanted a program that provided project oversight, one that would deliver results I could market," Amy recalls. She had heard quite a bit about USGBC's LEED programs for commercial buildings, and that led her to the LEED for Homes program, the Southface Institute (the LEED for Homes provider for the DC area), and Asa Foss, a LEED for Homes rater. Asa turned out to be just the right combination of expertise and encouragement that Amy needed to tackle LEED for Homes at its highest level, Platinum. "I found the right program and the right people," says Amy. "You can't make a LEED for Homes Platinum gut rehab easy, but Southface and Asa provided the direction and depth of understanding that made the process manageable." So, what did Amy discover at 1834 Ingleside Terrace about green building and if it pays:
  • She found an appraiser who valued her townhome at about 10% higher than comparable properties, one who listened to Amy's explanation of the green benefits of her approach and said, "Oh, it's like prepaying for efficiency."
  • She found interested buyers making offers that would more than cover the additional investments in green she had made in the property, even though the property is not even listed.
  • She found prospective renters more than willing to pay a clear premium for the health, energy benefits, and what Amy calls the "cool factor" of her green home.
  • She found about a dozen wonderful paintings in the basement that one E. J. Martin used to pay part of his rent, salvaged art that now graces many of the walls of her LEED Platinum home.
I have met a lot of realtors in my 20+ years in the homebuilding industry. Amy is the first I have met with a deep and broad understanding of both the technical and business advantages of true green building. But something tells me that Amy is going to have quite a bit of company, and I use that term intentionally for its potential double meaning.

More at the project's website. (As noted in the comments below, this link seems to be experiencing sporadic difficulties. If it doesn't work when you try it, give it another shot later. The site contains quite a bit of good info.)

2008-04-25 n/a 11526 100 LEED Case Studies With the addition of three new case studies from the 2008 AIA COTE Top Ten awards (Aldo Leopold Legacy Center - Platinum; Yale University Sculpture Building and Gallery - Platinum; Macallen Building Condominiums - Gold), now features over 100 LEED certified building case studies from the High Performance Building Database (HPB). HPB is a great tool for researching the strategies used by other designers to achieve design goals and create successful (and sometimes unsuccessful green designs). The ratings page of LEED case studies shows the points awarded to the project. Pages such as site & water and materials describe design characteristics of the projects and strategies used, and in addition the energy page includes simulation and/or actual energy use where available. Photo: Yale Sculpture Building; credit: Peter Aaron, Esto 2008-04-23 n/a 11531 FSC-certified bamboo? Yes.

Smith & Fong's bamboo plywood panels are now available with FSC-certified bamboo.

If you're a regular reader of the posts here on LIVE, you might remember that we had a couple folks from Smith & Fong in our offices back in January. That was when we first got wind of their pending FSC certification — for bamboo. But it wasn't a done deal. Now BuildingGreen is pleased to be the first to report the breaking news that FSC certified bamboo plywood is on the ground and available for specification. Though Smith & Fong isn't releasing the news until next week, they've given us the scoop and the go-ahead to tell all. Read the story FSC-Certified Bamboo Plywood Now Available.
2008-04-11 n/a 11535 NYT asks, ''How 'Green' Can a Huge House Be?''
"Can a four-level house with a three-car garage and a kitchen full of energy-hungry Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances truly qualify as a model of environmental responsibility?
Photo by Douglas Healey
for The New York Times
NRDC is trying to prove that it can, by applying for LEED certification."
NRDC?! The Natural Resources Defense Council?! Say it ain't so! It ain't so. This NRDC is NRDC Residential — a division of the National Realty and Development Corporation. Read the article in the New York Times.
2008-04-06 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 11506 USGBC Doubles Research Funding and Asks for Proposals In November 2007, the Research Committee of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) released A National Green Building Research Agenda, in which it set priorities for green building research and called for funding of this research. (BuildingGreen's Alex Wilson is a member of this committee.) The agenda outlined four major areas of research: delivery process and performance evaluation; integrated building systems; buildings' interactions with local environments; and buildings' interactions with occupants. At the time, USGBC committed to $1 million in research funding; now, it has doubled that commitment and set aside $500,000 for research on occupant impacts in K-12 school facilities. This reflects the USGBC's recent emphasis on green schools, which included a new website devoted to the topic. Several grants will be awarded in two general ranges: $50,000 to $150,000, and $150,000 to $250,000. Projects should focus on one of the areas identified in the research agenda, should be multidisciplinary in approach, and should be relevant to LEED technical development. USGBC will be accepting pre-proposal abstracts from February 12 through March 6, 2008. After reviewing these pre-proposals, USGBC will ask selected applicants to submit more detailed proposals for the final phase of the award process. 2008-02-06 n/a 11481 No-added-formaldehyde bamboo flooring and panel products

This interior features Plyboo bamboo flooring and cabinets made with Plyboo panels.

On the heels of the announcement of the market introduction of Smith & Fong's no-added-formaldehyde PlybooPure bamboo flooring and panel products in the current issue of Environmental Building News, Dan Smith of Smith & Fong — the makers of Plyboo, and more recently, Durapalm — along with PR guy John McIsaac (who used to be with Columbia Forest Products), were in our office yesterday morning to discuss the state of their art with some of the Environmental Building News and GreenSpec staff. The company's backstory is interesting: According to Smith (who incidentally has a degree in Mandarin Chinese), they started in 1989 out of a simple fascination with bamboo — it didn't really have anything to do with being green. They used Paul Hawken's book, Growing a Business (predecessor of The Ecology of Commerce), to guide their venture. Initially, they imported bamboo plywood to make decorative boxes "that nobody bought" (at first). The end of the lean years really started when the flooring thing came along in 1993. Consistently introducing new product lines and innovations since then, the company has grown by 25 to 40 percent per year since... with a rousing 70 percent increase in 2007. Unlike most bamboo flooring companies, Smith & Fong owns the facilities that produces their products, giving them quality control and R&D opportunities most of the rest of the industry doesn't have, and providing the ability to ensure safe and healthy conditions for the workers. They do not, however, own the land where the bamboo is harvested; the five-year-old poles are purchased from local stewards. (Land "ownership" in China is a tricky thing. Technically, the government owns it all — but individual people are assigned use-rights to individual tracts, which are inherited by successive generations.) The poles are harvested from natural groves by "farmers" — for want of a better word, since the bamboo isn't planted, irrigated, fertilized, or treated with pesticides — who selectively cull 20% of the age-commingled grove annually. So, every five years the natural supply has been 100% harvested without any clearcutting. The groves are admittedly a monoculture, albeit a natural monoculture. Which brings us full circle, back to PlybooPure. Smith & Fong have been using a 0.05ppm formaldehyde adhesive for their bamboo products — low, but not low enough to achieve the "no added urea-formaldehyde" LEED threshold. Finding a different binder that is cost-effective isn't simple. Formaldehyde resins are cheap and fast; other binders tend to cost more, and are typically slower-setting, which not only retards workflows, but can require changes in machinery and processes. Worker safety is wrapped up in this as well. They've worked out the bugs on an isocyanate binder, and now have no-added-formaldehyde flooring and panel product out the door and on the ground — which is just the beginning. Plans are to convert the entire production. (Their coconut palm products have used this non-formaldehyde adhesive all along.) For more about bamboo materials in general, see the March 2006 Environmental Building News feature, "Bamboo in Construction: Is the Grass Always Greener?"
2008-01-16 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 11484 Green Building Certification Institute Back on November 5, Nadav Malin posted here about "the imminent creation of the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI)." The USGBC is now distributing the following press release:
LEED AP Credential Now Administered Through Over the last seven years, the LEED Professional Accreditation program has verified that more than 43,000 building professionals have an understanding of green building techniques, the LEED® Green Building Rating System? and the certification process. Now, with USGBC's enthusiastic backing, the LEED AP credential will be administered by a separately incorporated organization, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). The formation of GBCI creates administrative independence between the LEED Rating Systems and the LEED AP credential — an important requirement in seeking accreditation for professional credentialing programs by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). USGBC will continue to handle development of the LEED Rating Systems and offer LEED-based education programs. GBCI will manage all aspects of the LEED Professional Accreditation program including exam development, registration and delivery. Nothing will change for LEED Accredited Professionals except that the LEED AP Directory listing can now be updated at the GBCI Web site, is also the place to learn about LEED Professional Accreditation, register for the LEED AP Exam, find LEED Accredited Professionals in your area, and access your LEED AP exam records. Visit GBCI today!
2008-01-14 n/a 11490 Beyond LEED An interesting conversation about what lies beyond LEED has been happening over the last few days on the Big Green email list. Some excerpts of the exchange follow. (I've done some editing, and added links. Check the December '07 and January '08 Big Green archives for the complete, unedited exchange.)
  • We have a project where the client is asking us to measure the sustainable aspects of their project beyond the LEED rating system. I'm very familiar with the Living Building Challenge but unfortunately they don't meet the Limits to Growth pre-requisite. I'm interested in hearing other people's experiences and recommendations of using other rating systems — international or domestic.
       —Gail Borthwick, AIA, LEED AP; Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Chicago
  • While the Living Building Challenge is a tool with no credits and 16 prerequisites, it can still be used as a benchmark. Consider the benchmarking process as acquiring as many of the petals (page 5 of version 1.2) as possible.
       —Peter Dobrovolny, Commercial Expert, Green Building Program, Seattle Dept. of Planning and Development; LEED A.P., AIA, APA
  • You can always use LEED as the benchmark and go beyond it. You can add the Living Building Challenge to it and strive to meet whatever parts of it you can. To go along with their Living Building Challenge the Cascadia Chapter of the USGBC has also developed a green communities challenge. Meeting LEED plus as many of the prerequisites of the Living Building Challenge is a great next step. The next step in going beyond restorative and living buildings is to design regenerative buildings. As of yet I have not seen a codified system (like LEED is) that benchmarks a regenerative building.
       —Ralph Bicknese, AIA, LEED AP; Principal, Hellmuth + Bicknese Architects; St. Louis, MO
  • I found that NYC has guidelines that go beyond LEED with their "High Performance Building Guidelines" document. Otherwise I have not come across a system that is truly integrative/regenerative of the myriad environmental issues affecting building/site design and construction. This link has a few more useful NYC Documents.
       —Jonathan M. Miller, architect; FCSI, CCS, CCCA, SCIP, AIA, NCARB; Specification Consultant
  • Also well beyond LEED, in NYC see 'Green Schools Guide', required by Local Law 86 for green construction and linked to the NYC schools $13.2 billion five-year capital plan. Also see NY-CHPS.
       —Claire Barnett
  • How about keeping the building sustainable after it's built? This is where the Building Intelligence Quotient rating system developed for the Continental Automated Buildings Association compliments LEED, Green Globes, and Energy Star ratings.
       —David Katz; Sustainable Resources Management Inc., Sustainable Environmental Solutions Inc.; Toronto Ontario
  • In Australia, the Green Building Council has an Office Existing Building tool in PILOT phase that measures an existing building's overall environmental performance. Another well known tool in Australia is NABERS, for commercial and residential. Finally, just looking at energy usage in existing buildings, ABGR (Australian Building Greenhouse Rating) rates buildings on the emissions they produce as a product of the amount of energy they consume.
       —Joe Karten, LEED AP, Green Star AP;
Google the phrase "beyond LEED" for more thought-provoking reading (and a few duds)...
2008-01-04 n/a 11492 Product Certifications and Ratings Systems... it's all so gooey The GreenSpec team is regularly contacted by manufacturers and their marketers asking how to get products "certified as green." The question itself reveals one of two things: that they either haven't done any work yet to understand what it is they're actually asking... or that they have. In the first case, good on 'em for looking into it. (Although getting the question as often as we do can be frustrating, it's a big compliment to be recognized as the go-to people.) In the second case, the overall state of certifications and ratings systems is revealed as a commingled muck that's as confusing to manufacturers as it is to everyone else. Environmental Building News to the rescue. The current feature, "Behind the Logos: Understanding Green Product Certifications," identifies over two dozen of the most active of these programs and provides brief synopses — a great general reference, and a launching pad for additional research. Then it goes further, taking a look at where these programs are going... or should be going. BuildingGreen's brilliant researcher director, Jennifer Atlee, along with EBN managing editor Tristan Korthals Altes, pulled this must-read piece together. If nothing else, at least look at the sidebar "How to Use Green Product Certifications." Further:
Related articles from
Building Materials: What Makes a Product Green?
How do products get listed in GreenSpec?
2008-01-02 n/a 11435 Not Grumbling About Life-Cycle Assessment Based on some of the audience Q&A I think that much of the audience left grumbling after Thursday's session, "Demystifying Sustainability: A Life-Cycle Perspective," convened by the energetic Meredith Elbaum of Sasaki, with Stanley Rhodes of Scientific Certification Systems speaking along with Nancy Harrod of Sasaki and Melissa Vernon of InterfaceFlor. I put Stanley's name first because I think he was the source of the grumbling. At a conference where "Was the session inspiring?" is one of the questions asked by the educational session evaluation form, Stanley made pointed criticisms of LEED and registered alarm about consequences of carbon emissions, like oceanic acidification (he polled the audience on its awareness of this issue—which was lacking, so here's a great LA Times article on the issue). But I found Stanley's presentation exciting. He recommended the use of Environmental Performance Declarations, which have been compared to a "nutrition facts" label for building materials, buildings, electricity, or any other product with an environmental impact. Just as the nutrition facts label analyzes the nutrition of a food item, so could similar labels list impacts in numerous categories in a product's life cycle, such as greenhouse gas emissions, human health impacts, cost, durability, disposal issues, etc. Here's an example of an actual carpet sample. Stanley argued that life-cycle assessment is the best way to comprehensively understand a product's environmental performance. (For more on this topic check out the EBN feature Life-Cycle Assessment for Buildings: Seeking the Holy Grail.) I've been skeptical of this approach because it takes considerable time and expertise to understand the results of such an analysis. But Stanley introduced a variation on the nutrition facts label that shows at a glance, with a color coded bar chart, how a product stacks up against others in the same category. In this way the comparison to the nutrition label is not a good one, because that label does not offer an instant comparison (and the nutritional data isn't suited to it). Life-cycle assessment can reveal bad news (leaving people grumbling) but we need to know the true impacts of products in order to reduce them. Look for more on understanding green product certifications and the role of life-cycle assessment in the next EBN. 2007-11-09 n/a 11446 Forest Certification Stakeholder Forum Tuesday afternoon the Materials & Resources Technical Advisory Group (MR-TAG) for LEED hosted a public session for stakeholder input into the ongoing process of reevaluating LEED's certified wood and biobased products credits (see EBN Vol 15, No. 6). The MR-TAG, which I chair, had commissioned a team from Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Sylvatica to provide background research and tools to support the decision-making process. The Yale team posted its reports for expert review in mid-September, and stakeholders were invited to this forum to sound off about those documents before the MR-TAG uses them to form its recommendations. Ben Cashore, Director of the Yale Program on Forest Policy and Governance, set a nice tone for the event by inviting participants to "surprise us" by saying something that wasn't entirely predictable based on their established, entrenched positions. That didn't happen. Instead, representatives of each of the four forest certification programs active in North America each stated their position more or less eloquently. Most of what was said had already been submitted in writing, but we all have different learning styles, and I have to admit that hearing the arguments in person gave me a different perspective on a few points. After a break, the format went to open mike, and anyone could get up and talk. A diverse string of speakers, each got up to make the case for his or her desired outcome from the process. Among them were people from businesses large and small that have a lot at stake. Surprisingly, even though there were over 100 people in the room, only about a dozen signed up to speak, so the forum wound up a little early. Now my job is to coordinate the MR-TAG's work, supported by the Yale team and USGBC staff, to decide what changes to the LEED credit language—if any—to recommend. If all goes well, and if changes are deemed appropriate, proposed language should go out for public comment in by early Spring of 2008. 2007-11-07 n/a 11453 LEED for Everything 1.0 Big news from Member Day at Greenbuild '07—the LEED ratings programs are... going away. I'll be updating this post in the next hour or so after listening to the session again, but it boils down to this: there will be a "bookshelf" of credits, and when a project application is made, a custom rating system will be generated. There's a lot more development, public comment periods, and hair-pulling to come, but they hope to roll this out in less than two years. Check back here in about an hour for more details.
This is my early understanding, which may be flawed. In the wake of significant outreach both within and without the USGBC community to identify the shortcomings and opportunities for improvement in the growing numbers of LEED rating systems, the decision has been made to stop the development of those systems in favor of a simpler, more elegant-yet-thorough process. All of the credits in the existing systems will be extracted and combined into "library" of points and ideas from which to draw to create an appropriate program for each project addressing lifecycle, carbon, and regionalism. A fourth important aspect is how these areas are weighted. For example, a project in the desert southwest will have greater weighting on water conservation than one in the Pacific Northwest. I'm going to abandon listening to this recording for the time being; there's a lot of noise down the hall, making it difficult to hear. I'm going to check it out. Still more on this later—maybe today.
2007-11-06 n/a