Archive for the ‘LEED’ Category

LEED 2009: Ironing out the wrinkles

Friday, May 29th, 2009

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has released the newest version of LEED (v3.0) in an attempt to address longstanding concerns over technical details and the arduous review and certification process.LEED certification has often been criticized for its confusing documentation requirements and lengthy project reviews.

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Some critics have suggested the consensus process used to develop the system is not backed by hard science.

Nonetheless, in the last 11 years LEED certification has been widely accepted as a standard measure for sustainable buildings. The USGBC has approved a total 21,000 projects, representing over 5 billion sq feet of construction, and LEED certification requirements have found their way into municipal building codes and government regulations.

LEED 2009 has made several adjustments to multiple areas of concern that should serve to improve the building rating system, the online monitoring an updating tool, as well as the certification and administration process.

LEED Rating Systems

Previously, individual rating systems each had their own point totals. For example LEED for Commercial Interiors could earn 57 points in total while LEED for New Schools could earn a maximum of 79 points.

In the new system, uniform certification sets a threshold across all the rating systems and introduces new standards based on a 100-point scale. Forty points is the lowest level for certification, while 80 points, or platinum certification, is the highest level an individual building project can achieve.

To achieve 100 points, or more, projects must focus on regional development and other innovations that extend beyond one particular building. For example, a project in New York State could earn extra points for preserving agricultural land, reducing light pollution, and minimizing storm-water runoff.

The larger aim of the new system is to provide incentives for new projects that deploy strategies with greater potential for environmental or human-health-related benefits. Projects that focus on GHG reduction, and water and energy use earn the most credit.

Strategies intended to increase energy efficiency and the reliance on renewable power generated on site can earn up to 26 points (up from 13 in the old system). Locations close to public transit can earn up to 6 points (up from 1)  and ambitious water conservation schemes can gain up to 10 points (up from 5).

It is now a requirement for basic certification to reduce indoor water consumption by 20% above and beyond core-compliant buildings. In order to earn points in this category projects must achieve at least a 30% reduction in water usage.

Monitoring and Updating

The USGBC invested several million dollars to revamp LEED Online, the automated monitoring system used to collect post-occupancy water and energy use information for each building. The system is also used to facilitate communication between the LEED reviewer and the project team to hasten the review and certification process.

Such an upgrade was needed when In March of 2008, in cooperation with the New Buildings institute (NBI), the USGBC underwent an extensive survey project to assess the standards of LEED certified buildings. Large variations were noted among individual buildings with 25 per cent of projects being better then expected while 21% were below baseline.

Certification and Accreditation

USGBC has moved the administration of certification and Accredited Professional (AP) programs to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), a non-profit organization spun off from the USGBC in late 2007. For certification GCBI manages 10 organizations, including Underwriter Laboratories (UL) and Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance (LRQA) which oversees the quality review process.

The LEED AP program modifications now include a three tiered system of credentials, with lowest tier being a LEED Green Associate. For those that want to demonstrate a commitment to green building but not work directly on LEED projects. For example, lawyers involved in real estate development deals must take a “core concept and key points” exam, and 15 hours of education review twice a year.

The LEED AP Speciality tracks corresponds to the various LEED rating systems (Homes, Building and Design, Interiors, Neighbourhoods, etc.) and requires both a core concepts exam and one based upon the particular specialization. It also requires demonstration of LEED project experience and 30 hours of education twice a year.

Looking beyond 2009, those seeking to become a LEED Fellow, the top tier, will require an “elite” level of LEED expertise. LEED Fellows would become part of an extraordinary class of leading professionals distinguished by their years of experience and contributions to the standards of practice and body of knowledge for achieving continuous improvement in the green building field. This credential is still under development.

BREEAM or LEED – strengths and weaknesses of the two main environmental assessment methods

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

BREEAM has dominated environmental assessment of UK buildings for nearly 20 years, and now LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in the US Comparing  both schemes to find their strengths and weaknesses.Publically displaying your green credentials is becoming a must for organisations in our new sustainably-aware society. Multi-national companies are keen to show that every part of their business is green, including their buildings.

Environmental assessment of buildings is nothing new, with the first national scheme, BREEAM (the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), appearing in 1990. BREEAM has since expanded massively, going from a 19-page BRE report with 27 credits available, to a massive 350-page technical guide (for the office version) with 105 credits.

The principles of BREEAM have also spread across the world. The US Green Building Council launched its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in 1998. While similar methods have also sprung up, such as Greenstar in Australia and CASBEE in Japan, BREEAM and LEED are the main methods currently in use. And the question on everyone’s lips is: which one is best?

Spot the difference

The main difference between the two methods is the process of certification. BREEAM has trained assessors who assess the evidence against the credit criteria and report it to the BRE, who validate the assessment and issue the certificate.

While LEED does not require training, there is a credit available if an accredited professional (AP) is used. The role of the AP is to help gather the evidence and advise the client. The evidence is then submitted to the US-GBC which does the assessment and issues the certificate.

Both schemes share common components (Table 1). Early involvement of the assessor or AP at the design stage is beneficial to the project and the final rating. Both schemes drive the market to improve building design. The judging criteria also keep pace with legislative developments and current best practice.

LEED in the UK

In the UK, interest in LEED is growing. The Green Building Certification Institute’s website records 66 LEED Accredited Professionals in the UK. This is the fifth highest national total behind the US, Canada, UAE and China.


How LEED and BREEAM compare.
The US-GBC also lists ten UK buildings as being registered for one of the LEED schemes. At the time of writing, the list shows that only one UK building – the Herman Miller HQ in Cheltenham – as having gained a LEED rating. This building also had a BREEAM assessment carried out under the offices 2006 scheme, under which it was awarded an excellent rating.

Another building known to have both a BREEAM and a LEED rating is the Van de Kamp Bakery, at Los Angeles City College. The bakery gained a certified LEED rating and a Good BREEAM 2005 rating.

So it appears that BREEAM delivers a higher rating for the same building in both the US and the UK. That said, it would be more accurate to compare LEED with BREEAM 2008, as the latter now has a mandatory post-construction review, something LEED has had for a while. With previous BREEAM schemes most buildings were only assessed at a design stage.

Eszter Gulacsy, a sustainability consultant from MTT/Sustain believes LEED is simpler in its approach, while BREEAM is more academic and more rigorous. “While BREEAM is more relevant in the UK as it uses UK policies, LEED can sit alongside as part of a global corporate policy,” she says.

Gulacsy also believes that the driver for LEED in the UK is often the client’s global corporate policy or, on prestige speculative developments, the needs of global tenants. Germany-based Siemens uses it for all its new buildings worldwide, with several buildings in Europe already registered under the LEED scheme.

While some national green building councils are developing their own environmental assessment methods, some are adapting one of the existing schemes.

The BRE has not been shy about selling BREEAM across the globe. BREEAM International grew out of the BREEAM Bespoke scheme. BREEAM Europe and BREEAM Gulf are similar money-earners. But going global brings BREEAM head-to-head with its rival LEED. Ironically, BREEAM’s director, Martin Townsend, was quoted in Building Design as seeking ways of collaborative working with the US LEED system.

“If an American bank wants to build over here, it understands about LEED and wants the building built to that standard,” he said. “That’s fine, but it might not translate that well into the UK climatic environment, our building legislation or the way that building operates. Providing a client with dual certification has to be a good way of sharing that information.”


The main differences between LEED and BREEAM (courtesy Eszter Gulacsy)
Others are more cautious. “Europe thinks that LEED is an easy win, but it isn’t if the paperwork and evidence is not in place,” says Eszter Gulacsy. “There is a danger of complacency,” she warns.

The argument for two schemes

So is the dynamic tension between two competing systems desirable? Clearly, a one-size-fits-all assessment scheme would be difficult to achieve on a global basis. For example, water efficiency is a major issue in Dubai and Australia, but not in Scotland and nor in Wales. So different issues need to be ranked differently to match regional environment and regulations.

While LEED is dominated by the American ASHRAE standards, BREEAM takes it cue from European and UK legislation. The regional versions of both schemes flow from those antecedents.

BREEAM Gulf has been adapted for the local market. Gone are the Good, Very Good, and Excellent ratings, and in comes star ratings. The weightings are changed so that water is the key issue, rather than energy as in the standard UK schemes. In addition to the CIBSE guidance being the measure for certain credits, ASHRAE and other standards are also now referenced in BREEAM Gulf.

BREEAM has long been able to adapt to local contexts. With BREEAM Bespoke, for example, the assessor can work with BRE to develop assessment criteria specially tailored to a building where it doesn’t fit neatly into one of the existing schemes.

LEED, however, has not been created with this level of adaptability and it is not run that way. Instead it is fixed to the ASHRAE standards and the US way of thinking (for example, credits are awarded for having enough car parking spaces, rather than minimising them as in BREEAM).

There are also differences in the way LEED calculates credits. They are generally linked to the US Dollar (especially the energy credits), which means that if the exchange rate is unfavourable, then the building’s rating could suffer.

A key change that may make LEED more exportable is the introduction of regional bonus credits. Six regional priority credits will be available based on what the US-GBC’s regional councils and chapters deem important, environmentally, in that region.

A downside is that these credits are not available for non-US projects. However, there are national versions of LEED being developed by individual national green building councils. Canada was the first, followed by India. Countries such as Brazil and Italy are looking to have their own versions soon.

The Dutch Green Building Council has also adopted BREEAM as its favoured environmental assessment method.

There is a lot of hype about the battle between BREEAM and LEED in the UK, but this seems to be unfounded. Both seem happy to co-exist and each has their niche areas or countries. They are even borrowing each other’s ideas as they grow.

BREEAM will probably always come out on top in the UK, simply because it is imbedded in the system. Government departments require BREEAM ratings of all their buildings; most local authorities require BREEAM as part of planning approval for developments over a certain size.

Once projects are underway that aim to be zero carbon, the likes of BREEAM or LEED may have developed to become the global default methods of assessment.

Now, who’d bet against that?