LEED registrants appear to be taking full advantage of the deadline extension before the more rigorous version 4 of the certification program becomes mandatory. Last year, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) gave proponents an extra 16 months to qualify under the expiring LEED 2009 criteria after a survey administered at its annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo revealed 61 per cent of respondents were unprepared for LEED version 4 (v4).
The number of users voluntarily registering under this new system is still lagging more than one year later. The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) estimates about 500 projects have registered for LEED certification in Canada since October 2014 when the deadline was extended, but only 13 of these projects are registered for v4.
“What we see today is that owners and consultants are looking at v4 and seeing there is a lot that is new that they want to learn about before they apply it across the board,” says Mark Hutchinson, director of the green buildings program at CaGBC. “They’re selecting specific projects to apply v4 so they can learn from that experience and ensure a smooth transition towards using it on all their projects.”
Along with this mindful approach is the reality of additional costs and some requirements for pre-requisites and credits for v4, which are more arduous, pushing members to stick with 2009 until they have to make the switch. The stricter requirements for metering and recording energy and water use, increased emphasis on verification, and a deeper transparency of building materials and the resources used to source, manufacture and dispose of them are a few updates hindering industry members to make a quick adjustment. The significant shift to ongoing and performance based metrics requires a much deeper commitment to LEED than the previous version.
“To me the number one issue with regards to proceeding with v4 is that additional commitment to the ongoing measured actual performance of the building,” adds Edwin Lim, president and chief executive officer of Ecolibrium Strategies. “As an environmentalist, I think this is exactly the right thing to do, but that is also the barrier.”
Lim emphasizes that the deadline extension gives people a reason to procrastinate until they have no choice. But choice aside, he points out that change will truly percolate when it becomes significantly obvious that buildings need v4 to “stay in the game,” that a building cannot be Class A without the new rating system, that those who begin measuring and using data first will have “first mover advantage” and will be directly responding to a new culture adopting data-driven methodology.
“There’s always going to be clients who consider going for v4 right now because they want to be the market leader – one of the first in North America,” adds Peter Easton, manager of sustainability at WSP. “You’ll always have those leaders wanting to break away from the rest of the pack, prepared to spend that little bit extra money and effort.”
Many of Easton’s clients—predominately large, nationally-owned property companies owned by pension funds who invest in building assets—are opting to go for the quicker and earlier certification process to take advantage of the fact that they can still apply for 2009 and not pay additional costs of v4 just yet.
At the moment, Easton notes two particular LEED EB credits that are current stumbling blocks for clients: Alternative Commuting Transportation and the Minimum Energy Efficiency Performance prerequisite. Under 2009, a building has to achieve an Energy Star score of 69, which Easton says will be a challenge for older buildings without investment in energy consuming infrastructure.
“When you move to v4, that score rises to 75, which is a more difficult target to achieve,” he says. “It’s often a costly affair for some clients to improve their Energy Star score; v4 is just making that requirement slightly more onerous, but for good reason as we try to reduce our carbon footprint.”
Pension funds want to invest to improve Energy Star scores because they increase the value of buildings, especially seen in Class A and AAA assets. Yet, when it comes to Class B buildings, which are smaller and usually outside the downtown core of major cities, this investment becomes a harder sell for the property managers.
Despite the sluggish turn to v4, Hutchinson notes the industry supports the direction in which LEED is headed, appreciative of the improvement. Not only does v4 create more flexibility to earn credits in new and different ways, but it is driving fundamental changes to information about products, ultimately decreasing the impact those products have on the environment and human health. And until this new process becomes mandatory, CaGBC is moving forward with a two-fold mindset to position v4 in the industry.
“We need to make sure there is an appreciation in the industry of what v4 is so that when they achieve that, there is a general understanding that v4 is an accomplishment and the latest and greatest standard,” says Hutchinson. “Secondly, we need to work with the individual projects to give them the opportunity to have visibility, while sharing information they have learned.”
This includes showcasing frontrunners, such as Ecohome’s Edelweiss project, a single family home in Quebec, which, in September, became the first v4 certified project in Canada. Over the course of 2016, several other projects currently registered under v4 will become certified, including commercial and government projects, new construction and existing buildings that will all be able to demonstrate accomplishments.
CaGBC recently launched a webpage highlighting all the projects pursuing v4 certification and offering information on case studies. All such projects will become educational opportunities to create awareness of obstacles, challenges and misperceived challenges, with three webinars soon to launch that address various aspects of project experiences.
“It is important to remember that LEED’s success has been largely driven by stakeholder marketing,” adds Lim. “When they finally shut the 2009 door, all of a sudden, tenants will say, ‘well that’s the old LEED, what about the new LEED?’”
Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Building Strategies & Sustainability and Canadian Property Management @rebeccachirp