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Certification Updates: LEED 2012 ( USA); HQE 2011 (France) - October 2011

LEED Certification Recast Ready for 2012

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) periodically reorganizes its LEED rating system in response to feedback from green building practitioners as more is learned about best practices to reduce the impact of building design, construction and operations on the environment. The last major reorganization was in 2009. The 2012 reorganization will introduce the most sweeping changes since the system began.

The USGBC’s original goal was to minimize the environmental impact of buildings within the boundaries of strategies that could be carried out in a cost-effective manner. As green building knowledge and practices improve and the cost of LEED has become negligible compared to the benefits, the USGBC now seeks to evolve the system so that LEED certification eventually recognizes buildings that have a neutral or even positive impact on the environment. The 2012 version aims to move the system toward that goal.

Realignment of the types of LEED

In addition, each successive reordering of the LEED system has addressed the feedback that the USGBC has received from green building practitioners.

One of the biggest proposed changes is the increase in credit categories from 7 to 10, with new categories to ensure practitioners follow an integrative process to measure building performance, as well as the separation of location and transportation credits into their own category. The number of prerequisites may also increase from 9 to 15, in recognition of the additional baseline criteria that every building should have to be worthy of certification.

Another major change is the realignment of the types of LEED. The existing New Construction (NC) and Core & Shell (CS) certifications will be rolled up into a new Building Design & Construction (BD+C) system that will include a range of property types: commercial, schools, retail, data centers, warehouse and distribution centers, hospitality and healthcare. The Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (O+M) system also includes all those property types except healthcare, and the Interior Design & Construction (ID+C) standard covers not only commercial interiors but also retail and hospitality properties. Systems for homes and neighborhoods continue to have their own criteria.

A welcome change for many practitioners is a closer alignment of credits among the different rating systems. Whereas in the past versions similar credits had different names requirements in different systems, there is much more uniformity in the proposed 2012 system. Also, in some situations two or more existing credits have been combined into one more comprehensive credit.

While there are a number of new credits being introduced and several being reused from other rating systems, during this first public comment period, no point values have been assigned yet. The main focus of the comment period is to evaluate and revise the credit requirements. This brings up the obvious question if the proposed rating system will raise the total points achievable in LEED from 110 to higher total, or if credits will start being counted at ½ point values.

The proposed draft also moves closer to USGBC’s goal of developing a performance-based rating system instead of prescriptive requirements. While a performance-based system will obviously require more evaluation, calculation and documentation by the project team, it will also allow more opportunities for alternatives to compliance.

Our perspective

Inclusion of retail and hospitality properties

Although the comment periods were the most appropriate times to offer opinions on specific changes, our extensive work with building owners, investors and tenants worldwide - as well as the hundreds of LEED buildings we have helped certify, lease and/or manage - gives us a unique perspective on where the system is headed.

In general, the changes under discussion do an admirable job of addressing most of the concerns that we hear about LEED. In particular, the emphasis on measurement and verification and the introduction of credits for following an integrative process will help ensure that LEED certification signifies a high-performing building, which was not universally the case in the early days of the system.

We are pleased to see the inclusion of retail and hospitality properties in the new version. Many retail and hotel owners we work with have expressed an interest in certification, but the existing systems do not work well for those property types. It is an interesting decision for USGBC to develop one system for retail, hotel, office and other property types, rather than creating individual systems for property types with very different issues and goals. Creating one system for all property types has clear advantages, but it may create challenges that prevent retail and hospitality owners from adopting LEED as quickly as we would like.

Another trade-off lies in USGBC’s decision to raise the bar on certification overall, by eliminating most of the ‘easy to get’ credits and increasing the number of prerequisites. Many owners already tell us that LEED is too difficult for them to get, and these changes may prevent more owners from maximizing energy and sustainability in their buildings. However, we recognize that LEED is designed to be an elite standard indicating superior performance, and making certification more difficult to achieve serves that purpose well.

A question in our minds is how changing LEED standards will affect legislative efforts to make buildings greener. In the U.S., many states and cities have passed laws that large commercial new-construction projects - and even existing buildings in some cases - must conform to LEED standards. This has already created some confusion as some legislation contains language that conformed to the LEED standard at the time of passage, but no longer conforms today. These points of confusion will surely increase as certification requirements become more stringent. To put it another way, the evolution of LEED as a benchmark for high performance is inconsistent with the idea that every building must achieve that benchmark.

These points are not meant to suggest that LEED standards should remain frozen in time. One of the best things about LEED is its evolution as an effective worldwide standard, and that it requires the will to change. USGBC’s process for getting feedback from the market and acting on that feedback, is vital to its continued success.

French Green Building Certification System HQE recast

Since its beginning in 2005, the French green building certifications system HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale or High Environmental Quality) for commercial property has built separate reference frameworks depending on the building lifecycle and the building type that was to be certified. As such, in France there exists a separate reference framework for office and educational buildings for new construction or for their in-use phase. Another framework would certify warehouses or hotels etc. When there was a development programme that contained at the same time offices, retail and, for example, hotel buildings, each asset had to be certified independently across all the 14 assessment categories. On top of building-specific criteria, there was a complementary assessment of the project management that included an analysis of the project management quality, the communication among project stakeholders and the documentation process.

In order to streamline the certification system for new mixed developments and to reduce time and effort, the French certifying body, Certivea, is introducing an assessment recast. For mixed developments it proposes to use a generic assessment framework that applies to all different asset types that form part of the development programme. And for each different asset type, it uses a building specific analysis that comes in addition to the generic framework. In addition, if there are several separate activities in the same building, then a developer can choose to apply the assessment framework to the activity-specific portion of a building to which it corresponds most.

In contrast to the existing assessment methodology, where a building was only certifiable if a reference framework existed for that specific type, from now on a building with any kind of activity it houses can be assessed, using a system of equivalent points that Certivea may provide based on custom-made audits.

This new method allows, for example, for only having to assess the construction method and the site once, if it concerns one and the same mixed development programme. As a consequence, only the individual asset specific categories need to be analysed.

After a public consultation period that lasted from May to June of this year, the new methodology is currently being fine tuned, taking into account the comments and feedback from various working groups. It is expected to come into force some time in October 2011.

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