Big Changes for LEED

By Jim Crockett, Editor-in-Chief December 1, 2005

This year’s Greenbuild conference and expo in Atlanta certainly produced some big news, with the two most notable announcements being that LEED design credits can now be locked in at the design stage, and the LEED application process will be all-electronic.

Meeting with the press during the show, which took place Nov. 9—11, USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi unveiled a partnership the organization has entered with San Jose-based Adobe to streamline the whole LEED application process. Instead of a pair of oversized binders and accompanying spreadsheet, all documents will now be available in PDF format.

“We’re convinced this will make a black and white difference,” said Fedrizzi.

“And we really see this as just the first phase, as there are many more features available that haven’t yet been implemented,” added Kumar Vora, Adobe’s VP of product strategy.

While this move is intended to make the process easier, one thing Fedrizzi wanted to emphasize is that it was not done to make LEED accreditation any easier. Fedrizzi’s comments stemmed from a recent Wall Street Journal article that was critical of LEED as being too easy, at least in the context of certification to certain projects like the Goldman Sachs Tower in New Jersey, which the publication did not feel was especially energy-efficient.

Indeed, Fedrizzi said the Journal article took his breath away, as the tone of the piece quickly turned from the positives of the program to the energy-efficiency side of the equation. In all fairness, Fedrizzi pointed out, the Sachs project was submitted well over five years ago when energy efficiency was not as critical an element as it is now. In fact, under LEED 2.2, of which the Adobe program will automatically update as of Jan. 1, 2006, energy-efficiency criteria is much more strict.

Another criticism of the program that came up in the news conference was the cost associated with submitting for LEED certification, and that some owners have specifically chosen not to pursue certification because of the fees. Part of that cost is incurred from the mandatory commissioning requirement of the process, as well as energy modeling and the fees for consultants to deliver such services.

USGBC founder David Gottfried, with World Build Tech, Berkeley, Calif., fielded the question, emphasizing that third-party validation is in many ways the heart of LEED. He was confident costs will eventually go down as LEED and green building continue to grow. But more to the point, Gottfried, a developer, said owners need to move beyond green as a cost and see it instead as a way to make money, just as Toyota is doing with its hybrid Prius and Highlander vehicles.

Tom Paladino, Paladino and Company, Seattle, and a vice chair with USGBC, added that the perception of a LEED project costing more is very real, but one he has a hard time comprehending. He pointed out schools as an example. For, say, $50,000, Paladino questioned how any school board wouldn’t pay such a cost to reduce sick days and improve test scores. He said things need to be spelled out to such detail and then maybe clients would be more open to commissioning and other critical services.

Gottfried added that a second major change that’s being implemented—splitting the LEED design and construction phases into two steps—will also help more projects move forward with LEED. In other words, LEED design credits can be locked in at the design level so owners have more options and it’s not as difficult to go back and retro-document the process.

The new application process, which will also have a lower USGBC fee, is available for download at .

Along a similar vein, Johnson Controls debuted new software—Leedspeed—which it hopes will also facilitate the LEED process. The web-based program provides comprehensive management of green building projects from assessment through certification. One JCI official noted that the program has lowered the typical cost of LEED certification by one-third in many cases. Visit for more information.