Green Building Rating Systems Updates – August 2009

August 11, 2009

As LEED moves into its v3 2009 iteration, many other local, state, private, and international green building guideline programs continue to evolve as well.  The green certification process options are fairly straightforward in New York City – outside of choosing a voluntary system (such as LEED), the only other New York-specific guidelines apply to affordable housing (HPD, DHCR) and public projects (Local Law 86). Otherwise, developers can seek to qualify for more than one voluntary system if it seems appropriate.  Enterprise Community Partners’ Green Community Guidelines (for affordable housing), for example, specifically make note of where credits overlap with LEED, and were developed in conjunction with the USGBC.  Thus, in many situations the trick is to be aware of how many guidelines a project can qualify for, to potentially get the biggest bang for your buck. Different guidelines have different approaches too, swinging from the performance-based approach (reduce energy consumption by 15%, regardless of how you do it) to a prescriptive path (you must install a 1.6 gpf toilet) Following is a listing of the more notable developments from the past year in the world of green building guidelines/ certification programs.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but should act as a decent overview of how this industry continues to expand and change. First, of course, LEED has upgraded to its v3. 2009 standard.  The USGBC has created a helpful chart with important dates and links on how the change impacts projects, existing LEED APs, and aspiring LEED APs.  Briefly, LEED APs will see new specializations, categories of accredidation, and continuing education requirements.  Emails have already gone out to existing APs, and personalized emails begin going out August 3rd. Prospective LEED APs will have more stringent requirements. The rating system itself is more nuanced.  Three key new organizational emphases are: Harmonization, Credit Weightings, and Regionalization. Buildinggreen has released LEEDuser, a tool to better help understand and navigate LEED v3.  It has been successful enough that the USGBC will reportedly link the tool on its website. Even further, voting is underway on adoption of a new rating system, LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND), the first focusing specifically on land use and location.  In development for five years, the USGBC, Congress for the New Urbanism, the NRDC, and Smart Growth America are all taking last steps towards approval.  New Urban News has provided a nice discussion. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has developed the Green Roof Professional (GRP) accredidation.  GRHC argues that being LEED AP does not mean someone knows how to install a green roof, and that “successful green roofs require a combination of knowledge and expertise in the so-called “black arts” and “green arts”.  The “black arts” focus on the critical, non-living elements of a green roof assembly such as water proofing, structural engineering and project management, while the “green arts” deal with the living architectural components such as water management, growing media, plants and maintenance.  Very few industry professionals currently have the knowledge and expertise that encompass all of these disciplines.” The State of Minnesota has released the draft version of its Sustainable Building Guidelines Version 2.1.  Minnesota’s approach is unique in its effort to eventually “full accounting of the actual human, community, environmental, and life-cycle economic costs and benefits of sustainable building design,” consider the long-term operating costs of the building, achieve the lowest possible lifetime costs of the building, and agressive energy reduction goals.  This approach definitely represents the next generation of green building rating systems in that it places as much, if not more, emphasis on the actual performance of the building, not just the ideas behind it before it is built.  It’s a good read. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) saw approval of the newest version of its rating system this year – the ICC 700-2008 National Green Building Standard.  The Standard is the first residential green building rating system to undergo the full consensus process and receive American National Standards Institute approval.  Focusing on single-family & multi-unit homes, residential remodeling projects, and site development; the NAHB approach, coming from the builders themselves, includes an emphasis on structural design not seen in LEED and features more flexibility in achieving points towards certification. On a whole different level, the Cascadia Region Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge aims to “define the highest measure of sustainability possible in the built environment based on the best current thinking, recognizing that “true sustainability” is “not yet possible” and is intentionally difficult to achieve.  There are no points, only prerequisites.  It strives for net zero energy and water use, strict materials requirements, and an emphasis on aesthetics.  A nice summary is available from the Mother Nature Network. Finally, While not updated recently, Alameda County’s system is essentially a collection of strategies:  for homes and multifamily projects, as are the NJ Green Future Guidelines.  Worth taking a look should you need some more help on achieving the requirements of another standard. If you really want to get crazy, you can read about Japan’s CASBEE system or BREEAM in the UK which is reportedly the most-used program in the world. There are of course, many, many more systems, but the length of this post would be more unruly than it already is.  Being aware of other locales’ approaches can be helpful should one seek more strategies in greening their buildings, or you are simply planning on moving.