Scoring Points

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Print this page Nicole Anderson Ellis

March marks the launch of the latest version of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design aka as LEED 2009 — the country’s primary rating system for environmental sustainability. 

In the decade since its inception, the LEED certification system has grown to include 4.2 billion square feet of commercial building space. Every business day, $464 million worth of construction registers with LEED, according to the system’s parent, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). That volume justifies bragging rights. Not only did LEED help ignite the green-building boom; it has managed to keep pace with its growth.

Given LEED’s popularity among architects, builders, investors and buyers, why the revision?  What changes are on tap?   

For starters, 2009 eliminates what’s known as “cheap points.” Under the old system, builders earned one point by providing “bicycle storage and changing rooms.”  That’s a relatively easy accommodation, says Steven Sunderman, a LEED-accredited architect at RRMM in Roanoke.  But the same credit — a single point — was awarded for lowering water use by 30 percent. Or diverting 75 percent of construction waste from the landfill. Or providing daylight for 90 percent of a building’s space – far more challenging and environmentally meaningful goals than a bike rack.

“[LEED] 2009 is a way of putting more emphasis on weighting issues that have more importance,” says Sunderman, chair of the USGBC’s Southwest Virginia Chapter.  Because buildings account for 40 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions, the USGBC has deemed climate change and energy efficiency “urgent priorities’’ under the new system. 

The revised scoring system reflects this attitude with massive credits for optimized energy performance. Applicants can get 19 points for meeting energy-efficiency standards in 48 percent of an existing building. The highest point total available in any other category is seven.

Though LEED 2009 retains the same levels of certification, it streamlines the formula for tallying credits to a 100 base-points scale.  Collect 80 points and your project goes platinum (an awkward 52 to 69 points earned that distinction under the old version).  A minimum of 60 points gets you the gold.  Silver needs 50, and 40 points makes a project LEED certified.

The 2009 grade sheet also includes a new category: regional priority credits.  “Certain regions may have more issues with a specific environmental challenge,” explains Sunderman.  Now projects can
earn credit for tackling local concerns.  The USGBC’s list of regional issues is expected out this month. Virginia’s priorities will likely include impacts on the Chesapeake Bay.

The primary goal of LEED 2009 is to make the program not more strict but more efficient, says Sunderman, to focus attention “where it makes the greatest impact.”

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