LEED Rules Combat Carbon Emissions

New rules target energy efficiency for new commercial buildings

Each U.S. Green Building Council annual conference seems to mark a milestone in the development of the organization’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, known as LEED. A year ago in Atlanta, the big news was the move away from cumbersome project documentation binders toward a streamlined, paperless submittal process. At the most recent Greenbuild conference, council officials introduced a series of proposed changes aimed at mitigating the built environment’s role in climate change.

“The USGBC, through the LEED rating system, is capable of, and responsible for, making substantial improvements” in greenhouse gas emission from buildings, said council president and C.E.O. Rick Fedrizzi, at the November 15 opening plenary for the 2006 three-day conference in Denver. Starting early in 2007, the council will require that all new commercial projects seeking LEED certification reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50 percent over current levels.

To realize this goal, projects will have to achieve at least two of the possible 10 energy and optimization points outlined in the current version of the rating system. “We are essentially saying that you can’t do a LEED building without energy efficiency,” says Scot Horst, chair of the USGBC committee responsible for shaping the rating system and president of the 7Group, a green building consultant. At record press time, a draft of the proposed change was to be released for public comment by late January.

The committee is working to assign “carbon benefits” to credits across all LEED point categories, including sustainable sites, water efficiency, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. “Some benefits are more complex to quantify than others,” says Horst, pointing to the challenges of measuring the carbon associated with occupants’ transportation to and from buildings or the embodied energy in materials. “As a country, we haven’t dedicated ourselves to collecting that kind of data,” he says.

The council also plans to institute a CO2 trading program. In addition to studying the metrics that would be used to measure offsets for buildings, the USGBC is examining other issues relating to carbon trading protocol, such as whether credits would accrue to the building owner or the utility, explains Michelle Moore, USGBC spokesperson. “We are concerned that the credits represent high-quality offsets and real reductions,” she says.

As part of this effort to reduce the green house gas emissions associated with buildings, the USGBC, along with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, and several other groups, adopted the 2030 Challenge at Greenbuild. The initiative, launched in January 2006, and previously adopted by the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, calls for all new buildings and major renovation projects to reduce green-house-gas-emitting energy consumption by 50 percent immediately. The challenge calls for gradually increasing performance targets so that all new buildings would be carbon neutral by 2030.

Also in Denver, the council and the software company Autodesk announced plans to explore ways of integrating building information modeling tools into LEED. According to Phil Bernstein, FAIA, Autodesk vice president, the initiative will “democratize and make more accessible sustainable design tools,” ultimately reducing the causes of climate change by increasing the number of green buildings that emit less CO2.

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