Destination: Certification

06/27/2014 | By Janelle Penny

6 steps to navigate LEED 2009 and v4 for existing buildings

LEED certification LEED certified LEED facility

For the next 11 months, your LEED for Existing Buildings certification plans will face a fork in the road.

Projects can register under either LEED 2009 or v4 until Oct. 31, 2016, when the field narrows to just v4. So which is best for your facility? Whichever path you’re on, it’s vital that you chart smart. Consider these six steps to lay out the best route to certification success.

1) Ask the Important Questions
Your first step should be examining both versions to figure out which one will best help you meet your goals. Answer these three questions with the help of your project team to find which system fits:

What are my plans beyond this upcoming certification? If you plan to recertify in the future, v4 might be the best choice. Each LEED-EB certification is valid for five years, so there could be a new LEED revision out by the time you start looking at certification again. Jumping from LEED 2009 to whatever comes after v4 will be more challenging than simply moving from v4 to its successor. When the time comes, there’s also a chance that you’ll be able to recertify under v4 for the same reason 2009 is still available – the previous system is typically kept open for a short period after the upgrade is released.

“Going with the newer rating system really means you have a longer horizon to recertify under the same system,” explains Corey Enck, director of LEED technical development for USGBC.

Two projects have obtained v4 certification for existing buildings so far, Enck adds, both from the beta program USGBC used to fine-tune their drafts of LEED requirements before balloting started. The finished version now in use divides credit requirements for existing buildings into two categories – establishment and performance – to make the recertification process easier. The establishment section of each credit refers to tasks you’ll only need to do once, such as writing policies or installing infrastructure. The performance section governs ongoing tasks your project team will tackle regularly, like audits, occupant surveys, and tracking and metering.

“During the recertification review, teams will have to do much less documentation because they’ll only be focusing on the performance part of each credit. They won’t need to change the establishment credits if their practices didn’t change,” says Enck.

Who is in my building? Owner-occupied facilities tend to have different goals than tenant-occupied ones, explains Jeff Williford, consultant for Paladino and Company, a green building and sustainability consulting firm.

“Owner-occupied buildings are not driven by tenant retention, so they pursue LEED for other reasons and try to really optimize their O&M strategies,” says Williford. “For tenant buildings, there’s an added reason for certifying – attracting or retaining tenants to keep leasing rates up.”

Certification strategies also differ depending on the audience, Williford adds. Owner-occupied buildings typically yield a greater volume of information, and products are purchased for the entire building by a central department. However, managers of tenant-occupied buildings still have the opportunity to exert some influence on their tenants’ individual purchasing practices.

“Don’t just go in and ask for purchasing or other operating data,” recommends Williford. “Try to explain to them how their contribution plays a role at the larger level and show them the output data compliance reports that you’ll ultimately send to the USGBC for review.”

What are my end goals? “The fundamental difference between the two systems is that v4’s going to focus you on your company values as a way to navigate through the credit system,” says Brad Pease, director of signature buildings practice for Paladino and Company. “LEED 2009 had a number of points that were not necessarily connected to business outcomes. Project teams would tend to document these because they were easy and then be frustrated because they felt their time was not well spent. V4 takes away those meaningless credits and should encourage teams to first determine what they want to get out of the program, then select credits that align with their project goals.”

The new version of LEED offers a handful of credits optimal for bottom-line-driven companies, Pease says, as well as credits rewarding a focus on emissions and attention to occupant wellness.

“What’s powerful about LEED v4 is that it allows you to find your own path without mandating so many minimum performance requirements that it starts to exclude the marketplace,” says Pease. “The way it’s constructed around the five to six environmental impact categories is a real testament to the system. It affords you the opportunity to select the strategies that align with your values.”

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