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3. Evolution of Product Selection — The Materials and Resources section of LEED v4 O+M has been given a massive overhaul, and it’s one of the more important changes to understand. The major change is that users are expected to devise purchasing policy and select products based on multiple attribute criteria, instead of single. In the past, credits included buying products that were manufactured within a 500-mile radius of the facility or met that met thresholds for recycled content. Those credits are no more.
Instead, the Materials and Resources section includes a prerequisite to create an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program and then a credit for Ongoing Purchasing that includes attributes like recycled content, bio-based products, local sourcing, and sustainable wood. (Another credit also deals with lamp selection.)
“The idea is to think about material selection in a much more integrated way,” says Owens. “That sets up a much more interesting conversation about the things we’re making our buildings out of.”
Ackerstein says he believes this particular change to LEED will have one of the biggest impacts. “This rating system does a service to the industry and the environment in recognizing and accounting for multiple attributes,” he says. “What we want is a marketplace where manufacturers compete on all factors that affect sustainability, rather than just one at a time.”
Ackerstein, a former LEED certification reviewer, says he remembers, not exactly fondly, the days when project teams would submit a stack of Material Safety Data Sheets as proof of their product selection. But manufacturers have caught up in terms of their sophistication regarding how they report data about their products. Many manufacturers have taken the time and expense to establish Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Health Product Declarations (HPDs) for their products. The fact that more of these are available for more products is one factor that has really changed the industry for the better in terms of selecting environmentally preferable products, say these experts.
“Life-cycle assessment and analysis is very important and ultimately what’s going to move the needle,” says Shah.
4. Pilot Credits Jumpstart Innovation — The Pilot Credit library is a collection of optional credits users can choose to try, and get points toward certification, but aren’t officially part of the rating system itself.
For USGBC, “the pilot library allows us to be much more nimble in terms of getting rapid freedback from project teams,” says Owens. One example of a pilot credit that did well in testing and is now in LEED v4 O+M is Demand Response — users can get up to three points in LEED v4 for a strong commitment to demand response. “The pilot credit library is a useful laboratory of ideas,” says Ackerstein. “It’s great that (USGBC) is encouraging experimentation.”
The pilot credit library isn’t unique to LEED v4 — it’s been around for many years — but one pilot credit that’s specific to LEED v4 is what’s known as the Energy Jumpstart Pilot Credit. Because the threshold for energy performance in LEED v4 O+M is relatively high — again, buildings have to score 75 on Energy Star as a prerequisite — USGBC created this compromise to allow more buildings to participate in the LEED rating system. If facility managers can show a 10 percent improvement on energy efficiency over 12 months, and achieve enough other credits, they can still get a Certified rating, even if the Energy Star score is below 75. Later, if they can get to 75, they can recertify at a higher level.
This particular pilot credit hasn’t been without its vocal detractors, however. Some of have argued that because LEED is by definition a leadership standard, USGBC should stick to the Energy Star score of 75 requirement for all projects. But, as Owens says, getting more projects to use the rating system, and getting those poor-performing buildings to reduce energy use, is how to make a real dent in building energy use as a whole.
5. Recertification For Long-Term Performance — One of the most acute challenges with the LEED O+M rating system, which continues with LEED v4, is making sure high-performance goals don’t stop at certification. For that reason, LEED v4 continues the requirement that buildings recertify a minimum of every five years.
“The goal,” says Owens, “is that facility managers not look at certification as episodic. Instead, it’s something they manage actively.”
Now, with the Establishment part of each credit in LEED v4, the goal is to set up a framework so that policies and procedures — and their resulting performance — do continue and improve over time. But it can still be challenging to stay motivated.
“LEED certification programs tend to be well-resourced at the beginning, go through an ebb and flow, and then be well resourced at the end,” says Ackerstein. “As well, there’s a natural drop-off in attention in the period immediately following certification. For some buildings, that ebb never swings back to a flow.”
Therefore, it’s important to start on recertification nearly the day after you receive the first certification — truly no rest for the weary. It’s about changing the mindset to certification being an ongoing, team-oriented goal, rather than a one-time occurrence.
Ackerstein recommends monthly meetings to ensure that the trail is still being blazed, as well as annual sustainability check-ins with vendors to ensure current documentation.
Shah also notes how important it is to implement training for facility employees. “That way, if you have personnel turnover, you don’t drop the ball,” she says. Losing track of a procedure or data on a single credit can knock you down a few pegs, she says. So keeping on top of the policies when there’s personnel turnover is absolutely critical.
“Recertification is a really powerful idea,” says Ackerstein. “As a mechanism for rigor in evaluating performance, recertification is extremely underrated.” n
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Product Selection, Energy Jumpstart, Recertification in LEED v4