LEED v4: A Success Guide

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LEED v4: A Success Guide

This week we hosted a LEED v4 seminar with USGBC Northern California (USGBC NCC) entitled “LEED v4: A Survival Guide.” While v4 may appear daunting, we believe that it isn’t something to fear and merely survive. Rather, it’s an opportunity to improve and thrive, as the standard is meant to continually push the industry forward to create a truly sustainable built environment. Anyone can master the new changes, and we’re here to share our experience with v4 to prepare you for success. So we decided to scratch our own title and instead present LEED v4: A Success Guide.

At our event at DPR Construction in SF, which is LEED v4 Platinum, USGBC NCC Executive Director Brenden McEneaney introduced stok LEED gurus Jacob Arlein and Katie Bachman, who then shared their expertise in the latest version of LEED along with insights into how the changes signal a big shift in the industry. The deadline to register projects in LEED v2009 passed earlier this week, meaning that the revolutionary LEED v4 standard has officially replaced v2009 as the mandatory version for all new projects. If you still feel uncomfortable with v4, now’s the time to change that.

Our 1.5 hour seminar qualified for four LEED-specific CEUs, so we don’t quite have the space to go through it all in a brief blog post. If you weren’t in the 50-seat audience, here’s a highlight reel of our presentation, first reviewing general changes, then picking apart the major updates to commissioning and materials.

Big picture

LEED v4 is bolder and more specialized than its older counterpart for building projects worldwide. It represents a shift in LEED’s role as a foundational green building standard to a transformational one.

Throughout the credit categories there’s a clear shift toward emphasis on quality and performance over prescriptive requirements. For example, the new Location and Transportation (LT) category Bicycle Facilities credit requires a project to be located within a bike network rather than just allowing the building to provide bike racks and showers regardless of the ability of occupants to realistically use them.

This is seen again in the Energy and Atmosphere (EA) prerequisite that requires that Minimum Energy Performance be achieved via energy efficiency alone, no longer allowing projects to rely on renewables to make up for poor energy efficiency.

There are two brand new credit categories: Integrative Design Process (IP) and Location and Transportation (LT). IP rewards project teams for organizing early and bringing together all of the stakeholders in the pre-design phase to optimize sustainable solutions.

LT aims to clearly differentiate between choice-based and place-based project aspects. It contains the LEED 2009 Sustainable Sites (SS) credits that are more focused on the location of a project than on its actual site aspects, allowing the newly focused SS category’s goals to be completely centered around improving the performance of the project site itself.


LEED v4 requires a number of additional Cx tasks to meet the Fundamental and Enhanced Cx credits.

Envelope performance requirements must now be incorporated into the OPR (Owners Project Requirements) and BOD (Basis of Design) for Fundamental Cx. An Operations and Maintenance Plan is now also required.

There’s an addition of monitoring based Cx as an option in Enhanced Cx for 1 point, as well as an addition of Envelope Cx as an option in Enhanced Cx for 2 points. This is the biggest change in Enhanced Cx. Envelope Cx requires testing to cover air leakage, water penetration, and structural performance, which must be done on exterior wall assembly, windows, skylight, doors, among other structural fixtures.

Materials transparency

The biggest change by far in v4 lies in the credits around materials. LEED is moving away from single attribute material contribution, such as Recycled Content and Regional Material, and toward materials transparency. This means visibility when it comes to what ingredients and chemicals make up a product and what the environmental and human health impacts of those ingredients and chemicals are.

This signals a shift to a far more holistic approach by LEED that not only focuses on the impacts on building occupants but rather addresses the entire supply chain on a global scale.  The USGBC has adopted these new standards in hopes of encouraging the widespread adoption of healthy building materials that positively affect human health and the environment.

There are three new Materials & Resources (MR) Building Project Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits: Environmental Product Declarations, Material Ingredients, and Sourcing of Raw Materials. These include rewarding points to manufacturers that declare the environmental impacts of manufacturing their products (EPDs) and the chemicals that make up their products (HPDs, Declare, GreenScreen, or Cradle to Cradle Certified).

We got very familiar with v4 Materials credits in our NRDC San Francisco Office project, which is currently pursuing Living Building Challenge Material Petal Certification along with LEED v4 CI certification. To achieve these certifications, we went after all of the v4 Materials credits. This was a huge undertaking and required a surprising level of detail. Our project team organized to the point of laying out specific guidelines for how to title an email to each other. While that sort of minute detail may seem unnecessary, it was that attention to detail and complete organization at all levels that made the project a success.

So although these credits may seem difficult to attain, a diligent project team can help keep the process clear and ensure that you achieve your target.

More to come

If you’re aching for more, don’t worry. stok is partnering with USGBC NCC to provide further educational seminars on all things v4, including a session entirely on materials as well as sessions that focus on rating systems other than LEED v4 for NC.

In the meantime, check out USGBC’s one-stop shop for v4 resources and look into the new reference guides online.