Top of the List: LEED v.4 revamps the initial credit categories

Top of the List: LEED v.4 revamps the initial credit categories

One of the most visible things about LEED v.4 checklist is a revision of the long standing first credit category, Sustainable Sites. For urban projects especially this has been the largest category contributing points in many of our projects.

The v4 checklist jettisoned the credits that relate to site selection considerations into the aptly named Location & Transportation, keeping the on-the-ground site development considerations of habitat, open space, rainwater management, light pollution and heat island reduction under Sustainable Sites.

An additional new credit, Integrative Process was added to the top of the list outside of any category since the point of course is to look at how it can all work together. This new credit requires the design team to conduct and document a Discovery phase on their project to identify and evaluate opportunities and strategies EARLY in the development cycle. Addressing sustainability requirements early in the project cycle is now not only a good strategy for sustainable design, but critical to successful certification because Integrative Process, along with Site Assessment and the new fundamental Commissioning requirements all need to be addressed in early design phase.

Integrative Process entails identifying site characteristics and preliminary design concepts to inform a simple box energy model which will identify load reduction strategies in this discovery phase.  Similarly, water systems are investigated relative to the site and programming to identify potential opportunities, and must include analysis of the use of at least one onsite non-potable water supply source to reduce municipal water or wastewater treatment demand by contributing to at least two water demands (indoor, outdoor, process).

Site Assessment is a new credit that can build on a project’s SEPA (State Environmental Protection Assessment) process and should also inform early design regarding site design.  Ideally, the worksheet will be filled out during that early land use and entitlement phase and include consideration of the items not in SEPA such as greenfield area measurements, estimated TR-55 initial water storage (a simplified stormwater modeling tool, available from, among others. What is critical for design teams is to be able to articulate how particular information influenced the project design.

Beyond the nomenclature, as with all of v.4 the most notable change is the increase in requirements or performance threshold along with a drop in points awarded for particular credits.

Courtesy of ChargePoint

The Green Vehicles credit is a case in point – the previous version (Alternative Transportation: Low Emitting and Electric Vehicles) awarded three points for 5% preferred parking OR charging stations. The new credit requires both 5% preferred parking AND an additional 2% of spaces anywhere on site with charging/fueling stations for one point.

The shift in points relative to cost and effort has all but eliminated what were readily-attainable blocks of points that projects could count on.  In a few instances though, a threshold has been added that allows projects that might not have qualified in the past to get a point to pursue a strategy with appropriate requirements.

A good example of this is the Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses credit – in prior versions this was rarely achievable for warehouse projects and other suburban or rural locations, but v4 offers a specific pathway for Warehouse & Distribution with two points for locating on previously developed industrial or commercially land, with an extra point for a site that is adjacent to current industrial or commercial development. A further one or two points are obtained for proximity to distribution-related transportation resources.

Several credits are merged and purportedly offer more straightforward or flexible documentation pathways.  Storm water–now Rainwater, and Heat Island Reduction fall into this category; what were two credits for each are now one and the criteria reflect a more integrated approach to evaluating compliance.  Rainwater Management now offers different pathways for zero lot line projects and others based on thresholds for different percentile rainfall events (95 or 98, and 85 for zero lot line) but they require an integrated approach use low impact development and green infrastructure on site.

The Brownfield credit has been subsumed in the new High Priority Site credit which encourages projects in specific economic and historical development districts.  The brownfield option is now awarded more points though it also focuses only on the site not the buildings that might be demolished, so asbestos and lead no longer qualify, while soil and water remediation is now worth 2 points for New Construction and 3 for Core and Shell.

Overall the restructuring adds some clarity to these areas of the checklist and some interesting new opportunities to achieve points.  Since the goal of LEED is to transform the construction and buildings market, raising the bar is to be expected.    As v.4 is more widely used, expect some of the growing pains that changes cause to improve.