Expert Advice on Green Buildings

LEED 2012: 10 Changes You Should Know About


As the year comes to an end, we begin to look back at what happened in 2010 and make plans for the future. At the same time, USGBC is beginning their review and planning for the next version of the LEED Rating System: LEED 2012.

The draft version of LEED 2012 is currently in the first of at least two public comment periods, allowing users to comment and help shape the future of the rating systems.

First Comment Period: November 8, 2011 to January 14, 2011

Second Comment Period: July 1, 2011 to August 15, 2011

USGBC indicates that additional comment periods may be opened as needed. The ballot (for member voting) is currently scheduled for the month of August 2011 (August 1 to August 2012) with release of LEED 2012 scheduled for November 7, 2012.

While LEED 2012 exists as a preliminary version, it’s important to take a look at the proposed changes as they show the direction that the USGBC is moving and the plans they have.

In a basic sense, USGBC acknowledges that LEED buildings have room for improvement. While they may perform "better" than conventional buildings, current rating systems certify buildings (at all levels) that still generally have a some negative environmental impact.

USGBC’s goal is to evolve the rating systems until LEED Certification also implies a neutral or positive environmental impact. The process will be gradual, first with Platinum rated buildings, then proceeding through the other rating levels, until even certified projects (the lowest level of certification) are providing a neutral impact on the environment.

When taking a look at the proposed version of LEED 2012, the first thing that you notice is the number of credit categories has jumped from seven to ten and the number of prerequisites has climbed from nine to fifteen. The second biggest change one can see is that the credits are becoming more aligned between rating systems, with credits borrowed from other systems and requirements revised to reflect a more unified approach across systems. Several long-time credits are also combined into a more comprehensive credit (i.e. Stormwater, Heat Islands, and Low-Emitting Materials to name three).

While there are a number of new credits being introduced and several being reused from other rating systems, during this first public comment period, no point values have been assigned yet. The main focus of the comment period is to evaluate and revise the credit requirements. This brings up the obvious question if the proposed rating system will raise the total points achievable in LEED from 110 to higher total, or if credits will start being counted a ½ point values.

The proposed draft also moves closer to USGBC’s goal of developing a performance based rating system instead of prescriptive requirements. While a performance based system and requirements will obviously require more evaluation, calculation and documentation by the project team it also allows more opportunities for alternatives to compliance.

Integrated Process

One of the added credit categories, and now the first in the rating system is “Integrated Design”. It starts out with an ”Integrated Process” credit, which is designed to encourage integration of the project team. As one of the basic tenets of sustainable design, this credit is very well suited as the first in the rating system.

The other credit in this category is the traditional IDc2 “LEED Accredited Professional” credit, which has already caused detailed discussion. The current language for compliance with this credit requires a LEED AP with specialty applicable to the rating system (i.e. LEED-NC projects require a LEED AP BD+C). This has obviously raised questions by Legacy LEED AP’s who could potentially no longer work on project teams in order to earn this credit. What’s even more interesting is that this credit no longer can be earned with only one project team member being a LEED AP; it now requires two additional individuals representing primary disciplines to be LEED AP (with any specialty) or Green Associates. Once again, Legacy APs can’t contribute to any of the three required accredited team members. USGBC has presented a series of webinars reviewing the proposed changes, and one of the interesting facts that was stated during the review of this specific credit, was how frequently this credit is earned. 100% of LEED-NC projects have earned this credit, and 99% of all LEED rating system projects have earned it Clearly USGBC’s intention is to make this credit more stringent, and rightfully so with over 150,000 LEED APs currently accredited. While this is a draft version, there is clearly the opportunity for users of LEED to offer alternatives to this credit, so the ink hasn’t dried yet on these requirements.

Location and Transportation

The second credit category is also new, with its title borrowed from the LEED-ND rating system. Most of the credits will be nothing new even though many of them have new names. The credits for “Site Selection”, “Development Density and Community Access” as well as the four Alternative Transportation credits (SSc4.x credits) are now renamed and included in this category focusing on site selection and transportation management. What will be new is that there is now a prerequisite for “Bicycle Storage” and a new credit, also borrowed from LEED-ND called “Walkable Streets”.

Sustainable Sites

There are no new credits in this category that now focuses exclusively on providing a sustainable site. The biggest changes in this section are that the two Stormwater Management credits (SSc6.1 Stormwater Management, Quantity and SSc6.2 Stormwater Management, Quality) are now combined into a single “Rainwater Management” credit, while both Heat-Island Effect credits are also combined into a “Heat Island Reduction” credit.

Water Efficiency

The Water Efficiency category has a number of significant changes, including two new prerequisites for “Landscape Water Use Reduction” and “Appliance and Process Water Use Reduction” which LEED now deals with. There are also three credits for additional water use reduction associated with the prerequisites, the existing and renamed credit for “Sustainable Wastewater Management” and another new credit called “Cooling Tower Makeup Water”. The prerequisites and credits in this category are relatively unchanged, but as a whole now provide a comprehensive approach to reducing the overall water consumption of LEED projects.

Energy and Atmosphere

While the number of credits in the EA category has been reduced, it’s now focused on the level of energy efficiency exhibited by the project at certification. Those credits which deal with measurement, verification and performance have been moved to the new and aptly named “Performance” category. One new credit in this category is “Demand Response”, a credit designed to provide for electrical load demand shifting and reduce the overall demand on electrical power production and distribution systems.

Materials and Resources

While the credits titles in this category are relatively unchanged, the requirements for the credits have evolved and in some cases dramatically changed the requirements. However, there are now prerequisites for “Minimum Recycled Content” and “Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning”, which provide a minimum level of compliance for these frequently earned credits. The requirements for each one of these credits are now more detailed and relates them better to real world practice. For example the renamed “Bio-based Materials” credit now includes materials identified by the USDA BioPreferred program. The biggest question in this category is what will happen with the “Certified Wood” credit. The draft version states that the credit language will be revised and incorporated based on the ballot for new wood standards, which has just recently been voted against by USGBC membership. It’s unclear whether this credit will revert to FSC-certification only, or if another push will be made to open the certification of wood products to alternate standards meeting certain prerequisites and processes.

Indoor Environmental Quality

Similar to the Sustainable Sites category, there are no major changes to this category. EQc3.1 “Construction IAQ Management Plan, During Construction” is now a prerequisite and there is a new “Acoustic Performance” credit borrowed from LEED for Schools. The biggest change is the various Low-Emitting Materials credits are combined into one credit, “Low-Emitting Interiors” and now covers other systems such as ceilings and insulation. The traditional SCAQMD standards for sealants and paints remain unchanged, but all products in this category must now also comply with additional standards from the California Department of Public Health.


Another change proposed for LEED 2012 is to introduce a new credit category covering the on-going performance and measurement of building energy and water use. This new category incorporates adds prerequisites for building level energy and water usage, while also being the location of the relocated Commissioning prerequisite and credit. It’s also where existing credits such as the renamed “Reconcile Projected and Actual Energy Performance” and “Occupant Experience Survey” are relocated. Two additional new credits require sub-metering of energy and water usage are also included in this new category.


Because the “LEED Accredited Professional” credit has been relocated, this category now deals exclusively with Exemplary Performance (still with a maximum limit of three credits allowed) and Innovation credits.

Regional Priority

Regional priority credits once again make an appearance as “bonus” credits for achieving credits deemed of significant environmental/sustainable importance to a specific geographic region.


Basically the proposed language for LEED 2012 is the next evolution of the rating system. Due to the open comment periods and consensus process that USGBC follows, nothing is “set in stone”. All of the credit language and requirements can still change as comments are received and voted on.


Here are some of my recommendations in general regarding what I think USGBC needs to consider in developing LEED 2012:

- Coordinate minimum requirements of prerequisites so that they’re still providing an increase in sustainability compared to the requirements of the ICC’s International Green Construction Code (IGCC) and ASHRAE 189.1 which are designed to provide a code minimum requirement for sustainability, while LEED will continue to be a voluntary system with increased sustainability measures.

- Update all LEED resources and supporting documentation so they’re ready for release at the same time as the new version of LEED. This way there isn’t a delay of a year or more while project teams attempt to figure out process changes.

- Rating System Selection Policy
- District Energy Guide
- Campus Guidance

- Ensure that the new version of LEED Online has all of the forms in their final format so they’re ready to be used and “fixed” versions that reflect actual requirements don’t become available 18-months after the rating system is released.

- Ensure that credit requirements, intent and documentation are identified in a manner that can better foster consistent reviews of projects by GBCI.

- Incorporate precedent setting CIRs into the Reference Guide, instead of keeping outdated language in the Reference Guide thereby forcing project teams to wade through the thousands of CIRs that are out there, and then try to figure out if a particular CIR was superseded by a newer ruling.

- Update graphics, tables and examples in the Reference Guide to reflect the requirements of the new language instead of relying on examples or tables from a previous version of LEED.

And for those commenting on LEED 2012:

- Review and comment on anything you think needs to be commented on. If it’s a different standard that should be referenced for a particular credit or revised credit language, let USGBC know.

- If you’re a member of USGBC or an employee of a USGBC member firm, use your right to vote during the ballot period. If you don’t like how a particular credit developed during the comment period let your opinion be known.

But the one question I have regarding this whole process is that when LEED 2009 was released USGBC created the system and the Pilot credits to allow for changes to the system without an entirely new Rating system release. In November 2012 when LEED 2012 is anticipated to be released it’ll be just about 3-1/2 years since LEED 2009 was published. There was a 4-1/2 year period between LEED 2.2 and LEED 2009. So if LEED 2009 was designed to be more easily changed, why is USGBC shortening the time between versions?

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Expert Advice and Comments
clairemolo's picture

Re: LEED 2012 - 10 Changes

Thanks Scott, for a great summary of the LEED 2012 changes. This was very helpful.

- Claire

I am a recent graduate of Cornell University, where I studied Environmental Science and concentrated in Sustainable Development.

Re: LEED 2012 - 10 Changes

I agree with Claire, you summarized it quite well. Some project teams will be surprised about the extra LEED APs requirements.