With existing structures comprising about 99% of the nation's building stock, LEED for existing buildings (LEED-EB) arguably should be the U.S. Green Building Council's top LEED category, one that could have a much bigger environmental impact than LEED for new construction (LEED-NC). With its focus on sustainable maintenance practices and on improving performance throughout a building's life cycle, LEED-EB is packed with potential that hasn't been realized since its provisions were finalized in October 2004.
As of last May, of the 824 LEED-certified projects, only 46 (5.6%) had earned LEED-EB certification. With such minimal reach, the program's positive environmental benefits have been scant. “Everyone has been a little surprised about how long LEED for existing buildings has taken to sink into the marketplace,” says Michael Arny, president of Leonardo Academy, a Madison, Wis., think tank and consultancy and chair of the USGBC's LEED-EB committee from 2001-2005.
USGBC officials, aware they may have a dud on their hands, recently acknowledged that one of the biggest problems is the LEED-EB application process—it's too costly and cumbersome, discouraging many from seeking certification. As a result, officials are preparing LEED-EB's first major revisions, which are scheduled for release this fall.
“In a nutshell, we will make the process more user-friendly by reducing the documentation and reporting burden,” says Doug Gatlin, director of USGBC's LEED-EB program. The revisions, slated to be released for public review last month, include an overhaul of many credit requirements to focus more on outcomes and reduce paperwork.
For example, under current rules, to earn credits for green commuting, an owner has to record the number of bike racks on site, the amount of car pools used by tenants, and the location's proximity to various forms of public transportation. The revised commuting credit would require one statistic only—the ratio of single-vehicle commuters to those who use alternate transportation.
The revisions should reduce the need for owners to hire consultants to help navigate certification requirements, which has been the biggest expense for many firms attempting to use the LEED-EB process, Gatlin says. In many cases, consultants spend the bulk of their time filling out paperwork, so reduced documentation should lead to reduced consultant hours and costs, Gatlin says. The USGBC has also waived LEED-EB registration fees for owners of buildings that have previously attained LEED-NC certification.
While a more user-friendly application process is expected to boost interest, Gatlin points out that even without those changes yet in place, there are tangible signs that LEED-EB is gaining momentum. At the end of 2006, fewer than 300 properties were LEED-EB-registered. As of late May 2007, that number had more than doubled. In addition, monthly orders for LEED-EB guides have swelled from about 100 last year to 300 in 2007.
The USGBC's extensive education and outreach effort targeting building owners and facility managers is beginning to catch on, according to Arny. That approach was necessary because much of the early attention in LEED, especially LEED-NC, has been focused on architects, engineers, and contractors, not building owners and property managers.
Also helping to grow the program is the fact that many best practices earning LEED-EB credits can be easily replicated across a building management firm's entire portfolio. In LEED-NC, for example, credit requirements are specific to individual properties. But with LEED-EB, once a company earns credits for sustainable cleaning, purchasing, and recycling methods on one building, it can quickly roll out those programs throughout its portfolio. This year's LEED-EB overhaul will also make it possible to award certification to multiple properties at one time.
On another front, recent increased media attention devoted to green design and building has boosted public consciousness of LEED-NC, a development that could spill over to LEED-EB. “LEED for new construction has made the jump from the trade press to the general press,” Arny says. “In the last three months, particularly, the frequency of articles on energy use and emissions has increased dramatically.”
LEED officials say, however, that the new EB revisions will make the biggest difference in boosting participation. Once applicants become familiar with the process, it becomes easier to manage and more useful, Arny says. “They find that it's just a format for good facility management,” he says.