Reform the LEED process

The U.S. Green Building Council recently released proposed versions of its LEED rating systems, collectively called LEED 2009. Use of the LEED system has grown tremendously, and is expected to accelerate as local and state government agencies pass resolutions requiring LEED certification for both public and private projects.


The U.S. Green Building Council recently released proposed versions of its LEED rating systems, collectively called LEED 2009. Use of the LEED system has grown tremendously, and is expected to accelerate as local and state government agencies pass resolutions requiring LEED certification for both public and private projects.

However, LEED 2009 is not a new version of LEED. It is intended to be a much needed and long overdue reorganization of LEED. LEED 2009 aims to provide consistency by aligning requirements and documentation across the various LEED rating systems, such as New Construction and Major Renovations, and Commercial Interiors.

The advantage to users, designers, engineers, owners, and contractors is obvious: Learn the rules once, and apply them to any LEED project regardless of what LEED system is used. But a much bigger fix is required: Reform the LEED certification review process.

Have you ever wondered why many of the LEED submittals requirements and calculations seem more complicated than they need to be? Why the LEED reference guides are sometimes unclear, leaving it up to the project team to figure out what to do, or to seek out a special LEED consultant to help?

The consultants who develop LEED reference guides are the same consultants who certify LEED projects. And these same consultants also are hired on projects seeking certification—an obvious conflict of interest. It's human nature, and good business practice, to give yourself an edge. For example, you can make your competitors charge more to complete a project, by making them jump through unnecessary hoops to cover the cost of the extra work they are forced to do. The harder the requirements are to understand, then the higher the fee that can be charged when selling consulting services.

In an effort to address this problem, USGBC is spinning off the LEED certification work to a subsidiary called the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). However, GBCI and USGBC share the same physical address, and the upper management remains the same for the two entities. USGBC is still responsible for LEED, its requirements, and the certification process.

True reform could be assisted greatly by the following recommendations: First, the consulting companies that sell LEED certification services should not be allowed to develop LEED documentation requirements. Second, companies that are contracted to adjudicate LEED submittals should not be allowed to review the submittals of their competitors. And finally, USGBC-hired consultants should not be allowed to sell their services as LEED project consultants, while they also are paid as reviewers of those projects completed by their competitors.

The certification review consultants need to work directly as employees for the new GBCI entity. This would reduce the conflict-of-interest problem, and the many troubles the USGBC knows it has with the certification review process that is now in place.

LEED has grown up enough for truly independent consultants to perform the certification reviews. It's time for the USGBC to take this step and get it done.

Author Information

Miranda has managed sustainability for more than 100 LEED projects, including four certified Platinum and eight Gold. He has served as vice chair of the LEED Indoor Environmental Quality Group, on the LEED Commercial Interiors Core Committee, and as a member of the AIA Top 10 Green Buildings Committee.

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