LEED v4: Its Impact on Healthcare Architecture

“Haste makes waste.” “Better late than never.”

There are several cliché phrases that aptly describe the launch of LEED v4, but the bottom line is that it was passed recently with an 86 percent approval rating. This comes after three years and six public comment periods. It originally was titled LEED 2012, but several controversial initiatives resulted in additional time and revision before it was “ready for prime time” and a final vote.

Although most voters supported the evolution of key requirements and attaining a higher standard, some are concerned that LEED v4 has introduced changes that may be too much, too fast, and might squelch the positive momentum of LEED and confuse the building industry.

Many of the “new” initiatives found in LEED v4 have roots in LEED for Healthcare, including the integrative design process prerequisite, the restructuring of the Materials and Resources credits, expansion of the water-use reduction credit to include process water in addition to building water, and the addition of building envelope commissioning as a supplemental point to the Enhanced Commissioning credit. A credit for the Acoustic Environment (limiting intrusive or disruptive noises to promote an indoor healing environment) also was introduced in LEED HC. In addition, Chemical Avoidance was offered as a pilot credit within the Innovation in Design category and provided valuable research to be developed further for its official launch in LEED v4.  As of Jan. 1, 2012, LEED HC is required for all licensed inpatient, outpatient, and long-term-care healthcare facilities seeking LEED certification.

LEED v4 includes not only the credits mentioned above, but also the Location and Transportation category—although this topic already was covered to a large extent in Sustainable Sites. The category that has evolved the most (and created the most controversy) is definitely the Materials and Resources category. There is a new “Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction” credit that offers points  for reusing existing buildings and/or salvaged materials. This credit is focused on the reduction of the overall embodied energy that must be considered in building construction.  The elephant in the room, though, is the inclusion of three new two-part credits that cover Building Product Disclosure and Optimization. They offer points for publishing environmental impacts—even if the impacts are considerable—and product ingredients, even if the ingredients are harmful. This has been an extremely difficult mindset change for many in the green building industry, but the new categories and credits are necessary in order to create a market demand for transparency. With transparency comes product optimization that will benefit the environment and human health.

This will be uncomfortable and perhaps embarrassing for early leaders, but, as is typically the case with those who admit their shortcomings, they will be rewarded with admiration and respect for overcoming them. Design leaders have notified their building product manufacturers that they will give priority consideration to those that submit a Healthy Product Declaration using the HPD Open Standard submittal process. This allows an apples-to-apples comparison to be made from product to product, encouraging product optimization.

In response to concerns that some of the changes in LEED v4 are too abrupt, the U.S. Green Building Council has announced that it will ease into LEED v4 by allowing project teams to register for either LEED v4 or LEED 2009 until June 1, 2015. After that date, just LEED v4 will remain open. As Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.”

We’ll soon know whether the world is ready for LEED v4.

Jeff Stouffer is a principal and practice leader of  healthcare design at HKS. This post was written in association with Roy Gunsolus, principal and director of sustainable healthcare with HKS.

Posted in Expert Opinions.