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Why is LEED so darn hard?I was in a progress meeting for a LEED project the other day, and the owner’s rep was looking through our updated LEED checklist.  He read aloud a couple of the credits, like SSc2 (Development Density and Community Connectivity) and MRc1.1 (Building Reuse) and made a scoffing comment about the fact that our project cannot pursue those credits.  It just isn’t possible due to the nature of our project.

The truth is, we don’t have enough points to feel comfortable that we can achieve the level of certification that we are aiming for.  We were searching for credits we could tack-on to add more points to the project.

The disappointing fact is that we originally identified enough credits to have a comfy 5 to 8 point cushion.  That was BEFORE design even began.  And somehow during the design process, 3 of the design credits did not get incorporated into the project’s design, costing us 5 points.

On top of that, a couple other credits were determined to be “unnecessary”.

So here we are, nearing the end of the project, and the owner doesn’t understand why we are struggling to come up with enough credits.

I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, there are credits that we simply cannot achieve because of the nature of our project.”  He gave a shrug and a nod, but I could tell he was irritated by it.  You see, he, like many folks, just wants to get the darn certification.

Have you ever had a client like that?  They want the certification, and they don’t understand why it’s just. so. hard.

Yes, LEED is Hard.  And that’s a good thing.

I’ve heard many design and construction professionals declare that achieving LEED Certified or even Silver is pretty easy to do with proper planning and a good team.  In fact, I’ve been one of those folks.  And I believe that to be true.

But an early commitment and a good team are not enough.

You also have to be willing to DO THE WORK.  You have to take the time to fully understand the requirements of each credit you’ve selected.

You have to be willing to spend more on a HVAC system that offers greater efficiency and long-term operating cost savings.  You have to understand the value of building commissioning and be open to allowing the commissioning agent to do their work.

You have to accept the fact that some credits will not apply to your project and be open to pursuing other credits that stretch your comfort zone a bit.

Because while it can be easy, it can also be impossible if all of the players are not fully bought-in to the goal – especially the owner/designer/contractor team.

But if LEED were easy, it wouldn’t mean anything.  If it were easy, achieving certification wouldn’t be impressive.  It wouldn’t show that you’ve made efforts to make your building better than it has to be.

Some say LEED isn’t hard enough.

In fact, the LEED program has come under fire for not being hard enough.  Years ago, critics began exposing the fact that some LEED certified buildings are actually less energy efficient than their non-certified counterparts.

To be clear, often these reports only gave partial information and did not attempt to explain that the LEED rating systems do not evaluate buildings on energy efficiency alone.  A disservice to the readers of those reports, in my opinion, because many of those readers are likely unfamiliar with the LEED program and simply reading that the acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design are likely to mistakingly believe the core focus of the program is, in fact, energy efficiency.  But I digress.

Those reports also leave out the ever-evolving nature of LEED.  The US Green Building Council and it’s vast network of experts realize LEED is not perfect and work to continually improve upon the program.

And now, after all the criticism, people are crying out that LEED v4 is too hard to even consider.

Hard means it’s working.

If people believe achieving LEED certification is challenging, that means the program is working.  Designers, constructors, owners are being pushed out of their comfort zones.  They have to think outside the box and stop relying on their same old methodologies that simply don’t produce superior buildings.

If you or your client is frustrated that LEED is hard, I encourage you to ask yourself this question:  Would you want the certification if it were easy?