LEED must be updated to address climate change

This article by Greg Kats originally appeared on GreenBiz.

Leed certification on building

This is part one in a pair of stories, adapted from a set of comments published by the author on an online discussion group from October to April. Part one is here.

Over the last 20 years, LEED has become the dominant U.S. green building design standard and is the most influential standard of its kind globally. This is an extraordinary achievement and has made for healthier, more productive and greener homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals and public spaces for tens of millions of families, students and workers.

But LEED has not kept up with the accelerating urgency of climate change or the availability of low and no-cost ways to deeply cut carbon — particularly from steep declines in the cost of clean energy options (such as the 60 percent cost reduction of residential solar since 2010) — that make these now the cheapest electricity source in most states. The rapid growth in the ability to buy onsite and offsite solar and wind under a power purchase agreement (PPA) structure allows LEED building owners to buy carbon-free power at a fixed price at or below conventional utility rates. These onsite and offsite wind and solar options allow most LEED buildings to switch to 100-percent, zero-carbon power at low or no cost — and in many cases can reduce the future cost of electricity (PDF).

However, in a world of accelerating climate change and fossil-fuel-funded denial, LEED has failed to maintain a carbon leadership role. LEED v4, the current version of LEED launched in 2013, was not stringent enough for 2013 — let alone for 2018. Many buildings receiving LEED Silver, Gold and even Platinum ratings deliver an anemic 15 or 20 percent lower energy use and CO2 reduction. Science dictates that serious green building standards today must deliver large reductions in CO2, and LEED must step up to this.

To address this urgent need, Kevin Hydes of the Integral Group, Emma Stewart of WRI, Mary Ann Lazarus of the Cameron MacAllister Group and I developed a proposal, "LEEDing on Climate Change," for adoption in the current LEED V4.1 upgrade process. The proposal would enable LEED to take a leadership role on climate change. It has been signed by more than 150 longtime green building leaders including David Gottfried, founder of both the USGBC and World Green Building Council, and LEED founder Rob Watson, and has been endorsed by groups including National Grid, Amalgamated Bank and HOK.

The proposal, submitted to USGBC in support of USGBC, has broad support on the LEED steering and advisory committees, as well as among USGBC staff. It sets out minimum levels of carbon reduction by level of LEED, reflecting the growing scientific urgency of climate change.

As the "LEEDing on Climate Change Proposal" noted:


A 2017 Scientific American article entitled 'The Window Is Closing to Avoid Dangerous Global Warming' warns that 'Deadly climate change could threaten most of the world's human population by the end of this century without efforts well beyond those captured in the Paris Agreement.' The Scientific American article quotes from a 2017 report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that states that; 'We are quickly running out of time to prevent hugely dangerous, expensive and perhaps unmanageable climate change.'

The moral, as well as the scientific, dimensions of climate change, have their deniers. Some deny the science. Others argue that responsibility for global warming can be left to future generations who will experience the largest costs of climate change but may have more money or technologies to manage or mitigate climate change. The moral or ethical aspects of when we take on responsibility for our own contamination of the earth has been spoken to directly by leading moral figures.

At the end of 2016, Pope Francis stated, "Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word, I would say that we are at the limits of suicide." Francis warned, "There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emissions of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced."

Current LEED CO2 requirements do not meet the call of scientists or the pope. But LEED has been able to change before and must do so again.

A LEED building that cuts CO2 or energy consumption by 15 or 20 percent is not a material step toward decarbonization. Buildings represent over 40 percent of energy use and almost half of the emissions changing our climate. They are central to any realistic rapid transition to a low carbon economy. And LEED — as the standard bearer for high-performance buildings — must be central to this transition. To lead, LEED must be a leader on climate change.

LEED immediately should be revised to require substantial minimum carbon reductions for each level of LEED certification, both for new LEED buildings and for LEED rating renewals.

For many or most LEED buildings, a combination of energy efficiency, onsite renewable energy (primarily solar PV) and direct long-term purchase of renewable energy can cost-effectively deliver large reductions of CO2 from building energy use. Like renewable energy, energy efficiency technologies such as LED lights, ground-source heat pumps and battery storage have over the last decade experienced deep and sustained cost reductions, making zero net carbon buildings increasingly viable. Onsite energy efficiency and renewable energy combined with power purchase agreement contracts to buy carbon-free electricity under long-term fixed-price contracts make net-zero-carbon building operations the lowest cost option today in a growing number of cities and states.

Deep cost reductions in energy efficiency and renewable energy also have made more aggressive green building standards such as the Living Building Challenge increasingly viable. But these newer standards effect less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of buildings. They lack the scale to rapidly drive deep carbon reductions in buildings necessary to limit the worst effects of global warming.

LEED can and must step up to this essential role.

If LEED fails to incorporate deep CO2 reductions as a requirement at higher levels of LEED, it will become increasingly irrelevant. Worse, by enabling buildings that are only marginally better on CO2 to claim a green mantle, LEED could impede the rapid, deep decarbonization we must achieve if we are to heed scientific consensus and the pope’s moral call to pull back from "the limits of suicide."

USGBC is considering adopting these minimum carbon reductions in LEED in its current upgrade process. It should be strongly encouraged to do so and applauded for its leadership if it leads on this. Stepping up to this role is both a scientific and moral necessity as well as an opportunity for LEED to fulfill its potential to be truly transformative.

You may find the proposal discussed above here.

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Home Toxins: Remnants from Antiquated Building Practice

By Shawn Tallet, Outreach Coordinator, Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center

The advent of sustainable building practices has resulted in the most environmentally-responsible efforts to date. Green building policies have been implemented in cities across the country, and the introduction of certifications like LEED and Passive House have made it clear that resource-efficient construction and technology are here to stay. While energy and resource efficiency are primary pillars of green construction, the commitment to occupant health and reducing environmental pollution are perhaps two of the most important factors in the process. New certifications like WELL and Fitwel recognize this and are being designed to focus on health and wellbeing in buildings. Due to the implementation of modern technology and sustainable efforts, most human carcinogens have been factored out almost entirely in building practices, including asbestos, lead, and formaldehyde. While these toxins have been used decreasingly, they can still pose a serious problem in demolition and retrofits, especially in underserved communities.

A Hazard to Health

Asbestos is well-known for its insidious effects on human health. Once lauded for its durability, strength, and fire-resistance, the material eventually fell out of favor with builders because of its carcinogenic effects. Although the mineral’s use in building products has been heavily regulated since the passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), any home built before 1980 runs the risk of containing asbestos. The material is commonly found in insulation (especially vermiculite), plaster joints and compounds, tile and flooring, and roofing. Asbestos poses an immediate danger when particulate matter containing loose airborne fibers is inhaled, which occurs when asbestos-containing materials begin to break down. The most imposing health threat caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, stomach, or heart. Life expectancy of patients is generally 12-21 months upon diagnosis, and the disease has no cure.

Paint on the Wall

In 1978, the government placed a ban on consumer usage of lead-based paint, due to the health effects observed in people exposed. During the Industrial Revolution and onward through the majority of the 20th century, lead was most commonly used as an additive in paint. Similar to asbestos, the heavy metal was added to paints because of its accelerated drying rate, durability, and ability to resist moisture. But lead poses a tremendous health risk, especially to children, including behavioral and developmental problems, reduced IQ, and even seizures or coma at very high levels of exposure.

Today, lead can most commonly be found in older homes. Poorly maintained houses with deteriorating and chipping paint pose a risk for lead exposure, as well as lead-contaminated dust. Testing for the element’s presence can be done using a swab test kit, or a professional inspector can take samples to have it analyzed.

A Colorless Chemical

Formaldehyde is a chemical commonly used in building materials such as pressed-wood products, glues and adhesives, and permanent-press fabrics. Characterized by its lack of color, high flammability and strong odor, formaldehyde has been declared a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The effects formaldehyde has on the body vary, especially due to the amount of exposure a person receives. Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC) and may cause irritation to the eyes, throat, and mucous membranes at lower levels of exposure. Substantial or chronic exposure to formaldehyde can result in throat, nose, and blood cancers, as well as fluid buildup in the lungs. Factory and construction workers run an especially high risk of exposure to the chemical. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently passed an emission standard for wood products containing formaldehyde, which is anticipated to diminish health risks associated with persistent contact with the chemical.

The Future: Responsible Innovation

Green building practice has put mindfulness of toxins at the forefront of planning and development, and is sure to offset the remnants of a polluted past for future generations. The trend toward not only energy efficiency, but occupant safety and environmental consciousness seen in WELL and Fitwell practices, has allowed designers, architects, and builders to pinpoint their client’s exact needs while keeping their buildings safe to inhabit. Through persistence and adherence to changing policy, green building practice will hopefully usher in a new status quo for the construction, life cycle, and demolition of structures, all while making toxins an afterthought and remaining conscious of poor building practices of the past. 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CTGBC.

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Sea Level Rise Projections for the State of Connecticut | Draft Report Released

The Draft Report, Sea Level Rise in Connecticut, authored by CIRCA Executive Director and Professor of Marine Sciences, James O’Donnell has been released as of March 27, 2018. CIRCA is accepting comments on the Draft Report.

Please submit comments until 5pm on April 5, 2018 by sending an email to

The Draft Report is the full technical report that informed the Executive Summary and the presentation on the science contained in the Draft Report presented to the public on October 19, 2017. A recording of that presentation and a pdf of the slides can be found below. Reviewing both the Draft Report and the October 19, 2017 30 minute presentation recording is recommended.

Read the full report and view a webinar on the report on CIRCA's website.

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Beware of losing your building's Energy Star standing as updates loom ahead

Read the original article by Josh Richards at

Conserving energy has expanded beyond the realm of social and corporate responsibility. For many employers, sustainable practices are a necessity to attract and retain the best labor. At those firms, workers may expect their employers and workplaces to earn and display Energy Star, LEED and other certifications to demonstrate good stewardship of natural resources.

However, some properties might be at risk of losing at least one of those credentials.

Later this year, some buildings certified under the Energy Star program likely will lose that certification after the release of updated building performance baselines. Fortunately, landlords can act now to begin improving the metrics tracked in Energy Star’s online Portfolio Manager tool and put their properties on a path to qualify for the program’s mark of approval even after the change.

Why the reset?

For most commercial properties, an Energy Star score ranging from 1 to 100 indicates how well the property compares with a sampling of thousands of buildings represented in the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey. The Energy Information Administration, which collects and analyzes energy statistics for the U.S. government, conducts the survey every four to six years. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses survey data to build statistically representative models for various building types. 

When an Energy Star participant submits energy-usage performance data collected through Portfolio Manager, the EPA converts that information into a numerical Energy Star score showing how well the building performs in relation to models of its peers. Buildings that achieve a 75 or higher generally qualify for Energy Star certification as energy-efficient.

For several years, the EPA has relied on survey data collected in 2003 to calculate Energy Star scores. At the time of that survey, Energy Star was still gaining momentum on its way to becoming an industry standard for measuring and reducing energy consumption. Recently, however, the agency has been updating Portfolio Manager with survey data collected in 2012.

In the decade between the surveys, the use of Portfolio Manager mushroomed, as did the number of commercial buildings adopting various energy-conservation programs. That suggests the new data set will include a larger proportion of energy-efficient buildings. As a result, a building that achieved the Energy Star label in the past may not compare as well to buildings in the new data set, and could see its score fall due to a lower relative standing even if the property’s performance remains unchanged. 

A snapshot of an earlier version of the Energy Star Portfolio Manager

A snapshot of an earlier version of the Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

The EPA plans to publish updated scores based on the newer survey in August. While there is no way to predict the change in score for a specific property, building owners should be prepared for a drop of at least five points in their Energy Star score. Buildings certified with scores of 75 to 80, therefore, are most at risk of losing certification 

What's at stake?

It’s important for property owners to remember that Energy Star scores are a mark of relative performance. Actual performance measured in Portfolio Manager is unaffected by the update in survey data.

Improvements achieved through conservation programs continue to benefit the property’s owner and occupants, and can include less-intensive electricity usage, lower utility bills, a healthier workplace that maximizes natural light, and in some cases, reductions in water consumption and waste generation. These worthwhile programs will continue to save money and improve an asset’s appeal to tenants and investors.

Owners and tenants whose downgraded scores result in the loss of Energy Star certification will lose the marketing benefits that come with this seal of approval from the EPA, potentially lowering their competitive advantage in attracting and retaining tenants. Employers who consider Energy Star a requirement for their space may look to other properties in a site search, or if they are already a tenant in the building, may let their leases expire. 


In most cases, the first phase of energy conservation will have captured the low-hanging fruit of reducing weekend operations, optimizing equipment run schedules or converting some lights to fluorescent. Sustainability advisers can help landlords map out strategies to further reduce energy consumption. 

Deeper cuts in power usage are more likely to require larger capital investments for items such as high-efficiency light fixtures and mechanical equipment. Yet many landlords will decide that achieving greater efficiency is worth the monetary cost. Becoming educated on the costs and benefits of improvements may be more important than ever. 

We are entering a new phase in energy conservation where the goal may be more than a lower utility bill. Landlords and tenants are collaborating to forge a workplace that is grounded in the tenets of sustainability and a source of employee pride.

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Guest Column: Using a Hybrid Car for Storm Resilience


Storm after storm, including the two nor’easters we’ve experienced in Connecticut over the past week, Mother Nature continues to show us that even though it is critical to focus on energy-efficient building designs and renewable energy systems, we must also include storm resiliency as another component of designing truly sustainable buildings.

While traditional portable gasoline generators are widely available to provide emergency back-up electricity to a home in the event of a power outage, these don’t necessarily scream “sustainable”.

A few years ago, after suffering a hurricane related power outage in Connecticut, I decided to take up a somewhat unique precaution against potential electrical power outages. While I am able to generate 100% of my annual electricity through solar PV panels, it was not cost effective to buy batteries just for the sake of a power outage. I instead chose to outfit my hybrid car to serve as a back-up generator to my house in New Haven.

This approach relies on an inverter, which I purchased from ConVerdant Vehicles*, which happened to be less expensive (~$700) than a standard gas generator. It required a quick and inexpensive (~$100) modification to my car by a mechanic and the installation of a traditional generator transfer switch in my garage, which was done by an electrician (~$500).

In the event of a power outage, I simply disconnect my house from the grid, move my car outdoors, hook up the inverter to the car and transfer switch, and start the car up. The whole process takes me less than 10 minutes. The inverter generates enough electricity (~1,600 Watts) to run the critical circuits in my house, including pre-selected lights, refrigerator, and the electric ignition to the tankless gas water heater, and even a few not-so-critical circuits, like the cable box/modem and TV.

This approach is more “sustainable” since it takes advantage of my hybrid’s efficient engine to provide electricity with half the fuel of a traditional generator, and is much much quieter.

I was not prepared for our first power outage in Connecticut, but we were able to use the gas stove for cooking and our gas fireplace kept the first floor at well over 70F. Being without a fridge and hot water was a challenge though. Now that we have the inverter, being able to provide basic power for three days on just one tank of gas makes me feel good about my home being energy-efficient and sustainable, even during a storm.

*While ConVerdant is no longer selling the inverters, other inverters are available, but perhaps at smaller capacities.

Gayathri Vijayakumar is a Principal Mechanical Engineer with Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

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