The Future of LEED – Reflections on a Year on the LEED Steering Committee

By Chris Schaffner

We’re living through difficult times. I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy, and you can continue to do your good work. Current events are on everyone’s mind, but sustainability remains an important long-term consideration. We are committed to creating a just and sustainable future, and recent events only highlight the need for this work.

In December 2019 I completed my term as chair of the USGBC LEED Steering Committee. I thought I’d spend a few moments to reflect on that experience and discuss the direction that LEED is heading.

I believe we are at an inflection point. The foundations of our work today were laid 25 years or so ago. LEED has brought green building to the forefront and has turned what was the cutting edge into the business as usual. LEED v4.1 has been well-received, but its impact on the market is still pretty small, especially compared to the crisis we face. We must rise to this challenge.

The climate crisis is ever increasing in its urgency. National governments have failed in their obligation to guide the planet to a safe landing. Local governments and NGOs, citizens, people like us, must step into this void.   At the same time economic inequality increases – the gap between rich and poor widens. Those most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate are also least equipped to deal with the results. 

The green building market is changing rapidly. Calls for energy efficiency have become calls for net zero buildings and decarbonization.  A few years ago, the idea of climate resilience was seen by some as an admission of defeat. Now it’s a key part of green building strategies. Cities like New York are creating rules that will put a real price on carbon. And demand for the elimination of fossil fuel use is growing. For example, Architecture 2030 recently called for a complete ban on fossil fuel use in all new buildings.  We’re transitioning away from the so-called “transition fuels.” It’s 2020, the future is here now. 

We, the members of the USGBC, have an opportunity and an obligation.  LEED addresses the full GHG impact of buildings – not just operational energy, but materials, transportation, water, and waste. But we need to strengthen LEED’s connection to climate, throughout the rating system, and make it more apparent to users. We also must stop sending mixed signals, by using metrics like energy cost rather than GHG emissions. We must embrace and incorporate climate resilience. And we must strengthen the connection between design and operations through recertification, so that a LEED Certification is not just a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process. We must do all these things, and we must do it while increasing LEED’s impact and market share.

Further, while we recognize that human health and social equity are factors in true sustainability, they’ve always been silent partners in LEED – along for the ride but never the focus. This will have to change. 

With these thoughts in mind, here’s where I see LEED heading in the next few years:

  1. Social Equity, Health, and Resilience: The USGBC community will come together this summer through events like the recent Social Equity Summit and the upcoming Healthy Economy Forum to gather ideas and lessons learned from recent events. Some will be whisked straight into LEED v4.1. Others may require more refinement and might wait until the next update.  (Timeline – Summer 2020)
  2. Balloting of LEED v4.1:  LEED v4.1 is still in Beta form, but it has already had a positive impact. Over the next few months the USGBC will use lessons learned from early adopters and will incorporate new lessons from recent events to create a final version to be balloted. Look for balloting to occur around the New Year, with a final version of v4.1 by Spring 2021. (Timeline – early 2021)
  3. Further Incorporation of Carbon, Wellness, Social Equity, and Resilience:  These have become the key issues driving the sustainability discussion today. Over the last 25 years we’ve gone from thinking about buildings’ effects on the environment, to the larger realm of “triple bottom line” sustainability. In the short term expect to see credit intents change to more explicitly highlight a strategy’s impact in these areas as part of the ballot version of v4.1. There is also discussion around creating some kind of recognition for LEED projects that specifically meet goals in social equity, human health, or resilience. For example, “Ten for Equity” would identify ten credits dealing with social equity, and a project that earned all ten might get special recognition.  (Timeline – early 2021, as part of the balloted version.)     
  4. Integration with the Arc Platform and the need for recertification: For years, LEED has struggled with the gap between predictions and performance. It’s time to close this gap. In the future a building will only be considered a LEED building if it can demonstrate performance worthy of the label. The plan is to use Arc to do this. Buildings will first earn LEED Certification in any of the traditional ways – through the New Construction or Existing Buildings Rating systems – but will use Arc to recertify periodically.  Currently recertification for New Construction projects is optional. Watch for it to become mandatory in the near future. (Timeline – no later than end of 2021)    
  5. LEED Positive: At Greenbuild in 2019 USGBC announced the coming of “LEED Positive,” but details of this concept have been sketchy.  It’s a work in progress. Think of it as LEED v5 if you want. The core concept is that we look ahead to 2050 and see where we need to be, and then we design the incremental steps that get us there, imagining an updated LEED every five years. It’s “LEED Positive” because we need to move from a mode reducing negative impacts to creating positive impacts.  As a part of this, we’d set specific minimum requirements for carbon reductions in each iteration, with New Construction projects getting to zero operational carbon very quickly.   (Timeline – More details of LEED Positive and a road map by Fall 2021, LEED v5 by 2025)

These are some of the ideas around the future of LEED. I welcome your feedback, input, and participation in the development of LEED Positive. The consensus process is the real strength of LEED, our secret weapon, and it doesn’t happen without all of you.

One thing we know for sure is that business as usual is not going to cut it. 25 years ago, LEED was a bold vision. It’s time to be bold again. I know we can and will do it, starting here, right now.

About Chris Schaffner

Chris Schaffner, PE, LEED Fellow, is Founder and CEO of The Green Engineer, Inc. a sustainable design consulting firm located in Concord, MA ( and a BE+ Silver Sponsor) . Chris and his firm have completed over 200 LEED Certified projects. He has a long history of volunteering and advocacy for green buildings. He served as a founding board member of USGBC MA, and was chair of the US GBC LEED Steering Committee in 2019. 

EPMA Presentation Recap: Prefab Architecture

Written by Oliver Bautista and Lindsey Machamer

Oliver presents on Prefab Architecture in front of USGBC MA's Emerging Professionals of Massachusetts group.
Oliver presents on Prefab Architecture during November’s Emerging Professionals of Massachusetts meeting.

With the October presentation we had Oliver Bautista, Designer III at Turkel Design, explain the exciting features of Prefab Architecture. The presentation began with an explanation of the definition of ‘prefab’ in architecture and the different types that exist.

Oliver’s presentation centered on modular homes built in components, in this case wall panels, and how the process works from the Schematic Design phase through the built core shell assembly. The process begins with the selection of either a standard home design, a modified standard home design, or a custom home design; the choice depends on client needs and site conditions.

Simulated design of prefab architecture
Simulated design of Prefab Architecture

During the presentation, Oliver explained the advantages of doing prefab, from the components built in a controlled environment to reductions made to the construction schedule. The sample project shown during the presentation displayed a timeline of one hundred days to complete the core shell assembly, which was elevated with piers due to a high flood elevation line. The two story single family residence was delivered in flatbed trucks and assembled on site; the visuals shown explained how a small crew was able to put together a fantastic home in a short period of time, along with the flexibility and quality prefab can bring to Architecture.

EPMA Event Recap: The Power of Networking

Written by Kavita Karmarkar

Attendees take notes on their phones while Julie goes over networking tips.
Attendees take notes while Julie goes over networking tips.

On November 21, EPMA organized a fireside chat event–‘The Power of Networking’, as part of EPMA’s ongoing efforts to help young professionals further their careers and learn new skills.  

This roundtable discussion focused on tips and tricks to be better at networking, either for job, business, or personal development. Our guide and coach for the event was Julie Nasser. Julie is the director of business development at Marguiles Perruzzi Architects, an award-winning architecture and interior design firm located in downtown Boston. Julie has more than ten years of experience in business development, A/E/C recruiting, sales, and real estate leasing. Our venue host for the evening was Perkins Eastman. Perkins Eastman, an architecture firm with seventeen interdisciplinary offices around the globe, designs for a sustainable and resilient future, and to enhance the human experience through the built environment.

Julie Nasser laughs and addresses attendees
Julie Nasser addresses attendees

Julie coached the group on a variety of subjects such as developing networking skills, striking up easy conversations at events, finding the correct networking groups, following up after meeting at seminars and conferences, and balancing professional and business development at events. 

One of the common questions shared by the team was dealing with the nervousness of going to an event, especially if you don’t know anyone or do not have a friend to accompany you. Julie guided the group through some common tricks like starting a conversation about everyday things, such as the weather and holiday/summer plans, to break the ice. A casual introduction about yourself, without focusing heavily on your work, can get the conversation flowing as well. Another very important tip is to carry your business cards with you: if you make an acquaintance with someone and get their business card, you can write to them with a few ‘possible follow-up’ topics depending on the conversation. 

Making contacts and building networks should ideally be done throughout your career as you progress, and not only when you are in a job seeking or developing your business. Also, finding the correct networking groups, depending on your interests and field of work, is very important: searching on Google, asking your professors, or connecting with your colleagues and peers will give you an idea of what organizations you should consider joining. Volunteering is one of the ways that you can meet new people and build networks, while contributing in a meaningful way. Volunteering can be especially useful for job seekers and young professionals for events which might be too expensive to get into otherwise. 

Julie discusses networking tips with attendees.
Julie discusses networking tips with attendees.

Another networking tip is determining how and when to follow up after meeting people at events and conferences. Reaching out through LinkedIn and by email are a few of the best ways to make contact after a couple of weeks. You can refer back to the event or conference in the message, and ask the acquaintance if they would like to meet again and discuss a topic, such as the acquaintance’s field of work. It is considered acceptable to reach out one more time if there is no response, usually in a couple of weeks. Generally, when you make a new acquaintance, it’s better not to talk about your job seeking or business development situation directly. Instead, you should get to know more about the work done by your contact. Asking people for ‘informational interviews’ is a good way to better understand people and their work. It can be especially helpful for job seekers to learn more about a company and the work culture. 

The event gave participants a chance to talk about these questions openly and learn from each other’s experiences. At the end of the session, all participants got an opportunity to exchange cards/LinkedIn profiles and make new contacts. 

The entire team at EPMA would like to thank our coach, Julie Nasser, for her words of wisdom and our host, Perkins Eastman for providing venue and refreshments. 

EPMA Presentation Recap: Shifting Company Policy and Culture Towards Sustainability

Written by Michael Orbank

Michael presents at the November 2019 Emerging Professionals of Massachusetts meeting
Michael presents at the November 2019 Emerging Professionals of Massachusetts meeting.

At this past USGBC EPMA meeting, I had the pleasure of discussing the work Commodore Builders is doing to move towards a more sustainable future. Commodore is a growing CM firm, and their rapid growth is continuing to innovate and deliver the best possible product for its clients, while balancing and improving the working life of its employees. Building a sustainable culture is pivotal in expanding successfully and ethically.

Through small sustainable steps, significant progress can be made. A big mistake many companies make is a “shock and awe” campaign which leaves employees and clients dazed and confused with the new changes. Taking small, incremental steps is pivotal in creating lasting change. Small steps Commodore has taken include forming a carbon committee, reviewing areas of improvement, and speaking honestly with both clients and employees about sustainable changes. In the competitive Boston construction market, Commodore has realized that sustainability must be a collaborative effort.

Earlier this year, Commodore introduced changes to their subcontractor contracts, mandating LED’s for temporary lights, and banning idling onsite. It is the hope that we can move to bigger, bolder moves while keeping education a priority to make sure that all involved parties understand why changes are being made and what the impact is. Just this past week, office wide composting was introduced with a focus on personal, hands on training to teach employees what can and cannot be composted. Going forward, Commodore hopes to improve their material sourcing, transition towards zero construction waste, and continue to provide employees with one of the best workplaces in Boston.  

Careers in Sustainability: Charging into a Career in Renewables

Panelists for the Careers in Sustainability Panel in the middle of a discussion
Panelists discuss how to aim for a career in sustainability.

Written by Andrew Breiter-Wu

Last month, EPMA organized their annual panel discussion called Careers in Sustainability: Charging into a Career in Renewables. The event was moderated by Andrew Breiter-Wu, the President and Investment Manager of Breiter Planet Properties, who has a very extensive background and has experience with the renewable energy industry. 

The panelists included Alexandra Gadawski from HMFH, Emily Powers from DOER, and Kshitij Chopra from Breiter Planet Properties. 

The discussion interweaved the panelists’ personal and professional experiences across their careers while eloquently layering future trends across the renewable energy industry. 

The audience was very engaging and we were able to ensure the content of the panel catered to what everyone wanted. We thank all who attended and spent the evening speaking with us. 

The purpose of the Careers in Sustainability series is to educate everyone on the different career paths that one can take in the sustainability industry through the use of different people’s experiences and journeys across their careers. There is not one “right” path to take, but learning from other people’s failures and successes is the best way to efficiently chart your path towards a career in sustainability. 

Finally, we thank Boston University for accommodating us for the event and allowing such an important conversation to transpire on their campus.

For follow up questions about the event or about hosting a similar event on your own campus, email [email protected].