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LD+A The Magazine of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America

LED Testing & Application  

LEED: Is the Bloom Off The Rose?

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The next generation of the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) rating system will be released this year, and the groundwork is well underway. But this next version feels like a step back from the original, argues Don Peifer, LD+A columnist and creative director for Doki, an industrial design firm specializing in lighting. "The original LEED offering was the face that launched a thousand ships, a marketing gambit that incentivized stakeholders to 'go green,' and man did it work," he says. "Companies—in order to show consumers they cared—scrambled for LEED points, while design professionals took the test for accreditation. In the process, much was learned about everything from low-flush toilets to green roofs. The fact that "LEED Platinum" became such an enduring early millennial status symbol was both powerful and elevating. It seemed that priorities were finally lining up in this brick and mortar industry of ours."

The next iteration of LEED, however, will emphasize the materials and components in our built environment. Says Peifer: "Manufacturers will be incentivized to peel back the covers and talk about the environmental impact of their products. It sounds good, but LEED 2.0 will heavily favor the slower and entrenched players. The amount of work and cost in compiling an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is formidable, and for smaller, more nimble players, a choice between speed and the LEED stamp is imminent."

The process for LEED product approval will involve a number of steps.

  • Step one is to identify a product category. If one doesn't exist (i.e., LED fixtures and their various categories), one must be developed.
  • Step two is a soup-to-nuts accounting of products' impact from raw material to disposal. "Sounds good, but complex supply chains exist and access to information from suppliers will prove onerous. It is tough enough getting reliability testing data from LED suppliers, let alone an exploded bill of materials complete with raw material composition. Add to that the quick evolution of one generation LED to the next, and you have a conundrum," Peifer notes.
  • Step three has one compiling the Life Cycle Analysis information into a proper EPD format.
  • Step four is a verification of the EPD by a third party-someone like UL (expensive, time-consuming and needs a body in house just to manage).
Finally, the EPD is published. And despite the incredible amount of information culled, LEED 2.0 doesn't actually evaluate the effects of materials on human health. "Asthma triggers, flame retardants and a 'red list' of high concern chemicals common in building materials might be identified but not flagged," he says.

Moreover, Peifer is dismayed about LEED's missed opportunity. The next version "feels like a step backwards. What was wonderful about LEED 1.0 was its holistic approach to the built environment. It considered all the components and their installed, in-situ impact. It endeavored—in the metrics it chose to champion—to make people think outside of the vacuum of individual specification sheets and consider the big picture. Version 2.0 drops us right back in the morass. . . .The next step in LEED should be a drilling down to the level of personalized environments with the recognition that what will benefit the individual will benefit society."



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