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LEED’s Great Idea: Will It Work?


By Robert J. Kobet, AIA

More items for Good Technical Practice

For all of its global success as the fastest-growing not-for-profit organization in history, the U.S. Green Building Council and its flagship LEED building rating system have not been without controversy.

Almost from the beginning, detractors have found fault with LEED based on some LEED-certified buildings not performing as anticipated.

Bank of America Building
Ryan Browne, Cook+Fox Architects

Critics question whether the Bank of America building operates as efficiently as its LEED certification suggests.

The discrepancies are mostly in the energy performance area and, while limited in number, have produced enough lawsuits and case studies to call attention to whether the time and resources required to achieve LEED certification are worth the investment.

Human Complications

This reality is complicated by the fact that building occupants and owners can have a profound influence on the performance of a building, all of which is outside the direct control of the USGBC and the LEED project team.

To date, only LEED for Existing Buildings Operation and Maintenance (LEED O&M) requires recertification based in part on actual energy and water consumption data.

Enter the LEED Dynamic Plaque, or LEED DP.

Design v. Results

The LEED Dynamic Plaque is about benchmarking and comparing post-occupancy building performance on a global scale, says Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED.

The plaque’s main objectives are “separating sustainable design strategies from the results and outcomes … and then having the same scale to measure building performance.”

LEED Dynamic Plaque

USGBC's proposed Dynamic Plaque would measure whether the sustainable design strategies are working.

Though the strategies provided in the LEED reference guides are important, Horst says, the USGBC wanted “to measure whether they’re really working.”

Digital Scoreboard

The plaque is a freestanding digital scoreboard that is displayed on the project site. Designed in collaboration with IDEO, based in Palo Alto, CA, its interface shows the project’s latest scores in five performance categories—energy, water, waste, transportation, and human experience—and the project’s total score, from 1 to 100.

Though the categories are associated with those in the LEED rating systems, the LEED Dynamic Plaque’s scoring does not correlate directly with the LEED credits in the reference guides.

According to Horst, the Dynamic Plaque score will not jeopardize a building’s awarded LEED certification level.  Plaques will not be taken away.

Showing Performance

Also, the LEED DP will not tell owners how to get a better score. It simply exhibits a building's performance in the five categories it monitors.

Plaque on tablet

The LEED Dynamic Plaque exhibits a building's performance in the five categories it monitors.

For skeptics of sustainable design who point to energy-intensive, LEED-certified projects such as Bank of America building in New York, and to studies debating the performance of allegedly green buildings, a LEED Dynamic Plaque may shed light on why LEED buildings do not perform as anticipated.

The plaque also represents the direction the USGBC thinks green building is heading, and will streamline the current process of recertifying buildings through the Green Building Certification Institute, the USGBC’s third-party reviewer.

'Buildings are Alive'

“The plan over the next few years is to make LEED completely a recertification program,” Horst says. “That means that every building is an existing building … and every existing building re-certifies because buildings are alive.”

I applaud the USGBC’s effort to be transparent in the area of building performance. I believe the greatest potential benefit of the LEED DP will be in educating building occupants and operators about the influence they have on how a building performs.

Their willingness to make adjustments and strive to reach a building’s maximum potential for environmental stewardship will largely determine whether the Dynamic Plaque is worth any more than basic LEED certification.

Plaque on wall

The Dynamic Plaque is meant to monitor a building's operational performance. But will users "plaque it and forget it" as some do with LEED certification?

Conversations I have had with colleagues suggest that building owners and occupants who are genuinely interested in their building’s performance will welcome the integration of the LEED Dynamic Plaque into their inventory of building management strategies.

'Plaque It and Forget It'

However, it remains to be seen exactly how Mr. Horst’s assertion that “The plan over the next few years is to make LEED completely a recertification program,” will be received by those who aspire to the “plaque it and forget it” approach to LEED certification.

I am equally curious whether the increased level of building performance awareness the LEED Dynamic Plaque will provide will reduce the number of lawsuits and attacks on the LEED certification process, or increase them.

In the best case, a better understanding of how and why buildings and building occupants perform the way they do will make a significant contribution to the green building movement, beginning with the occupants themselves.


Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty, has worked with clients on five continents for more than 35 years to create innovative places to live, work and learn. As an educator, speaker, former chair of LEED for Schools, primary author of LEED for General Contractors and Construction Managers, and president and CEO of The Kobet Collaborative, Bob is working to make his vision for a green building era a reality. Leaning Green explores that reality. Contact Bob.



Tagged categories: LEED; The Kobet Collaborative

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