Melanie Colburn

USGBC Northern California presented an education program on the changes in LEED v4.

Recently, we hosted a LEED v4 seminar with USGBC Northern California titled “LEED v4: A Survival Guide.” Although LEED v4 may appear daunting, we believe that it isn’t something to fear and merely survive. Rather, it’s an opportunity to improve and thrive, as the standard is meant to continually push the industry forward to create a truly sustainable built environment.

Anyone can master the new changes, and we’re here to share our experience with LEED v4 to prepare you for success.

At our event at DPR Construction in San Francisco, which is currently pursuing LEED Platinum certification, USGBC Northern California Executive Director Brenden McEneaney introduced LEED gurus Jacob Arlein and Katie Bachman from stok. The two shared their expertise in the latest version of LEED, along with insights into how the changes signal a big shift in the industry.

The deadline to register projects using LEED 2009 was Oct. 31, 2016, meaning that the revolutionary LEED v4 standard has officially replaced LEED 2009 as the only version available for registration for all new projects. If you still feel uncomfortable with v4, now’s the time to change that.

So far, we’ve provided a general overview of LEED v4 and have begun to dig into LEED BD+C: New Construction. We’ve done deep dives into its changes to commissioning and the new Building Disclosure and Optimization credits, while providing a brief overview of the updated water, energy, sustainable sites and location and transportation credits.

Highlights of the seminar

Big picture

LEED v4 is bolder and more specialized than its predecessor for building projects worldwide. It also represents a renewed focus in LEED’s role as an agent for industry transformation.

Throughout the credit categories, there’s a clear shift toward emphasis on quality and performance in addition to prescriptive requirements. For example, to earn points in the new Location and Transportation (LT) Bicycle Facilities credit, a project must be located within a bike network rather than just provide bike racks and showers, regardless of the ability of occupants to realistically use them.

This is seen again in the Energy and Atmosphere (EA) prerequisite that requires that Minimum Energy Performance be achieved via energy efficiency alone, no longer allowing projects to rely on renewables to make up for poor energy efficiency.

There are two brand new categories: Integrative Design Process (IP) and Location and Transportation (LT). IP rewards project teams for organizing early and bringing together all of the stakeholders in the pre-design phase to optimize sustainable solutions.

LT aims to clearly differentiate between project location aspects and building site performance aspects. It contains the LEED 2009 Sustainable Sites (SS) credits that are more focused on the location of a project than on its actual site aspects, allowing the newly focused SS category’s goals to be completely centered around improving the performance of the project site itself.


LEED v4 requires a number of additional commissioning tasks to meet the Fundamental and Enhanced Commissioning prerequisite and credit.

To achieve the prerequisite, envelope performance requirements must be incorporated into the OPR (Owners Project Requirements) and BOD (Basis of Design). An Operations and Maintenance Plan is now also required.

To earn points under the Enhanced Commissioning credit, project teams have several options including monitoring-based commissioning and envelope commissioning. Envelope commissioning requires testing to cover air leakage, water penetration and structural performance, which must be done on exterior wall assembly, windows, skylight and doors, among other structural fixtures. Monitoring based commissioning requires the implementation of a Monitoring Based Commissioning plan, which is similar to an Measurement and Verficiation plan with the addition of on-site testing requirements

In our experience, the key to achieving the new requirements and options for commissioning is an early focus on detailing project goals and building aspects, which should be clearly laid out in the Owner’s Project Requirements. We had a project, DPR’s ZNE SF office, where we are a subtenant, that pursued the Demand Response credit. This credit was not in the project’s original list of points to pursue, but was added later when Platinum certification was desired.

For that reason, the demand response aspects of the BMS system were not originally in the BMS programming and also not identified as needing functional performance testing. When the project received a review comment noting the need to test the performance of the demand response capabilities of the BMS system, the project team had to test the system during the review response phase, extending the certification timeline.

Materials transparency

In our opinion, the biggest change by far in LEED v4 lies in the credits about materials.

LEED is moving away from using single attributes as proxies for environmental impacts, such as recycled content and regional material, and toward a more holistic, data-driven approach based upon materials transparency. This means visibility when it comes to what ingredients and chemicals make up a product and their environmental and human health impacts.

This signals a shift to a more holistic approach by LEED that not only focuses on the impacts on building occupants but rather addresses the entire supply chain on a global scale to encourage the widespread adoption of healthy building materials that positively affect human health and the environment.

There are three new Materials and Resources (MR) Building Project Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits: Environmental Product Declarations, Material Ingredients, and Sourcing of Raw Materials. These include awarding points to manufacturers that declare the environmental impacts of manufacturing their products (EPDs) and the chemicals that make up their products (HPDsDeclareGreenScreen, BIFMA level, manufacturer’s inventory, or Cradle to Cradle certified).

We got very familiar with LEED v4 materials credits in our NRDC San Francisco Office project, which is currently pursuing Living Building Challenge Material Petal Certification along with LEED v4 ID+C: Commercial Interiors certification. To achieve these certifications, we went after all of the LEED v4 materials credits.

This was a huge undertaking and required a surprising level of detail. Our project team organized to the point of laying out specific guidelines for how to title an email to one another. Although that sort of minute detail may seem unnecessary, it was that attention to detail and complete organization at all levels that made the project a success. A diligent project team can help keep the process clear and ensure that you achieve your target.

Further resources

Stok is partnering with USGBC Northern California to provide more seminars on LEED v4, including a session entirely on materials and sessions that focuses on rating systems other than New Construction.

In the meantime, check out USGBC’s one-stop shop for LEED v4 resources, and look into the new reference guides online.

Send our team a message to keep up with Stok.

View the presentation 

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