LEEDv4: What’s Changed and What it Means for Your Green Building Projects


LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has emerged as North America’s de facto green building rating system since it debuted in Canada a decade ago. The newest iteration – LEEDv4 as it is called – is already in effect in the US and will be released in Canada, complete with Canadian Alternate Compliance Paths, in June 2014. Experts from MMM Group’s sustainability team sit on, or lead, three Canada Green Building Council Technical Advisory Groups (TAGS): Energy & Environment, Materials, and Sites & Water. These Canadian TAGs have been integral to drafting the rating system and adapting it for the Canadian environment.

Of course, the first question developers and architects have about the new rating system is, “Will it be easier or more difficult to get certified?” The answer is: it’s different. It will be more difficult in some areas, but allow for more flexibility in others. While many of the technical details have changed, the new rating system is more about a shift in big-picture philosophy and a reprioritization of key environmental goals.

Perhaps the most noticeable changes for those ‘on the ground’ in building design and development will be around site impacts and materials.


A Change in Philosophy

With the initial development of LEED in the US, the philosophy behind this new way of measuring the ‘greenness’ of a building was to reward designs that did as little harm as possible to the environment. With LEEDv4, the overarching goal is to promote positive actions. Practically speaking, this new mantra is reflected in encouraging more integrative design practices and promoting transparency in reporting.

Also, with LEEDv4, the delineation between a LEED BD&C (Building Design and Construction) project and a LEED EB:O&M (Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance) has become more clear. The operations-related credits in BD&C, such as Measurement & Verification, have been weighted less given this rating system’s focus on design through the end of construction rather than post-occupancy performance.


Increased Customization

LEEDv4 will be the most flexible LEED system released in Canada. There’s still the same level of detail, but more flexibility for building types and room for adaptation to conditions and realities.

Anyone familiar with LEED Canada v1, v1.1, and v2009 will appreciate the approach of one rating system to rule them all, i.e., one base system with various application guides to provide allow flexibility in building types that did not fit the traditional LEED paradigm (e.g., Core & Shell, Campus).

Combined into one 800+ page reference manual, LEEDv4 has adopted this bookshelf approach. The new reference guide now provides unique direction, and in some cases new available points, for each of the following building types:

  • New Construction
  • Core & Shell
  • Schools
  • Retail
  • Warehouse and Distribution
  • Hospitality
  • Healthcare

This is a positive change in Canada, where we have struggled to fit some of these building types, especially warehouse and hospitality, into the LEED mould.


Changes to Credit Categories

There are two new credit categories in LEEDv4:

the Integrative Process and Location & Transportation.


  • The IP category includes a new pre-requisite (for Healthcare) and a credit for all building types worth 1 point for most building types and 1-5 points for Hospitality and Healthcare projects. To achieve these points, the design team must conduct a discovery study on how to improve the energy and water efficiency of the proposed design. The team must also implement and document how the discovery study then improved the design and was incorporated into the Owner’s Program Requirements and Basis of Design.

  • This new credit category, which was adopted from the LEED ND framework, rewards thoughtful decisions about building locations. It incorporates many of the LEED 2009 Sustainable Sites credits related to the surrounding community and its infrastructure. The points available here include Sensitive Land Protection, High Priority Sites (e.g., brownfields), Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses, Access to Transit, Bicycle Facilities, Reduced Parking Footprint, and Green Vehicles.

  • Having many of the traditional Sites credits pulled into the LT category, Sustainable Sites has undergone a minor face lift.

    Notable additions include an overview of site characteristics: A new pre-requisite for schools and healthcare facilities built around identifying potential environmental contamination, and the addition of a general site assessment, focused on the way a development integrates with its surrounding soils, vegetation, wind, water, and human activities. Other credit additions have been added for building-specific instances (e.g., Places of Respite for Healthcare).

    The points related to Rainwater (“Quantity” and “Quality”) have been combined into one credit seeking to have sites behave, post development, as they did under frequent rainfall conditions, pre-development. Most of the other Sites points have been refined, but in doing so have allowed for clearer or more flexible compliance paths.

  • The major change for the Water credits: there are now three pre-requisites. First, each building must have a water meter. Second, outdoor water use must be reduced by at least 30%. Third, the building must show a 20% reduction in indoor water use compared to standard practice. More of an emphasis has been put on understanding where water is used in that further points are available for end-use metering. Additionally, point opportunities are available for reducing process water, specifically in cooling towers.

  • Building energy performance through commissioning and energy efficiency remains a common thread in this section of LEEDv4. Happily, envelope commissioning is now included as an option for Enhanced Commissioning. Interestingly, the point count for energy efficiency changes based on the type of building – up to 16 points for schools, 20 for healthcare, and 18 for the remainder. Other positives include a pre-requisite for building level energy metering and a credit for design for demand response.

    One potential disappointment of LEEDv4, though justifiable, is the apparent watering down of the Measurement & Verification credit (now called Advanced Energy Metering). Yes, you still need meters; yes, you still need a plan; it’s questionable, however, if you need to execute the plan and show that your building is performing. We expect most forward-thinking building owners will look beyond the point requirements and will see the benefit of true M&V to inform operational adjustments and optimization.

  • This category has perhaps the most significant changes of any credit category. Transparency is the key focus here. Product suppliers will need to up their game to meet LEED requirements, including completing life cycle assessments, third-party declarations, ingredient disclosure, and providing the source of raw materials. In fact, some leading-edge suppliers that regularly deal with LEED projects have anticipated this shift, and are already incorporating Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) in their literature.

    There are also a significant number of points (2-6) available for Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction through reusing a heritage or blighted building or conducting a whole-building life-cycle assessment using the Athena Impact Estimator Calculator to prove a 10% reduction in three of the six material impact categories.

  • Two of the main changes to the EQ category are lighting control and acoustic performance. In v4, at least 90% of individual occupant spaces must have individual lighting controls with at least three lighting levels (e.g., on, off, midlevel). For shared, multi-occupant spaces, there must be multi-zone control systems that allow for occupant control with at least three lighting levels.

    A common complaint in modern offices (not just for LEED projects) is the acoustic quality in open concept office spaces. To address this, v4 requires minimum acoustic performance for schools using sound-absorbent materials, and provides a point for achieving high acoustic performance in other building types in terms of reverb time, speech privacy and noise isolation, room noise levels, and paging and sound masking systems.

    Occupant thermal comfort is still there, with some modifications. Occupant visual comfort is now better addressed through the inclusion of the Quality Views and Interior Lighting credits. The former promoting interesting sights outside your window (and no, swaying trees don’t count as interesting); the latter aiming to provide a great interior lighting environment, which appears complex upon review, but appears easily achieved through the use of direct / indirect lighting fixtures.

  • For the most part, the concept around the ID and RP points remains consistent with 2009. That is, there are six ID points available, one of which is linked to the LEED AP (with relevant specialty). Regional Priority credits are organized based on urban and rural, but aligned along climactic regions.

  • Since LEEDv4 was developed by the USGBC, the CaGBC Technical Advisory Groups have been working hard to identify relevant nuances in the Canadian marketplace, and to propose Alternative Compliance Paths. ACPs are credit adaptations that allow the more US-centric credits to be better applied to an international context without reducing the basic performance metrics of LEED. The ACPs for Canada are expected to be released in June. It should also be noted that the LEED AP tests are also slated to be revised to the v4 rules around this time.

    Canadian projects can already apply using the US LEEDv4 system (without Canadian ACPs). There is a grace period for Canadian projects to choose to use LEED 2009 or v4, which lasts until June 2015. The CaGBC is currently looking for pilot projects to test v4.

    Overall LEEDv4 stands as a step change, in the right direction, for the market. It is the inevitable evolution of a rating system geared at encouraging the top tier of buildings to quantify their benefits. While raising the bar for some credits, in also affords additional flexibility in application, clarification of documentation requirements and promises all of the benefits of LEED Online™ to expedite the submission and review process. All of these are positives for the LEED market in Canada as well as the green building movement in this country.


MMM has a team of some of the most experienced green building professionals in the country. Our team members are leaders within the CaGBC and in other professionals organizations. For more information on how LEEDv4 can be applied to your project, contact us at mmm@mmm.ca

For more information on LEEDv4 visit the CaGBC website.