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International Intrigue

LEED: One Global Standard for a Global Economy

As the barriers to international use of LEED come down, LEED has become the preferred green building standard of the global economy.

July 10, 2013

LEED grew at a breakneck pace throughout the first decade of the 21st century. Staff and volunteers struggled to keep up with the demands that came with that success—including frequent requests from other countries for permission and support to create their own adaptation.

A few of those adaptations happened in Canada, India and Italy, but making sure each one was consistent with LEED’s principles required a lot of time and attention, and other countries waited impatiently for their turn. Realizing that individual adaptions were quickly becoming unmanageable, in 2009 USGBC adopted a different approach to international use of LEED—one based on global consistency.

While LEED emerged originally as a U.S.-based standard, the new approach re-envisions LEED as, first and foremost, a global standard. In LEED v4, most of the U.S.-centric biases are either eliminated or balanced with more globally relevant approaches. This global platform is being expanded for use around the world by carefully selected experts in more than 30 countries who are benchmarking their local standards and codes against those embodied in LEED, and proposing appropriate Alternate Compliance Paths (ACP) for their region.

This approach has freed up the energy and creativity of teams around the world to work on making LEED work in their region, and catapulted it as the market leader among green building rating systems. Since 2007, the number of LEED projects outside the U.S. has grown at the astonishing rate of more than 50 percent annually.

“For years we were trapped in a recurring discussion about who gets in line next (for a country-specific adaptation) and how we can get them through our process,” explains Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at USGBC. “Now people all over the world are doing it in parallel.” Horst describes the new model as one based on “distributed intelligence with a centralized nervous system.”


Design Locally, Benchmark Globally

In practice, this means that while the design solutions and cultural practices should be locally and regionally based, the metrics should be consistent around the world.

This principle was not established without controversy—some argued that green buildings should be measured differently in different parts of the world so that they are benchmarked against their local counterparts. In rejecting that notion, however, USGBC has created a tool that creates a shared understanding of what it means to achieve, for example, a LEED Gold office building or school. This approach aligns well with our increasingly interconnected global economy and allows project teams to share best practices while retaining their local flavor. 


The New LEED Plays Well with Others

green LEED

The original country-by-country approach to international versions of LEED was producing consistent results, and it set LEED up as a direct competitor with other local rating system initiatives. Rather than competing with existing standards in many countries, the U.S. Green Building Council is actively collaborating with them, developing common metrics and criteria for use in multiple programs. In a few cases it is even working toward mutual recognition of compliance with some of the more challenging credits, such as Energy Optimization.

The new model, with a global set of core LEED rating systems and Alternative Compliance Paths (ACPs) to fit regional contexts, allows for better support of LEED project teams around the world and ensures consistency for organizations using LEED in multiple countries. 

These ACPs are being developed under the auspices of the LEED International Roundtable, which is charged with proposing equivalent regional or local standards and ACP options where the existing LEED requirements pose challenges. This group has been most active initially in Europe, where it had a head start thanks to the work that was done during the creation of LEED Italia identifying appropriate European standards. If the LEED International Roundtable recommends changes beyond the scope of an ACP, they can be queued up for member review and ballot as a change to the core rating system.


LEED v4: Global from Day One

LEED v4 was created with the global user in mind. Set to go to member ballot in June 2013, LEED v4 has made advancements in referencing globally relevant standards and will allow local equivalencies to U.S.-based standards where global ones do not exist.

ACPs will continue to serve as a mechanism for adding regional solutions, but they’ll be starting from a more global basis in the credit language. Many of the solutions developed for the current version of LEED are incorporated into that language in the v4 draft.

One obvious change to LEED that will make it easier to use in many places is the inclusion of SI units in the core rating system. SI units are already provided alongside the IP units in the draft LEED v4 rating system. In LEED Online, users will have the option of using either SI or IP units to document credit compliance in the credit forms and project information forms. One setting will control which system of units shows up throughout the project’s forms.

The LEED v4 Reference Guides are also being written with the international audience in mind; each credit chapter now has a section that focuses on special considerations for international projects.

In situations where the only change to the LEED requirement is the substitution of one reference standard for another, a central database listing of equivalent local standards will make it easy to track those alternatives.

As the final draft of LEED v4 goes through the member ballot and approval process, project teams working on a wide range of project types and in many different locations are giving it a trial run. This “beta test” is aimed primarily at the supporting tools and resources needed to submit a project for LEED certification: LEED Online, the Reference Guides, and the training of technical support staff and certification reviewers.

A large number of these beta testers are working on projects outside the U.S., so challenges with international application of LEED v4 can be identified and addressed before USGBC formally launches the rating system.


Crossing Language Barriers

While English has become the international language of business, many project teams are challenged by having to read credit requirements and document their performance in English. The language barrier also prevents many otherwise qualified professionals from earning LEED professional accreditation, as a Green Associate or Accredited Professional (LEED AP).

To address these challenges, USGBC now offers the Green Associate exam in French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and simplified Chinese; and is working on translating the AP exam. LEED Rating Systems and Reference Guides will soon be available in several languages as well.

 As the international benchmark for green performance in buildings, LEED is helping raise the bar and improve building quality from Rio to Beijing, and nearly everywhere in between. 

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