Classified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as the most significant and comprehensive update since LEED’s inception, the new LEED v4 features more aggressive energy and water efficiency prerequisites and credits, and unprecedented building product reporting and disclosure requirements. Overall, healthcare designers are embracing the update, particularly the notion of product transparency. But some are wondering if the new system’s requirements are a bit too ambitious.
“Through several LEED versions over the past 15 years, the bar has slowly risen. Arguably, the capacity for sustainable design in the design and construction world has risen more quickly, leaving LEED a little bit behind the rest of the industry,” says Russell Perry, co-director, sustainable design, SmithGroupJJR, (Washington, D.C). “The LEED Steering Committee and USGBC leadership have gambled that the industry is ready for a larger leap forward this time. I think they’ve gone too far, too fast, but I’m stimulated by the challenge and am eager to be proven wrong.”
“As much as the design industry likes innovation, it often does not embrace change quickly, especially in healthcare, given the long cycles of design and construction for large projects,” adds Mara Baum, senior associate, sustainable design leader, healthcare, HOK (San Francisco). “Many aspects of v4 are very new to the sustainable design community, so it will take time for the industry to adjust.”
It’s about time
In response to LEED v4’s rigorous revamping of its Materials and Resources category with new product transparency credits, healthcare designers are cheering in the wings. “We’ve been waiting so long to have a coherent material toxicity conversation around building products, so the new credit for transparency and disclosure is very exciting,” Smith GroupJJR’s Perry says.
Perry’s colleague Tyler Krehlik, a healthcare sustainable design specialist based in the firm’s San Francisco office, adds: “Healthcare institutions operate under the Hippocratic Oath of ‘do no harm,’ and yet due to the lack of transparency in the building industry, designers, up until now, have had no way of ensuring their designed buildings were living up to that same challenge.”
And while manufacturers are required to furnish MSDS sheets, HOK’s Baum says that these documents are often incomplete or contain language unfamiliar to architects. In cases where designers choose to go that extra mile to try to uncover unhealthy aspects of a given building product, an enormous amount of research is required. “Multiply this by tens of thousands of products in a typical healthcare construction project and the task becomes overwhelming and untenable,” Krehlik says.
At the same time, the process of developing environmental product declarations (EPD), healthy product declarations (HPD), and lifecycle assessments (LCA) will be a challenging and time-consuming. “The industry is going to have to scramble to catch up to LEED in the materials realm. Very few products have EPDs, fewer have HPDs, and no one really knows how to do a comprehensive LCA,” Perry says.
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