LEED v4, which the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) launched in November 2013, represents a technical update to the rating system that offers a better focus on building performance, an improved user experience and a new global perspective. 

The building industry uses the LEED rating system for a wider variety of project types than ever before. From stadiums and convention centers to commercial offices and hospitals, each space has unique challenges when meeting LEED standards. LEED v4 addresses 21 different sector adaptations, each reviewed by market leaders who either own, design or operate those buildings. LEED v4 provides new solutions for the following sectors:
  • existing schools;
  • existing retail;
  • data centers (new and existing);
  • warehouses and distribution centers (new and existing);
  • hospitality; and
  • mid-rise residential.
Building Performance
LEED v4 is structured to help users better understand how to manage their buildings’ performance to ensure they reach their full potential. Performance is addressed in technical changes in each credit category.
  • Location and Transportation. For the first time in the building and construction rating system, Location and Transportation is a separate category to reward projects that are within relatively dense areas, accessible to a variety of transportation options and on sites with development constraints. This category recognizes projects that allow occupants to benefit from the surrounding community infrastructure, context and amenities.
  • Sustainable Sites. This category emphasizes the vital relationships among projects, ecosystems and ecosystem services. It encourages restorative environmental solutions (onsite and offsite) that take advantage of ecosystem services and preserve animal habitats and biodiversity.
  • Water Efficiency. Expanded in scope, the Water Efficiency category addresses total water use in LEED buildings and encourages projects to seek efficiency in water operation most heavily used by the project. Requirements for building-level water metering ensure LEED projects will effectively monitor and improve their water use during operation.
  • Materials and Resources. This section relies on a life cycle approach to building product and material selection and organizes the credits into four areas: reuse, assessment and optimization, human and ecological health, and waste management. 
  • Indoor Environmental Quality. The credits in the Indoor Environmental Quality category have been grouped into four areas: indoor air, light, sound and experience. The category recognizes strategies such as air testing and taking a systems approach to materials selection to minimize volatile organic compounds in a space. For the first time, LEED for New Construction and LEED for Commercial Interiors include a credit for acoustical design, which can impact occupant comfort and performance.
The User Experience
The USGBC worked with more than 100 projects to test LEED v4 and refine its tools and resources. Following are the improvements made to the program as a result of the beta testing. 
  • LEED Online. New LEED v4 projects may be registered at new.leedonline.com, which features an enhanced design and faster speed. 
  • Reference Guides. The restructured Reference Guides highlight the most useful information for project teams, including these sections: behind the intent, step-by-step guidance, examples and further explanation. The improved presentation helps project teams focus on the implementation of LEED credits. 
  • Documentation. With simplified paperwork, project teams can focus on achieving credits rather than documenting them. The forms have gone through more than 18 months of development and several rounds of review to ensure the documentation process does not create an unnecessary burden on project teams. Fields within forms have been minimized, and focus more on industry-standard documentation, which reduces the need to create documents simply for LEED certification. 
Global Reach
LEED v4 will help further the mission of the USGBC on a global scale by allowing for regional and local equivalencies to typical referenced standards, giving project teams greater flexibility. Project teams also will experience a greater ease of use through integration of metric units into all tools and resources.  

Corey Enck is director of LEED Technical Development for the U.S. Green Building Council. For more information, email cenck@usgbc.org

Learn More Online

A number of LEED v4 education resources are available online through the USGBC, including Introduction to LEED v4 (a free two-part series); D+C Rating System Review Series (a five-part series for $255); and  O+M Rating System Review Series (a five-part series for $255).

Additionally, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) offers a one-hour webinar presented by the USGBC’s assistant project manager for the LEED v4 program that describes the new credits and summarizes technical changes from LEED 2009 to LEED v4. ABC members can view the archived webinar for free by logging into the Academy for Construction Ethics, Compliance & Best Practices section of www.abc.org.