LEED Dynamic Plaque: Providing a New Direction for Green Building Certification and Benchmarking at Scale

Mark Bessoudo

Article originally published on GRESB.com

The USGBC’s LEED rating system is the most successful green building certification system in the world. Its success has been largely due to its ability to target the top 25% market-leading buildings. While it has positioned LEED as the global standard for green building certification,  the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) now wants to extend its reach even further by broadening the uptake of certifications to more buildings – and at scale.

Expanding LEED to more high-performing existing buildings, however, will require that it be adopted by properties that have not historically pursued it, including Class B and C commercial office buildings, as well as other building types such as convention centers and hospitals. The USGBC wants to provide these buildings with a pathway to LEED certification that not only reduces the technical and financial barriers to but also doesn’t dilute the brand. While the LEED Volume program was the USGBC’s first attempt at deploying LEED at scale, it hasn’t achieved the widespread adoption needed to significantly influence the sustainability performance of the existing building stock overall.

The USGBC recognized these challenges. According to the USGBC’s Chief Product Officer Scot Horst, “We didn’t want to impact the credibility of LEED” by lowering its standard, “but we know that only certifying hundreds of existing buildings per year isn’t creating the market transformation that we had hoped for.” This is why the USGBC is now offering a new and potentially industry-changing pathway leading to LEED certification called LEED Dynamic Plaque™. This alternate pathway is a globally consistent tool focused on building performance and based on real-time (or ongoing) data and benchmarking that could lead to more certifications for individual buildings and portfolios

When used with the new Performance Score to LEED Certification Alternative Compliance Path (ACP) – which combines the LEEDon online platform and the LEED v4 for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) rating system – LEED Dynamic Plaque offers properties an appealing alternative to traditional LEED certification in a way that is more straightforward, requires less documentation, and presents lower risk. It is also likely to be appealing to large portfolio owners, with clear implications for GRESB participants.

A Building Performance Monitoring and Scoring Platform

The LEED Dynamic Plaque is a “building performance monitoring and scoring platform” that enables building owners, property managers, and other stakeholders to track historic and ongoing performance, observe trends and make meaningful improvements to building operations, all while saving resources and providing a more comfortable environment and better experience for the people in the building.

Properties earn a performance score (out of 100) based on the operational performance in five categories: energy, water, waste, transportation, and human experience. Much of the information used to support LEED Dynamic Plaque is already available through regular building operations and assessments, including utility bills and waste audit reports. Other data is obtained through annual transportation surveys, occupant comfort surveys and indoor air quality assessments (for CO2 and total VOC concentrations).

Certification with LEED Dynamic Plaque still requires that buildings meet minimum performance requirements for all LEED O+M prerequisites, including Energy Star score, water use reduction, and ventilation rates.  An additional 10 optional base points are also available for projects that pursue additional LEED credits. Furthermore, a building’s score and performance can be used for benchmarking. It allows buildings to compare and track performance over time. It also benchmarks a building’s performance against a peer group in the local region or across the world.

The LEED Dynamic Plaque is built on a platform that combines LEED Online (where project teams document credit achievement), the LEEDon platform (where both LEED and non-LEED buildings can provide building data and receive performance scores) and the Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG) (an online database containing data and information for over 270,000 buildings worldwide). According to Horst, “it’s the place where everything gets connected.”

The platform isn’t just virtual – property managers and owners can install a physical display unit at the building that displays their performance score to people in a visually engaging way. It allows visitors to see performance, occupants to provide feedback on their experience, and owners and building managers to view trends to make informed decisions to improve building performance.

How it Works

The traditional LEEDO+M certification process requires that properties track and document actions (building operations, policies, and procedures) and, to a lesser extent, outcomes (energy performance, waste diversion rates, etc.). The LEED Dynamic Plaque, in contrast, pares this down to focus on outcomes only. While maintaining green policies and programs helps to manage performance, scoring using the LEED Dynamic Plaque is not a tool for tracking policy maintenance – it only reflects the measured outcomes from these strategies, not the strategies themselves.

Energy performance scores are calculated using a new global energy scoring method based on a data set of LEED buildings around the world and adjusting for local climate. It accounts for carbon emissions related to energy use in the building. Whenever new building data is entered into the platform, the building’s performance scores are automatically updated.  Following review by the Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI), buildings will also earn LEED recertification every 12 months. 

What’s New?

Buildings that achieve LEED O+M certification must recertify every five years to maintain their status. Although LEED Dynamic Plaque was first introduced in 2013, it was only available as an alternative pathway for buildings pursuing recertification or for those who wanted to track performance. Now, however, the USGBC is allowing buildings to use the LEED Dynamic Plaque platform to achieve initial certification as well. Non-LEED buildings can use the LEEDon platform to measure and track performance which will allow a wider range of buildings to pursue LEED certification in a way that’s more cost-effective and simpler compared to the traditional certification path.

Buildings can then use the LEEDon platform to track their performance, whether they ultimately choose to pursue LEED certification or not. Buildings that meet or are close to meeting the prerequisites and other performance criteria will be notified of their progress, leaving open the option for pursuing LEED certification when the time is right. “What this means,” explains Horst, is that “the USGBC is now capable of providing certification on an incremental basis. Buildings can now be prompted to see if it’s worth pursuing certification.” 

Benefits for Real Estate Portfolios

LEED Dynamic Plaque can even be used beyond individual buildings. According to Horst the USGBC knows of at least one organization that is using the LEED Dynamic Plaque for their entire building portfolio, even though some properties aren’t LEED certified. It turns out that some of the non-LEED buildings are performing just as well as their LEED-certified counterparts, but due to cost or effort they haven’t pursued certification. The benefit of this approach is that it allows property managers and funds to identify which buildings are ready to start the LEED certification process. LEED Dynamic Plaque does not aggregate or average performance scores across a portfolio, but performance scores help you compare buildings within a portfolio.

There’s other good news for GRESB participants as well: with LEED Dynamic Plaque, building performance data is automatically uploaded to the GRESB Real Estate Assessment, eliminating the need for duplication of effort. For buildings that have already participated in the GRESB Real Estate Assessment, the portfolio’s GRESB score from the previous year will appear on the online platform. This type of integration could be extremely beneficial for managers and funds that choose to employ LEED Dynamic Plaque across their entire portfolio.

What’s Next?

Rather than collecting and organizing documentation related to policies and programs, properties can instead direct their resources towards improving operational performance and human experience. There are already over 570 buildings using LEED Dynamic Plaque, representing over 150 million sf.

The system has the potential to be a game changer for the industry – at least that’s what the USGBC is hoping for.  “Since LEED historically only certified the top 25% of buildings in the market, it sent a signal to the laggards that they couldn’t get in the game. The LEED Dynamic Plaque, however, gives an opportunity to these buildings to at least benchmark their performance across a variety of indicators even if they aren’t in that top quartile,” explains Horst.

The promise of bringing of real-time building benchmarking under the respected LEED brand to the entire existing building stock is certainly a worthy pursuit.

To learn more about the LEED Dynamic Plaque, or to start a trial at your building, visit www.leedon.io

To learn more about the Performance Score to LEED Certification Alternative Compliance Pathway visit www.usgbc.org/buildingperformanceacp

Mark Bessoudo