The U.S. Green Building Council, on April 27, 2009, implemented changes to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED, the country’s most popular and recognizable green building rating system. The revised rating system, known as LEED 2009, contains several significant changes affecting developers who previously operated under the old system. LEED 2009 also features many positive improvements to the LEED rating system.

One of the most significant changes in attaining LEED certification now requires newly built, LEED certified buildings to submit electricity bills for at least one year following the building’s completion. The U.S. Green Building Council is attempting to move beyond certifying buildings based solely on their design and projected energy use and only certify buildings that demonstrate actual energy savings. However, buildings that have already been certified under the old system will continue to retain their existing LEED certification and will not have to reapply. 

Under the old system, buildings could attain a maximum of 69 possible points across 5 Classification Categories (i.e., Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality) and are ranked from “certified” to “platinum” based on the number of points earned. LEED 2009 enables developers to target a total of 110 possible points across 6 Classification Categories, including a new Classification Category known as Innovation in Design. 

The increase in the total number of possible points is based in part upon re-weighting of credits within the LEED Classification Categories to reward the most important green building goals, namely, energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon dioxide. For example, under the old system, the installation of a bike rack and the implementation of water efficient landscaping with a 50% reduction based on the average size and vegetation were each worth 1 point. Under LEED 2009, water efficient landscaping with a 50% reduction based on the average size and vegetation is now worth 2 points. 

LEED 2009 projects will also be able to earn “bonus points” for implementing green building strategies that address the most important environmental issues facing their region. A project can now be awarded as many as 4 extra points for achieving these regional environmental priorities. In Northern New Jersey, bonus points are awarded for the preservation and restoration of damaged habitats, limiting the harmful effects of stormwater and wastewater and reusing existing building structures. 

The green building process is highly technical and complicated, and simple misunderstandings or lack of green building experience can lead to missed opportunities or failure to achieve the desired rating altogether. Consultation with an experienced attorney will result in more informed decisions in navigating the green building process. 

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