LEED in Action: Fifth & Madison, a 126-unit condominium in Seattle designed by Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine, is aiming for LEED Gold under the New Construction program. Projects that are registered under the current LEED rating systems will have the option to upgrade to LEED 2009. The U.S. Green Building Council has unveiled LEED 2009, an updated rating system for commercial buildings, which resets the bar for green building performance. The new system, scheduled to go into effect March 2009, includes a series of major technical advancements focused on improving energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing additional environmental and human health concerns.

The revised rating system will apply to the following USGBC programs: New Construction, including multifamily properties four stories and higher; Core and Shell; Commercial Interiors; Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance; and Schools. (As of press time, LEED 2009 did not apply to LEED for Homes or LEED for New Developments.)

What are the biggest changes? LEED 2009 will incorporate regional credits?these are extra points that have been identified as priorities within a project's environmental zone. LEED also underwent a scientifically grounded reweighing of its credits, giving more point value to green practices that directly promote energy efficiency. Plus, LEED will transition into what the Council terms a "predictable development cycle" to help drive continuous improvements and allow the market to participate more fully in LEED's growth and development.

LEED 2009 incorporates eight years' worth of market and user feedback, including 7,000 comments from USGBC members and stakeholders at the end of the second public comment period in September. "The conclusion of the balloting process marks the culmination of tireless work done by representatives from all corners of the building industry," says Brendan Owens, vice president for LEED technical development.

Developers and architects generally embrace the changes. "The new weighting of the credits will be more meaningful for everybody," says Todd Stine, a principal at Seattle-based architect firm Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine, which is designing a handful of projects pursuing LEED certification. "It always seemed odd that you would get the same amount of points for something relatively easy to do as you would for something that was pretty hard to do."

Troy Wragg, chairman and CEO of the Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based development firm Mantria Corp. is especially pleased with the predictable development cycle component. "I believe that provides the most benefits to developers as the ever changing development industry can be continuously improving with an ever moving benchmark, as opposed to fixing it at one level and letting the actual product demand of real estate specific products or the environment as a whole outpace a LEED program," Wragg says.

Still, not everyone will welcome all of the modifications. "I am happy because the energy-efficiency credits are getting emphasized more, but I am a mechanical engineer, and that relates to my job," says Nathan Miller, senior energy engineer/mechanical engineer at Rushing, a Seattle-based mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and sustainability consulting firm. "On the other hand, some fields are going to be de-emphasized. People who handle interiors might be disappointed because credits relating to interior finishes aren't worth as much as other credits."

Others are concerned about the bigger picture. Stine sees USGBC moving in a positive direction but worries about the nonprofit's ultimate mission. "My sense is a number of things they have done in the last couple of years are more about showing who is greener than who as opposed to trying to get everybody to be green," Stine says. "Its seems like a lot of the emphasis has been on trying to distinguish between different levels of sustainability as opposed to trying to get everybody to rise up to a minimal level of sustainability."

For a list of frequently asked questions about LEED 2009, you can visit USGBC online.