The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has announced that projects certified under the Living Building Challenge (LBC) can automatically earn most of the points available under its LEED rating system for energy and water efficiency.

The alignment could have practical implications for project teams, but it is at least partly symbolic. “USGBC and the International Living Future Institute , developers of the Living Building Challenge, share a common commitment and goal to transform the way we design, build, and operate our buildings,” said Scot Horst, chief product officer at USGBC, in a press release. “The Challenge plays an important role on the green building performance curve and is a complement to LEED.”

“I was happy to see USGBC make that statement,” Amanda Sturgeon, FAIA, executive director of ILFI, told BuildingGreen. “It’s a signal for a way forward to talk about our programs together.” Sturgeon noted that the two organizations are focused “purely on how they can support each other.”

Specific requirements
The ruling, which was approved by the LEED Steering Committee at USGBC, notes that LBC requirements for Water and Energy Petals (LBC “petals” are equivalent to LEED credit categories) meet the intent of the water and energy categories in LEED. LBC-certified projects will be awarded all LEED prerequisites and most LEED credits in those categories without further documentation. The exceptions are LEED’s demand response and green power credits. That amounts to all 11 water points plus 29 out of 33 energy points in LEED v4. 

The ruling covers LEED 2009 and LEED v4 design and construction rating systems as well as operations and maintenance systems. Restrictions on certain refrigerants from LEED’s energy category are covered under LBC’s Materials petal, which LBC projects would also have to earn. That may account for the fact that the ruling applies only to fully certified LBC projects, and not those with more limited “Petal certification.”

Is it practical?
“Teams have been asking for this kind of crossover” so that they don’t have to document two sets of requirements for dual certification, said Sturgeon. However, she acknowledged that different timeframes for LEED and LBC certification create a mismatch.

Under LBC, certification can only be awarded after a 12-month performance period proving energy and water performance. Under LEED for New Construction, certification can be awarded sooner, based on design. “It remains to be seen whether teams will wait for the 12-month performance period” to complete their LEED documentation, said Sturgeon.

Brendan Owens, P.E., chief of engineering at USGBC, said, “I can definitely see certain LBC projects taking this as a viable option. They’re maybe not as anxious to get their certifications when they open their doors.” He noted that “a lot of building owners consider the first year a shakedown year anyway” as irregularities in operating schedules and commissioning are sorted out.

What’s next
As for whether the organizations will consider further alignment, Owens said, “This was a place we could make progress without holding up the rest of it.” He noted that USGBC would be interested in looking at LBC’s materials and indoor environment categories but that the outcomes of the two systems are less aligned there.

Even credit-by-credit alignment would be welcome, says Greg Mella, FAIA, vice president at SmithgroupJJR, and an architect on the Brock Environmental Center. Brock recently opened and is aiming for both LEED Platinum and LBC, which is important to the owner, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

At Brock, says Mella, the energy modeling required by LEED (for documentation) and LBC (as a design tool to size renewable energy systems) was already aligned, so there would be no documentation benefit to the new rule. But pointing to LBC requirements like daylighting, local sourcing, and material transparency, Mella said, “If LBC projects could more easily earn LEED without feeling a burden of duplicate reporting, then more teams would take advantage of the dual registration.”


Sturgeon noted that the organizations are in discussions for ILFI’s Declare label for material transparency to be recognized in LEED v4 and that ILFI’s Just label (see New Label Aims for Social Equity) is already one of the frameworks referenced in a LEED pilot credit on social equity.