Adapting to Changes

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Proposed changes for LEED 2012 will affect the way demolition contractors and C&D recyclers calculate recycled material.

May 17, 2012

In just a few months, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) will be launching LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) 2012. First introduced in the fall of 2011, the update to the program has undergone three comment periods and revisions.

USGBC’s intention to revise LEED has been clear for some time. “LEED sits at the core of the green building movement, and is critical in realizing our collective mission,” Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED, USGBC says. “LEED’s strength comes from its continuous evolution. This continuous improvement is the outcome of thousands of technical volunteers working to develop the program and the adaptability of the program to technological and market changes.”

Unlike 2009 revisions, this latest round of updates are thought to have much more “technical rigor,” the USGBC has said. Additionally, LEED 2012 will expand on which market sectors are able to use the green building standards.

As Jeremy Kuhre, LEED AP and sustainable buildings and operations manager for Sustainable Solutions Corp., Royersford, Pa., told attendees in a recent webinar, titled “LEED Systems and Recycling—How They Fit Together,” hosted by the National Recycling Coalition and the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center in March, the changes in LEED 2012 are much more substantial than the last round of revisions.

“Version 2.2 to version 3.0 was more of a reorganization than it was an overhaul,” Kuhre said. “We are going to be seeing many, many changes in 2012.”

Kuhre said as of November 2011, there were more 117,710 registered commercial and residential projects in the LEED pipeline since November 2011 and even more now, a clear indication of just how important LEED is in building projects.

Major Differences
LEED 2012 includes prerequisites and credits. A prerequisite is required for a project to be LEED certified and the credits are what a project has to earn a certain amount of to achieve different LEED thresholds.

In the third public comment period for LEED 2012, which was held March 1-20, the key highlights outlined by the USGBC for the Construction and Demolition Waste Management credit in the Materials and Resources section of the LEED Scorecard were outlined as follows:

  • Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) is no longer counted as diverted waste.
  • Point thresholds divided by projects recycling heavy materials only vs. heavy and non-heavy.
  • Added credit thresholds specific to projects undergoing demolition work versus those not.
  • Waste-to-energy facilities considered acceptable diversion if the facilities meet appropriate emissions standards.
  • New option for waste reduction strategy to produce no more than two and a half pounds of waste per square feet of gross floor area.

Kuhre spoke specifically about the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Credit portion of the Materials and Resources section of the LEED Scorecard.

The intent of this credit, he said, is to divert construction and demolition debris from disposal in landfills and incineration facilities, explained Kuhre. The requirements of the credit are: Recycle and/or salvage nonhazardous construction and demolition debris; and develop and implement a construction waste management plan that, at a minimum, identifies the materials to be diverted from disposal and whether the materials will be sorted on-site or commingled. He noted that excavated soil and land-clearing debris do not contribute to this credit. Calculations, he said, can be done by weight or volume, but must be consistent throughout.

Under the current scorecard, the minimum percentage of debris to be recycled or salvaged for each point threshold is as follows:

  • 50 percent equals one point
  • 75 percent equals two points
  • 95 percent for an exemplary performance point

“Many construction waste recyclers have specialized in this specifically and have become very successful,” said Kuhre.

For LEED 2012, Kuhre said, “There is kind of a shakeup.” He reminded webinar attendees that “the third public comment period is not binding so it may change again.”

Have your say

LEED 2012 is scheduled to open for its 4th round of public comment  in May and will run for 15 days. Once the comment period process concludes, LEED 2012 will be balloted from June 1 until June 30. To vote in the ballot, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) members must have opted into the LEED 2012 consensus body by May 1. The consensus body is made up of employees of USGBC national member organizations in good standing. LEED 2012 is scheduled to launch in November 2012 at the USGBC Greenbuild Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Nov. 14-16. More information is available at

“It is a prerequisite now where you don’t have to divert a minimum amount of waste, but you do have to have a construction waste plan and a construction waste hauler that has a minimum goal that you can self set to divert from landfills. It was not a prerequisite in the current rating system,” he explained.

LEED 2012 establishes different targets for projects. There is a higher threshold for demolition and construction than with new construction and there is no longer a minimum diversion rate set as a prerequisite.

The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Credit establishes targets for projects depending on whether they include demolition and categorizes materials as “heavy” and “non-heavy.” A heavy material includes materials such as asphalt, masonry, steel and concrete. For new construction with demolition, there would be one point earned for 65 percent “heavy” and two points for recycling 15 percent of other materials. New construction only projects can earn one point for 50 percent recycling of heavy materials and two points for recycling 30 percent of other materials.

Kuhre said that there is more of emphasis in construction on recycling waste gypsum and waste wood. The change is intended to encourage the recycling of these types of materials. “There is also a new compliance path in place for waste diversion where you can set a maximum waste target of two and a half pounds per square foot of construction,” Kuhre said.

One of the proposed changes that will affect demolition contractors, haulers and C&D recyclers is the change regarding ADC, where it is no longer considered waste diversion.

“This is a big change and it is going to change the way many construction recyclers function,” said Kuhre. “This is huge because if you ever take a look at the waste reports of many of today’s construction haulers, you might have 75 percent waste diversion but half of that waste diversion that actually ended up getting ‘recycled’ was actually ADC.”

Kuhre explained that in the current version of LEED you could consider anything recycled that had a commoditized value, which ADC has. But the issue with factoring it in with recycled percentage, which is often considered landfill diversion is that ADC does end up being part of the landfill when that landfill piles waste on top of it.

“LEED has been trying to get [ADC] out of the equation for a while now and it seemed probably poised to do that with LEED 2012,” said Kuhre.

Recycled Content
Another change in LEED 2012 was the creation of a new credit under the Materials and Resources section of the scorecard called the Material Life Cycle Disclosure and Assessment credit which replaces and adds to the Recycled Content credit found in the 2009 version.

According to Kuhre, the 2012 version of LEED puts a heavy emphasis on closed-loop recycling, which he explained as “at the end of the products live cycle, it can then be reused or recycled for the same purpose as the original product was intended.”

Kuhre talked about take back programs such as that of ceiling tile manufacturer Armstrong, Lancaster, Pa., which will take back used ceiling tiles from projects and uses them in new product.

He also said there are many third-party certification organizations that can verify recycled content and recyclability of products.

Companies can earn one point for using 10 percent recycled content and two points for 20 percent recycled content. An exemplary performance point is given for buildings that achieve 30 percent recycled content. Recycled content is determined by weight, said Kuhre.

There is also a difference between pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content. Pre-consumer content is worth less because, according to Kuhre, it is still on its first life while post-consumer content has already consumed once as a process.

Kuhre said the new Material Life Cycle Disclosure and Assessment credit combines transparency and performance.

Change Drivers
Of course there are many more changes incorporated in LEED 2012 than discussed in this article. Additional changes include new market sectors—data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail and LEED for Homes Mid-Rise. There also have been proposed changes to technical content that the organization says will “increase the technical rigor of the rating system,” and “have been informed by market data, stakeholder generated ideas, expert engagement and advances in technology and market acceptability of LEED and green building practices.”

Once USGBC introduces the updated version of LEED in Nov. 2012, new reference guides that will include all up-to-date information will be made available for purchase. However, the organization says the LEED online model, LEED Online v3, will not need to be relearned.

“USGBC intends to build on the current version of LEED Online v3, which will be continually refined. LEED users who have familiarized themselves with LEED Online v3 and those who will learn it in the future will be able to continue to utilize these skills even after LEED 2012 is launched,” states the organization.

In a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the USGBC’s website,, the organization addressed how it decided which parts of the rating system would be proposed to change.

The USGBC says its member committees utilized several member- and stakeholder-driven tools and in mid-2009, a call for ideas was opened to all LEED stakeholders which generated more than 700 comments regarding areas to improve LEED. There were also ideas suggested in the LEED 2009 public comment process that were not addressed at the time.

“USGBC’s LEED committees, field expertise, guidance from USGBC leadership and stakeholder-driven feedback informed the priorities for this update,” the organization states.


The author is managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at