Carbon Leadership Forum

LEEDing on Climate Change

This letter was composed by an ad hoc group lead by Greg Kats, LEED AP (Capital E) with Kevin Hydes (Integral), Mary Ann Lazarus and Emma Stewart to encourage USGBC to take stronger action to integrate carbon reduction into LEED.

If you are interested in adding your name to the list, please review the following letter and submit your name to Greg Kats.

LEEDing on Climate Change

Over the last 20 years LEED has become the dominant U.S. green building design standard and is the most widely accepted and influential green building standard globally. This is an extraordinary achievement and has made for healthier, more productive and greener homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals and public spaces for tens of millions of families, students and workers.

The purpose of this proposal is to provide strong support for LEED and USGBC in strengthening its leadership around climate issues – the single dominant issue that threatens to collapse human and environmental ecosystems.

There is now overwhelming scientific consensus on the severity of human driven climate change, with increasing scientific calls for more aggressive responses to limit climate change. For example, a 2017 Scientific American article entitled The Window Is Closing to Avoid Dangerous Global Warming warns that “Deadly climate change could threaten most of the world’s human population by the end of this century without efforts well beyond those captured in the Paris Agreement.” The Scientific American article quotes from a 2017 report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that states that; “We are quickly running out of time to prevent hugely dangerous, expensive, and perhaps unmanageable climate change.”

Buildings represent 40% of energy use and almost half of the emissions changing our climate. Reducing the GHG footprints of buildings – both new and existing – is now among the most economically appealing of all options. And the cost of renewable energy, energy-efficiency and storage technologies continues to drop steeply (e.g. solar PV, wind, LEDs, batteries, ground-source heat pumps, etc). Combined with new financing mechanisms (e.g. PPAs), this now makes low-carbon buildings the same price or only marginally more expensive upfront than conventional buildings, and generally cheaper when considered on a lifecycle basis. LEED should seize on the opportunity provided by these recent steep drops in renewable energy costs.

Although many LEED projects go well beyond minimum requirements, LEED’s existing structure allows its highest levels – gold and platinum – to be only marginally better on climate change. Given the science and USGBC’s mission, LEED can and should be used to send a much clearer, stronger message on climate change to the market. The recommendations below are the culmination of a dialogue between the undersigned and building industry stakeholders, commercial and city property owners, USGBC staff, climate scientists, USGBC committee members and other interested parties. The views below represent the opinions of the undersigned and it is our belief that these changes will strengthen LEED and enable and motivate the building industry to move faster and further on climate change. We have developed (through an iterative consensus process) a set of recommendations for changes to LEED’s V4.1 process that we believe will strengthen LEED and its global leadership position on the critical issue of climate change.

While we recognize that the weighting around climate change has increased in each successive iteration of LEED, it needs greater weight given the acceleration of climatic change and its severe impacts on human health globally, particularly on the world’s poor. Because LEED is the globally recognized standard for green buildings, LEED must be a strong leader on climate change. The recommendations below are offered to support all efforts by USGBC to recognize and motivate the market to respond to the urgent need for aggressive climate action. We stand ready to assist USGBC in its efforts to tackle the greatest threat we face as a species.


Through the Technical Committees, LEED V4.1 should be revised to require meaningful minimum carbon reductions for each level of LEED certification, both for new LEED buildings and for LEED rating renewals.

LEED can and must step up. Specifically, LEED V4.1 should

  • Establish minimum CO2 reduction for each level of LEED:
  • Certified: 20%/40% minimum CO2 reduction
  • Silver 40%/60% minimum CO2 reduction
  • Gold 60%/80% minimum CO2 reduction
  • Platinum 80%/100% minimum CO2 reduction (i.e. the reduction level called for by the IPCC)

The above provides two numbers for each level. The first is for immediate adoption in LEED V4.1. LEED. V4.1 also needs to include the second, higher minimum performance to phase-in in 2 or 3 years so that everyone knows what the schedule is and can plan accordingly. (Baseline is the applicable building code requirement eg ASHRAE 90.1.) Within a few years after V4.1 adopts, small renewable energy PPAs, community solar and similar low cost renewable energy purchasing structures will be even more widespread and the cost of getting to net zero carbon buildings will drop to close to or less than zero for most of the country, so adoption of deeper minimum CO2 reductions will continue to become more cost effective. Getting LEEDs greenest buildings to a minimum of net zero carbon will allow LEED to move from just less damaging to affirmatively contributing to global warming reduction.

Operational Carbon: C02 counted should immediately include energy from building operations, including from energy and water consumption.  V4.1 should also – either immediately or within a set timeframe of maximum of 2 or 3 years, include CO2 from transportation and embodied CO2. In all cases calculations should be based on source energy (eg transportation costs included) and should preference or require measured rather than modeled data. Data for performance should be open, available and transparent – the opposite of black box.

Embodied CO2: Because embodied CO2 in materials can represent up to a decade of CO2 from operations of very efficient buildings, the V4.1 upgrade needs to include embodied CO2, preferably building-wide but at least for concrete and steel (and any other big embodied C02 sources). Canada recently launched the Zero Carbon Building Standard that includes a requirement for projects to calculate and report their embodied carbon. LEED should immediately do the same. For example, the CarbonStar concrete CO2 disclosure standard being developed could provide an easy and transparent way to specify and measure pounds CO2/cubic yard (or cubic meter) of concrete. USGBC should support development and adoption of this kind of industry CO2 disclosure standard for building products with significant embodied CO2.

  • Correct current REC loophole

Because current profligate use of RECs commonly undermines CO2 reductions (and hurts LEED’s credibility), RECs should not count in LEED or toward CO2 reduction requirements unless extremely restricted, eg only if they meet all 3 of the following conditions:

  1. RECS are from projects under development or not yet started at time RECs are purchased
  2. RECS are for a minimum 10 years purchase agreement and
  3. RECs demonstrably enable new renewable energy project financing and build-out

The above recommendations are the culmination of an extensive dialogue between the undersigned and a broad range of building industry stakeholders, all of whom have a deep interest in LEED and in promoting expansion of a global green building standard that leads on climate change.

Endorsers of this proposal include the following companies, as well as individuals listed below:

  • National Grid
  • HOK (industry organization)
  • Amalgamated Bank (financial institution)
  • Inventiv Capital (financial institution)
  • Climate Solutions (non-profit)
  • University of Washington Carbon Leadership Forum (academic institution)
  • Institute for Market Transformation (non-profit)
  • HGA, USGBC member (design firm)
  • The Ocean Foundation (non-profit)
  • The Earth Lab, USGBC member (academic institution)
  • Vert Asset Management (investment management firm)
  • Social Energy Partners LLC (LED lighting firm)
  • GreenHome Institute, USGBC member (non-profit)

These recommendations represent the opinions of the above institutions and the undersigned. Signatories, in order of signing:

  • Greg Kats, LEED AP, President, Capital E
  • Kevin Hydes, former USGBC Board Chair, LEED Fellow, CEO & Founder, Integral Group
  • Rob Watson, Founding LEED Chair, LEED Fellow, Chief Science Officer, EcoHub
  • Eric Corey Freed, LEED Fellow, Morrison Hershfield
  • Denis Hayes, President, Bullitt Foundation
  • Gunnar Hubbard, Principal and Sustainability Practice Leader, Thornton Tomasetti
  • Marcus Sheffer, LEED Fellow, 7group
  • Anthony Bernheim, USGBC NCC Board, LEED Fellow, FAIA
  • Max Zahniser, LEED Fellow
  • Ann Edminster, LEED AP, principal/founder Design AVEnues LLC
  • Doug Sacra, AIA, LEED AP, President, Maple Hill Architects
  • Mark Lucuik, LEED Fellow, Director of Sustainability & Principal, Morrison Hershfield
  • Bob Berkebile, FAIA, Principal Emeritus, BNIM
  • Jamie McKay, LEED Fellow, Principal, Morrison Hershfield
  • Stevan Vinci, LEED Fellow, Building Science Consultant, Morrison Hershfield
  • Joe Aamidor, Aamidor Consulting
  • Sandy Wiggins, former USGBC Board Chair, Consilience
  • Jenny Carney, LEED Fellow, Vice President, WSP
  • Josh Radoff, LEED AP, Sr Vice President, Built Ecology, WSP
  • Brian Dunbar LEED Fellow, Executive Director, Institute for the Built Environment
  • Brandon Tinianov, Chair of the USGBC Advisory Council and USGBC Board member, VP Viewglass
  • Alex Wilson, LEED AP, Founder BuildingGreen, Inc.
  • Stephen Ashkin, former member BOD USGBC, President of The Ashkin Group
  • Bill Updike, Principal, Integral Group, frmr Chief, Green Building & Climate, Washington, DC
  • David Gottfried, founder of U.S. and World Green Building Councils, CEO of Gottfried Institute
  • Chris Schaffner, LEED Fellow, Chair LEED Advisory Committee, President, The Green Engineer
  • Karen Weigert, USGBC Advisory Council member, Snr Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, former Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Chicago
  • Mary Ann Lazarus FAIA LEED AP BD&C, Consultant, Cameron MacAllister Group
  • Betsy del Monte FAIA LEED AP BD&C, Consultant, Cameron MacAllister Group
  • Mike Davis, FAIA, LEED AP, President, Bergmeyer
  • Angela Brooks, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, Brooks + Scarpa
  • Rand Ekman, AIA, LEED Fellow, SVP and Chief Sustainability Officer, HKS
  • Paula McEvoy, FAIA, LEED Fellow, Associate Principal, Sustainable Design Director, Perkins+Will
  • Marsha Maytum, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
  • William Leddy, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal¸ Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
  • Mark Palmer, LEED Fellow, San Francisco Department of the Environment
  • Kevin Stack, MS, BaDT, LEED Fellow, LEED Faculty, Northern Forest
  • Dennis Murphy, Founder, USGBC California and EndtoEnd Strategies
  • Mark Chambers, LEED AP, Sustainability Director, New York City
  • Robert Socolow, professor, Princeton University
  • Will Wynn, former two term mayor Austin
  • Tommy Wells, Director, Department of Energy and Environment, Washington, DC
  • Angela Brooks, FAIA, ENV SP, LEED ap bd+c, BROOKS + SCARPA
  • Raphael Sperry, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Sustainability Consultant, Arup
  • Emma Stewart, LEED AP, former member USGBC BOD
  • Chris Forney, LEED Fellow, Principal, Brightworks Sustainability
  • Anne Hicks Harney, FAIA, LEED Fellow, Founding Principal – Long Green Specs
  • Pauline Souza, LEED Fellow, Sustainability Director, Partner, WRNS Studio
  • Heather Jauregui, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, Associate, Perkins Eastman
  • Robert Phinney, AIA, LEED FELLOW, ENV SP Associate PrincipalPage Southerland Page, Inc.
  • Jacob Werner, AIA, LEED BD+C, Director of Sustainable Design | Associate Wilson Architects Inc
  • Gwen Fuertes LEED AP BD+C Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
  • Heather Jauregui, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, Associate, Perkins Eastman
  • Kristen Dotson LEED AP BD+C, The Miller Hull Partnership
  • Katherine Bubriski, AIA LEED AP BD+C, Director of Sustainability & Building Performance Arrowstreet
  • Mike Manzi, LEED AP BD+C, Associate Principal, Bora Architects
  • Justin Glover, AIA, LEED AP [BD+C] Associate Principal STUDIOSarchitecture
  • Joshua R Gassman, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Associate, Lord Aeck Sargent
  • Rob Winstead LEED AP BD+C, Principal VMDO Architects
  • Shirine Boulos-Anderson, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Sustainability Design Leader, Ellenzweig
  • Carolyn Day, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, past USGBC Massachusetts Board, Associate, Ellenzweig
  • Chris Forney, LEED Fellow, Principal, Brightworks Sustainability
  • Jeff Frost, LEED AP BD+C, Brightworks Sustainability
  • Jim Nicolow FAIA, LEED Fellow, Principal, Lord Aeck Sargent
  • Michelle Amt, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Sustainability, VMDO Architects
  • Jason Westrope, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, Development Management Associates, LLC
  • Joyce Coffee, LEED AP, President, Climate Resilience Consulting
  • Stephen Endy, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Mahlum Architects
  • Douglas Farr FAIA, LEED AP, Founding Principal, Farr Associates
  • Lori Cowles, LEED AP, AIA, CEFP, Principal HMFH
  • Tina Stanislaski, LEED AP, AIA, Principal HMFH
  • Pip Lewis, LEED AP,  AIA, Principal HMFH
  • Laura Wernick, FAIA, LEED AP, REFP, Principal HMFH
  • Julia Nugent, LEED AP, AIA, Principal HMFH
  • Robert Williams, LEED AP, AIA, Senior Associate HMFH
  • Chin Lin, LEED AP, AIA, Senior Associate HMFH
  • Deborah Collins, LEED GA, AIA, Senior Associate HMFH
  • Matt Larue, LEED GA, AIA, Senior Associate HMFH
  • Susan Heinking AIA, LEED Fellow, Vice President of High Performance, Pepper Construction Company
  • Chris Dillion, LEED AP President, Campbell Coyle Real Estate
  • Allen Schaffer AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Sustainable Design, Moody Nolan
  • William Sturm, AIA, LAP, CPHC, Principal, Serena Sturm Architects, Ltd.
  • Alice Sung, AIA, LEED AP, BD+C, ISSP-SA, Principal, Greenbank Associates
  • David Kaneda PE, FAIA, LEED Fellow, Eur Ing, Managing Principal, Integral Group
  • Matt Macko, LEED AP, Founding & Managing Member, stok
  • Claudia Cleaver LEED AP, Principal, Morse Cleaver Architects
  • Sharon Refvem, LEED Fellow, Director, Sustainability Resource Group, Hawley Peterson Snyder
  • Bridget Brewer, LEED AP, Principal, Brewer Studio Architects
  • Bill Reed, AIA, LEED, CEO Regenesis
  • Myer Harrell, LEED AP BD+C, Homes, Director of Sustainability, Weber Thompson Architects
  • Jeffrey Blaevoet, LEED AP, PE, CEng, Director of Innovation, Guttman & Blaevoet
  • Kent Peterson, LEED AP, PE, FASHRAE, Principal, P2S Inc.
  • Mark Goodman, LEED AP, JD, Principal, Law Office of Mark Goodman
  • Jamie Qualk, LEED AP, CxATate Walker, AIA LEED Fellow, Director of Sustainability, OPN Architects
  • Kjell Anderson, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Sustainable Design, LMN Architects
  • Brad Benke, LEED AP BD+C, LMN Architects
  • Chris Patterson, LEED AP, LMN Architects
  • Ralph DiNola, LEED Fellow, CEO, New Buildings Institute
  • Kelly Roberts, LEED AP, BD+C, Principal, Walter P Moore
  • Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED Fellow, Principal Goody Clancy
  • Kate Simonen, AIA LEED AP, SE, Carbon Leadership Forum Director, University of Washington
  • Bruce King, PE, Director, Ecological Buildings Network
  • Joseph Connell, Executive Director, Building Materials Reuse Association
  • David Johnson, AIA, Principal, SERA
  • Jeremy Shiman, Green Associate, Designer, WRNS Studio
  • Amy Hattan, LEED Green Associate, VP Corporate Sustainability, Thornton Tomasetti
  • Stacey Smedley, LEED BD+C, LFA, Director of sustainability, Skanska
  • Larry Strain, LEED AP, FAIA, Principal, Siegel & Strain Architects
  • Michelle Moore, CEO, Groundswell; former SVP, U.S. Green Building Council
  • Benjamin Galuza, LEED AP, Principal, Integral Group
  • Marge Anderson, Executive Vice President, Seventhwave
  • Keith Mestrich, President, Amalgamated Bank
  • Paulus Ingram, Managing Partner, Inventiv Capital
  • Donald Simon, co-founder USGBC-NCC, co-founder Build It Green, Partner at Wendel Rosen Black & Dean, LLP
  • Andrew McAllister, Commissioner, California Energy Commission
  • Michael McAteer, National Grid, Director Strategic Business, Policy and Evaluation
  • Cliff Majersik, Executive Director, Institute for Market Transformation
  • Phil Angelides, President, Riverview Capital Investments, California State Treasurer (1999-2007)
  • Eileen Quigley, Living Future Accredited, Sustainability Manager, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Jay Gould, CEO, Interface
  • Julie Hiromoto, LEED AP, AIA, WELL AP, Living Future Accredited, Principal, HKS, Inc.
  • Alex Spilger, WELL AP, LEED AP, SVP/Director of Sustainability, Cushman & Wakefield
  • Dave Freeman, ex Chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority and ex Chair of SMUD
  • Terry Garcia, former chief science and exploration officer, National Geographic Society, CEO Exploration Ventures
  • Travis Price, FAIA, President, Travis Price Architects
  • Alisdair McGregor, PhD PE, Arup Fellow, Principal, Arup
  • Jason Hartke, former SVP of USGBC, President, Alliance to Save Energy
  • Bob Fox, Vice Chair USGBC Board of Directors, COOKFox Architects and Terrapin Bright Green
  • Steve Nadel, President, American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy
  • Bart Harvey, Chair of Calvert Impact Investments
  • Stephen Bushnell, Former Sr. Director Fireman’s Fund Insurance, Former USGBC Board of Directors
  • Premnath Sundharam, LEED AP, Global Sustainability Leader, DLR Group
  • Chris Wortley, Architectural Designer, Shepley Bulfinch
  • Mark Wilhelm, MEP, CEM, CRM, LEED AP O+M, Energy & Climate Change Consultant, Quest Energy Group, LLC
  • Ross Spiegel, LEED AP BD+C, FAIA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, Principal, Ross G. Spiegel Architect
  • Christopher Davis, LEED AP O+M, WELL AP, Senior Sustainability Program Manager, CodeGreen Solutions
  • Deane Barone, LEED AP BD+C, ID+C, O+M & ISSP-SA, President, Barone International
  • Jorge Calderon, LEED AP, NCI, V/VO, The Earth Lab
  • Heramb Tilak, Energy Systems Graduate Student
  • Elizabeth Hand, LEED AP, PH Designer, Envision SP, Sustainability Consultant, DIALOG
  • Ben Ridderbos, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate, Lord Aeck Sargent
  • Charles Marshall, P. Eng, MBA, LEED AP BD+C, Associate, Sustainable Design, DIALOG
  • Brett Little, LEED APH, LEED Faculty, CGHP, GreenHouse Institute
  • Jay Hindmarsh, AIA, LEED AP, CSI CCS, Associate, Mahlum Architects
  • Donald Gilligan, President, National Association of Energy Service Companies

To sign the LEED letter, contact Greg Kats.