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LEED 4.0: What the New Version Means for the Foodservice Industry

Maybe you’ve shied away from LEED in the past or had your doubts about its impact on the foodservice industry. Now could be the time to reconsider.

After years in the making, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) finally released the long-awaited, heavily reviewed LEED v4 in November 2013 during Greenbuild, culminating in a completely new website and online platform launched late last year. The last updated version of LEED had been released in 2009. According to the USGBC, 375 projects are registered with LEED v4; 14 of these are already certified, and the first was in China.

Screen-Shot-2015-02-25-at-2.03.29-PM“LEED v4 is as much a testament to the achievements of LEED project teams around the world as it is to the USGBC’s own ambition to create significant and local change through resource-efficient, cost-effective green buildings,” Rick Fedrizzi, the USGBC’s CEO and founding chair has said. “It’s an opportunity to recalibrate our expectations for green buildings, providing new standards for normal and extraordinary.”

And that includes foodservice operations. LEED v4 raises the bar for all projects involving commercial kitchens when it comes to energy and water savings.

“In past versions, if you’re building a hotel or a school and you have a kitchen, you have to document the energy accurately for expected energy consumption, but you could simply assume 25 percent of energy used is foodservice,” says Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education at the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) in San Ramon, Calif. “That’s a joke because large kitchens are usually closer to 50 percent or 75 percent of a building’s total energy usage. Now projects must meet certain minimum percentage savings before taking credit for renewable energy systems.”

An office building, therefore, could show it had the same energy use as, say, a restaurant. Any extra effort by the foodservice team wasn’t always recognized. But that’s changed with LEED v4; no longer can you simply sweep over the kitchen or flat out ignore it. Now, those numbers for energy — and even water consumption — must make it into the final calculations to earn certification.

Those using LEED v3, released in 2009, shouldn’t fret, the USGBC says. They still have until October 2016 to complete those projects using the old platform, or they can upgrade “for free” to v4. But, from now on, all new LEED projects will be registered with the new version, according to Stefanie Young, director of technical solutions for the USGBC.

“Broadly speaking, the most notable changes from version 3 to 4 are the new rating systems for different building and renovation types,” says Ray Soucie, FCSI, LEED AP, principal of RSA Inc. in Portland. “In particular there have been a lot of new types of construction added to the BD+C [Building Design and Construction] parent category.”

While the categories may have been called lots of different things in the past, here are the v4 official designations: BD+C, referring to any new building built from the ground up; Interior Design and Construction (ID+C); Building Operations and Maintenance (BO+M), Neighborhood Development; and Homes.

Within those categories, BD+C encompasses New Construction and Major Renovation, Core + Shell Development, Schools, Retail, Healthcare, Data Centers, Hospitality, and Warehouses and Distribution Centers. ID+C encompasses Commercial Interiors, Retail and Hospitality. And BO+M encompasses Existing Buildings, Schools, Retail, Data Centers, Hospitality, and Warehouses and Distribution Centers. The 110-credit system (including 6 Innovation in Design credits and 4 Regional Priority credits), awards projects 1 of 4 LEED certifications based on the total number of credits earned: Certified (40–49), Silver (50–59), Gold (60–79), and Platinum, the highest level (80+).

So where might restaurants and buildings with large foodservice operations fall into place?

“Many retailers in the past came through what is now BD+C New Construction or through BO+M Existing Buildings,” says Stefanie Young. “Now, they can apply through one of a number of different categories with more specific requirements and guidance, which is really valuable because it gets into the details and applications of LEED for different space types.” And we all know how complex foodservice space types can be.

So, let’s drill deeper into the changes with v4, shall we?

Kitchen Energy Use

The LEED v4 language reads that developers must either model the entire building, including the kitchen, or take a more “prescriptive path” using a set of guiding baseline numbers for energy and water consumption for various pieces of commercial kitchen equipment. Whole-building energy modeling can intimidate even the best architects and engineers on the planet; thus, the baseline numbers have proven to be extremely helpful for those trying to decipher the energy and water use of something as complex as a commercial kitchen.

The prescriptive path came up in previous LEED discussions, but the new version, labeled Retail Process Load Baselines Tables 1–4, is a little different. Instead of being permanently affixed in the depths of LEED’s complex guidebooks as it was in LEED 2009, it has been extracted as a separate appendix (Appendix 3) that the USGBC can easily update as new equipment comes out, as manufacturers beat their own numbers or as other industry professionals weigh in. Even better, these equipment baselines can now be applied to all projects — big, small and in between — that include a commercial kitchen on the property.

“All LEED v4 project types may count energy savings from efficient refrigeration equipment, cooking and food preparation, clothes washing, and other major support appliances referenced in the Retail Process Load Baselines Tables 1–4,” says the USGBC’s Young. “Under LEED 2009 and with the exception of Schools and Healthcare, project teams have the option to use which rating system is most appropriate for their project. Under LEED v4, project teams are required to use the rating system that is most appropriate.”

This could be those baselines in Appendix 3, or it could be the exceptional calculation method outlined in ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1–2007, G2.5 to document measures that reduce process loads.

The FSTC’s Richard Young suggests that buildings with extensive kitchen operations, however, might have an easier time following the baseline prescriptive path rather than attempting whole-building modeling using ANSI standards. By default, that should help make it easier for both commercial and noncommercial foodservice operators to apply for and earn LEED certification.

The only drawback with using the baseline numbers is that projects can’t earn as many points for over-the-top energy savings as you could in previous versions of LEED. Still, the fact that the prescriptive path is now a prerequisite says volumes about where LEED wants to be in terms of minimum energy and water savings requirements, Richard Young notes.

Refocused Water Savings

The area of water savings takes a much stronger role in LEED v4 than in previous versions. Small changes like using low-flow aerators, urinals and prerinse spray valves are simply required. But now food waste disposers, combi ovens, steamers, dishwashers and other equipment are recognized in LEED with their own water usage limits, according to Soucie.

“Combi ovens, for example, must use 1.5 gallons per hour per pan or less — these type of requirements never existed before,” Soucie says. “Worldwide, water is becoming a commodity, and if we don’t start addressing our needs now we’re going to run out of it. The USGBC is trying to give designers and manufacturers incentives and real numbers to target.”

More attention is paid to outdoor water usage too. The USGBC now requires metering across all water systems regardless of building type.

This stronger focus on water helps smaller restaurants too, according to Richard Young. “Restaurants can now look at the water credits and get there pretty easily, especially if they select more efficient equipment.” On the flipside, though, the larger guys can’t rake in the water credits with extra innovation and super high-tech equipment like they could in previous versions.

Reduced Ozone Depletion

Another change with LEED v4 involves refrigerant management, according to Stefanie Young.

Projects that do not fall under the Commercial Interiors category must meet some retail and hospitality specific process load requirements. “Projects with commercial refrigeration systems must use only non-ozone-depleting refrigerants (those with an average HFC of no more than 1.75 pounds),” she says.

Projects must also conduct leak testing and manage refrigerants in other ways according to similar guidelines put out by the EPA a couple years ago. They can earn credit for not using refrigerants at all or by at least calculating the impact.

Advanced Whole-Building Metering

All LEED BD+C 2009 projects must provide the USGBC with ongoing energy and water performance metrics for a period of at least five years. In v4, projects have the opportunity to earn the LEED Dynamic Plaque and extra points (up to 100) should they meet their goals, according to Stefanie Young. The LEED Dynamic Plaque is a total-building energy-modeling system equipped with both hardware and software.

Currently the LEED Dynamic Plaque is available to all buildings previously certified under any LEED rating systems and versions, except LEED for Homes and LEED for Neighborhood Development. The platform includes an electronic device (the display unit) to display the LEED Performance Score. In its current design, the electronic device is approximately 18 inches in diameter and weighs approximately 7 pounds. The package includes mounting brackets, electrical cable, an Internet dongle and a power adapter.

Projects must meet minimum data requirements to generate scores in different categories (energy, water, waste, human experience and transportation) over a 12-month period. Providing data in all categories is not a requirement, but doing so will lead to a more accurate and comprehensive score.

Developers must provide total-building energy and water calculations, along with information for waste generation and landfill diversion gathered from at least one compliant set of readings. To monitor “human experience,” developers must provide at least one compliant set of readings for interior carbon dioxide levels and volatile organic compound concentration within a 12-month period, along with results from the administration of at least one Satisfaction Survey, provided within the LEED Dynamic Plaque platform. For transportation, results from the administration of at least one Transportation Survey must be provided, and this can be generated using the LEED Dynamic Plaque platform. Supporting documentation like utility and water bills might also be requested.

“The goal is to track actual building consumption and compare it to the usage proposed in the design case,” says Young of the USGBC. “This is essential to the individual success of each LEED-certified building as well as the ongoing evaluation and development of LEED. Projects are not decertified if they perform worse than projected but are encouraged to confirm and illustrate actual performance through the certification process.”

Sounds intense, but Soucie says, “I personally think the building-level metering is the best investment people can consider, especially on the larger projects because it gives real-time information and allows people to make more intelligent, informed decisions to cut their costs. We have the technology to monitor energy, water and even refrigerants at the same time, so why not use it? Saving extra money while protecting the environment at the same time are real

Website Improvements

Perhaps the most visible change from 2009 to now is the user-friendliness of v4, thanks in large part to a completely revamped website with enhanced search functions. Read: no more having to scour through stacks of books like a college student cramming for exams; you can now search through different LEED certification programs and specific credits online using one easy, Google-like search box in the Pilot Credit Library.

Enhanced navigation tools now identify connections such as when one credit links to another. The website also offers downloadable calculators, interactive videos, tutorials, regular webinars, presentations and documents as well as a series of completely redesigned and more easy-to-understand, downloadable digital reference guides, including a very helpful user guide. There’s also a “Getting Started” section — and plenty of links back to it throughout the Credit Library and other pages on the site.

Combined forms for prerequisites and credits reduce the amount of overlap and duplication in completing the required — though reduced — paperwork for certification, the USGBC claims.

Say you’re not sure where to begin. There’s now step-by-step navigation to help you decide which project suits your needs and capabilities. But as a general rule of thumb, the USGBC suggests following the 40/60 rule: First, assign a rating system to each square foot or square meter of a building. Then choose the most appropriate rating system based on the resulting percentages. If a rating system is appropriate for less than 40 percent of the gross floor area of a LEED building project or space, do not use that rating system.

The Credit Library, sometimes referred to as the Pilot Credit Library, allows users to select different categories (e.g., BD+C Retail, BD+C Hospitality, ID+C Retail or ID + C Hospitality) from a drop-down menu rather than searching through different pages. And it will list all the applicable credits right then and there. Users can search by credit name or type.

The FSTC’s Young describes the new version as “more unified,” and one can see what he means. In the past, LEED categories and credits were seemingly developed, reviewed and updated separately and independently from one another. Young explains that was indeed likely because of the structure of the USGBC itself — a volunteer organization with an unfortunately high turnover rate. Sometimes the review process can be like “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

As Scot Horst, chief product officer for the USGBC, explains, “LEED v4 leverages integrative process to help project teams better understand the interconnectivity that exists throughout building systems and the phases of building design and construction.”

Perhaps that’s why it’s been made clearer that foodservice can weave through all categories — so it can no longer be ignored.

Need help? Support teams can be reached through the new website, but the USGBC is rolling out a new, one-on-one LEED coaching service for international and platinum projects. With enough manpower, the organization hopes to extend this customer service arm to all projects.

The Hospitality Category

LEED v4 more clearly and closely addresses the unique needs of specific building types, including schools and hospitality, the latter of which the USGBC defines as buildings that provide transitional housing and lodging, such as hotels, motels, even convention centers and other public assembly venues. Because of the newness of these areas, the USGBC labels these specific projects as “beta” — standards are still strict, but interested project teams can take a test run before committing fully toward a certification pursuit.

“We were hearing from the market that the general requirements weren’t addressing these unique space types and that it was difficult for them to illustrate compliance or demonstrate efficiencies,” Stefanie Young says. Before the prescriptive path, “we didn’t have baselines. Even when projects were putting in better equipment, there was no way to benchmark this against industry standard to show performance.”

In other words, the USGBC is trying to demonstrate it realizes that hotels and schools — not just restaurants — have large kitchens with extra energy use. “There are a lot of tax- and cost-saving incentives for hotels that earn LEED certification,” says Soucie. “Not to mention, if a hotel has a USGBC LEED plaque on the front of the building, they’re sending a message that they’re invested in the community.”

Health and Wellness

Seven new areas of environmental improvement have been identified as requirements for LEED v4 projects: Reverse Contribution to Global Climate Change; Enhance Individual Human Health and Well-Being; Protect and Restore Water Resources; Protect, Enhance and Restore Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; Promote Sustainable and Regenerative Material Resources Cycles; Build a Greener Economy; and Build Social Equity, Environmental Justice and Community Quality of Life.

We mentioned most of the above already, but the human health focus is a new one. In the past, it was all about air quality. It still is — designating the building as nonsmoking no longer just earns you points, it’s simply a requirement. The USGBC recognizes this could pose challenges for certain hotels and casinos, but they want to raise the bar.

Projects can now also earn extra credits with healthy food programs or by demonstrating a commitment to human health and the environment in other ways, the USGBC says. Food purchasing is addressed as credit 5 in Materials and Resources (Sustainable Purchasing – Food).

Waste management also plays a larger role in earning credits under LEED v4. Projects with recycling, composting and landfill diversion programs can earn more credits (see Materials and Resources credit 7 Solid Waste Management – Ongoing Consumables).

The Future of LEED v4

“It took us a good amount of time and resources to put a standard out there we felt really reached our goals but at the same time does not push the market too far,” says Stefanie Young.

Despite all the improvements and changes, LEED v4 still has barriers. As standards — and in turn costs — get higher, this could push more businesses in the direction of LEED-style design rather than actual LEED certification. Many say this has been the case in the past couple of years and part of the reason for LEED’s decline in popularity, Soucie adds.

Still, Soucie feels that “LEED is a leader in making people aware of what is available to help them become more sustainable. As people understand the quality of these prerequisites and the cost savings they can have, they might consider investing in LEED again — or investing in general.”

Richard Young shares a similar view. “LEED is not for everyone — it comes down to different motivations in the end. But as more restaurant chains and businesses look at how sustainability fits into their corporate structure as part of an ongoing model, not just an experiment, LEED — and green building design in general — will become part of day-to-day business.”

He sees version 4 as having the most traction in our industry now that hospitals, hotels, stadiums, schools and other building types can really get in the game. Foodservice consultants also have a leg up with LEED v4, as it calls upon them much earlier in the design process with the new energy-modeling requirements for kitchens.