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USGBC Confronts Challenges of Green Building Performance

Ramping up efforts to ensure that green buildings deliver on their promise, the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out a sweeping initiative this week to amass data on all LEED-certified structures and use the information to help close any gaps between expected and actual performance.

The move dovetails the USGBC's new reporting requirement, announced earlier this summer, for ongoing performance information about buildings as part of the certification process under the new version of LEED standards. The green building design standards referred to as LEED v3 and LEED 3.0 also took effect this summer.

The USGBC's Building Performance Initiative is "about gathering knowledge about building performance in a way no one has ever done before," USGBC LEED Senior Vice President Scot Horst said in a statement. "The information that we collect from our certified projects is a workable, holistic approach for achieving better performing buildings."

The LEED rating system has been criticized, particularly in the past year, for not basing its ratings on actual energy use. In March 2008, the USGBC released a report of a study (PDF) it commissioned from the New Buildings Institute on energy use in LEED-certified buildings. The research found that less than a quarter of the buildings surveyed had records of actual energy use, Executive Editor Rob Watson noted in a recent column.

Issues of LEED-rated building performance typically center on what happens in a structure after it receives certification. Benching-marking, monitoring and management through building systems, energy modeling, building commissioning or "fine-tuning," operations, maintenance and facility management -- and missteps among any of those measures -- all affect whether a structure delivers the performance that had been predicted based on design. The most telling factor is the behavior of the building occupants.

The USGBC proposes to take all that into account in its data collection and analyze the information to enable building owners and managers to keep the performance of their properties up to snuff -- or better.

"Plenty of people are content to simply point to these longstanding issues without offering a constructive way to address them," Horst said. "We're going to take them on and engage practitioners and thought leaders alike in establishing a national roadmap to optimize building performance."

The organization plans to hold four regional summits about the Building Performance Initiative around the country in September and October. The sessions will include a preview of the USGBC's data collection plan and proposed analysis methodology, in addition to opportunities to provide feedback and share other information on performance issues. Results from those sessions will be reported at the USGBC's annual Greenbuild conference, which runs November 11-13 this year in Phoenix.

Image by Eric Laignel, courtesy of the USGBC.


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