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LEED V5’s Ultra Low Carbon Targets: What You Need to Know

loka 27, 2023 | Blogi, Decarbonization News

The draft of LEED v5 — the newest version of the LEED rating system — includes guidance on meeting ambitious embodied carbon targets.

Washington Monument, Washington DC, USA. Credit: John Irving Dillon

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has released a draft of the newest LEED rating system, LEED V5, at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Washington DC. 


What is LEED?

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system is a voluntary framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving, green buildings. It is the most widely used green building rating system in the world, with over 100,000 projects certified globally. So, news of an updated version is always hotly-anticipated in the world of low-carbon construction.

Find out how One Click LCA can help you achieve LEED certification.


Why are the Changes in LEED v5 so Significant?

LEED has continually evolved since it was first developed by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998. LEED version 5 (or v5) is ‘simply’ the latest in this process. However, it is the most significant update so far, in terms of a radical alignment with a low-carbon future.

With LEED v5 the rating system framework has been restructured around three system goals, which will impact the scoring breakdown.

1. Climate action (50% of possible points)

2. Quality of life (25% of possible points)

3. Ecological conservation and restoration (25% of possible points)


What are the Key Pillars of LEED v5?

Figure 1: LEED v5’s new system goals

Credit: USGBC

a. A Laser Focus on Decarbonization

  • LEED v5 addresses all significant sources of carbon emissions in buildings, including operational emissions from energy use and embodied emissions from materials and construction.
  • It provides clear steps for how new buildings can achieve ultra-low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • It also rewards existing buildings for using on-site renewable energy and for developing plans to achieve ultra-low carbon and zero emissions.
  • LEED v5 also aims to enhance the carbon literacy of the industry and incentivize existing buildings to work toward ultra-low-carbon and zero-emission plans.

“We’ve worked over the past year with our committees to translate the ambition of the Paris [Climate Change] Agreement with the core actions all buildings need to be [taking], with clear requirements, pathways, and accountability.”

Liz Beardsley, Senior Policy Counsel, USGBC

b. Embodied Carbon is in the Spotlight

Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction, transportation, processing, fabrication, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.

LEED v5 recognizes that dramatically reducing embodied carbon is critical to meeting the ultra-low carbon targets. It requires all buildings to at least measure embodied carbon from structure and enclosure, and potentially reduce their carbon (prescriptively or through a performance measurement).

Figure 2: The importance of addressing both operational and embodied carbon emissions

Importance of addressing embodied carbon in LEED v5

Source: Driving Action on Embodied Carbon in Buildings, RMI and US GBC, 2023. based on RMI Analysis

c. A Commitment to Improving Health, Resilience and Equity

LEED v5 aims to create safe, healthy, and resilient buildings that also promote equity.

Teams must conduct a social impact assessment of their projects to identify and address issues of inequity. LEED v5 also includes new requirements for equity within cleaning operations and protections for cleaning personnel.

As part of the drive to improve climate resilience, buildings must assess the effects of observed and projected natural hazards on their project sites and building function.

To address indoor environmental quality, buildings must establish a water policy for managing project water consumption and install ventilation systems that meet specific performance standards.


What is the Rollout Timeline for LEED v5?

The LEED v5 version unveiled at Greenbuild 2023 was a draft version of the LEED v5 rating system for Operations and Maintenance (O+M) of existing buildings. This version is then expected to be refined following beta testing and feedback from project teams incorporating the new version across a range of projects.

Meanwhile, the updated LEED v5 for Building Design and Construction (BD+C) is expected to roll out in 2024.

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