Can (and Will) USGBC Revoke LEED Certification?

Green Building

Can (and Will) USGBC Revoke LEED Certification?

By now, LEED project teams are generally familiar with the LEED 2009 Minimum Program Requirements (MPR’s). They’re sort of like the Seven Commandments of LEED Eligibility. To further clarify the MPR’s, USGBC issued the LEED 2009 MPR Supplemental Guidance document.

However, what seems to be less frequently acknowledged—much less discussed—is the GBCI LEED Certification Policy Manual (originally published April 27, 2009). The Certification Policy manual, a curiously less refined document from the standpoint of graphic presentation, offers an “overview of the program requirements pertaining to the LEED® Green Building Rating System, and identifies the policies put in place by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for the purposes of administering the LEED certification process.”

In my opinion, the information offered in the Policy Manual is generally fair and stands to reason. One interesting caveat however is the Certification Challenge Policy. Indeed, GBCI has established an official policy that opens the door for decertification of previously certified LEED project. The policy states:

GBCI may revoke previously granted LEED certification or take other action regarding LEED certification such as determine to reduce points or category of LEED certification previously granted, if GBCI determines that credits/prerequisites for LEED certification were granted based on erroneous determinations or inaccurately or falsely submitted documentation.

Upon receipt of a complaint, none other than the GBCI President shall direct a detailed technical review (while also conferring with legal counsel).

So, can (or would) GBCI revoke a project’s LEED certification? We may soon find out. I am only aware of one officially filed certification challenge and it was against the Northland Pines High School (NPHS) in Eagle River, Wisconsin. The NPHS was completed in the fall of 2006 and earned Gold-level certification under LEED for New Construction Version 2.0/2.1 on May 10, 2007.

As reported by the Vilas County News-Review, five persons filed a 125-page complaint with the USGBC claiming the $28.5 million high school, failed to meet all of the LEED-NC prerequisites and, thus, should have its certification revoked.

In the appeal for LEED decertification, the five appellants are listed as follows:

  • Mr. Ronald Ritzer, an architectural design professional and local builder of high performance homes.
  • Mr. Roderick McKinnon, a commercial property developer.
  • Mr. Patrick Smith, a construction professional.
  • Dr. Kevin Branham, a Doctor of Chiropractic with a Masters degree in Public Health.
  • Mr. Curt Hartwig, a local businessman and community leader.

Last month, Green Building Law Update reported that roughly 16-months after the appeal for decertification was submitted, USGBC denied the challenge and elected to maintain the certification based on an extensive review involving two consulting firms.

On behalf of the five appellants, Larry Spielvogel, PE, FASHRAE and Mark Lentz, PE issued an Executive Summary Response on June 5, 2010. In it, they lay some pretty heavy baggage on the doorsteps of USGBC and the consultants used to investigate the challenge.

In order to obtain a well-rounded perspective and fully understand the complexities of this issue, I’m including a chronological list of hyperlinks to some of the most important documentation related to the NPHS situation (get ‘em while they’re still posted).

It’s interesting to note that the LEED Certification Policy Manual and its Certification Challenge Policy was not published by GBCI until well after the appeal for decertification of NPHS was submitted. Going forward, according to the policy, GBCI will handle all future challenges, not USGBC.

Only time will tell what ultimately happens in this situation. Like the Shaw Development v. Southern Builders case, the outcome will set an important precedent in the realm of “eco-design risk.” I can’t imagine the PR nightmare of having a LEED plaque removed from a building, but stranger things have happened.

Chronology of Critical Documents:

(1) December 23, 2008: Appeal to USGBC for LEED Decertification;

(2) April 27, 2009: GBCI LEED Certification Policy Manual;

(3) January 5, 2010: Horizon Engineering Associates LLP report;

(4) April 26, 2010: Taylor Engineering report;

(5) April 27, 2010: USGBC response letter;

(6) June 4, 2010: Response to Horizon Report;

(7) June 5, 2010: Response to Taylor Report;

(8) June 5, 2010: Appellants’ Executive Summary Response

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