Get Ready, Get Set, Recertify!

Demystifying whether to go through LEED recertification, and when and how to do it

by Mary Lang Reames, Sustainability Project Manager
Michael Arny, President & Director of Sustainable Building Services — Congratulations! You have successfully taken your building through the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (O&M) certification process and received a Silver rating. You’ve issued a press release, thanked your project team, and held a small ceremony at which you proudly unveiled the plaque now hanging in a highly visible spot in your building’s lobby.

So…. have you started thinking about recertification yet? If not, you should.

But wait, you say, we just got certified! We know that the LEED rating system is designed to drive continuing improvement and show current performance… but do we need to start so soon? and do we have to go through the whole process again?

Here are the short answers to your questions: You have to recertify within five years of receiving your initial LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M certification and the sooner you start thinking about it, the better. And no, you don’t have to go through the same process, only part of it; LEED recertification is all about ongoing performance, so you don’t need to resubmit any set-up (called “establishment” by GBCI) documentation unless you have made major changes.

Confused? You’re not alone. To allay that confusion, the USGBC issued its most recent guidance on recertification under LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M in April 2013. The guidance doesn’t make any substantive changes to any of the credits in LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M, but it does explain the recertification process and reorganize the text of the LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M rating system for recertification. Let’s look at what you need to know about the recertification process.

Why is recertification so important? You know that, without continuous work, your building’s performance will decline over time. Periodic recertification under LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M provides a framework and focus to maintain your building’s high-level performance over its lifetime. Recertifying under LEED for Existing Buildings also helps ensure that you receive the full value of your investment in your building’s initial certification and provides verification that your building remains sustainable. In other words, recertification demonstrates to the world that you continue to walk the walk, and are not just talking about having walked the walk at one time.

Who is required to recertify? Each building that has earned LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M certification must recertify every one to five years to demonstrate ongoing sustainable performance. If this recertification requirement is not met, a building is no longer considered certified.

Who else should recertify? Buildings certified under any of the design and construction rating systems, like LEED for Building Design & Construction: New Construction, Core & Shell, or Commercial Interior, are encouraged to follow up their initial certification with certification under LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M. This is important because LEED for Building Design & Construction doesn’t focus on ongoing building performance. Certifying under LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M will put the building into the ongoing recertification cycle and refocus your efforts on maintaining sustainable operations.

When do we have to recertify? LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M requires recertification every one to five years from the date of the previous certification. But please don’t wait until four years and nine months have passed before thinking about recertifying! As with the initial LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M certification process, many credits pursued during the recertification process require that data be collected during a performance period of no less than three months, and several credits have performance periods of 12 months. The performance period ends at the end of the five-year recertification window; after that, it’s too late to recertify (without special circumstances and dispensations).

You can recertify more often than the USGBC requires; in fact, one Leonardo Academy client recertified every year. Leonardo Academy’s president, Michael Arny, recommends recertifying at least every two or three years, but notes that annual recertification is a good way to assure that recertification process provides regular input to both the annual budget process and the annual performance reviews for building staff.

What happens if we don’t recertify within five years? In addition to losing your current certification, to obtain new certification you’ll have to begin from scratch and undertake the whole certification process for LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M certification, rather than using the streamlined recertification process.

What is the streamlined process? The April 2013 Recertification Guidance has divided each of the LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M credits into two requirements, an Establishment requirement and a Performance requirement (the restructured version of each credit is included in the Guidance as Appendix B). Buildings applying for first-time certifications under Existing Buildings: O&M must do both the Establishment and Performance portions of each credit applied for. Buildings applying for recertification, however, only need to do the Performance portions of credits they have previously achieved.

Here’s an example: for IEQ Credit 6: Green Cleaning—Indoor Integrated Pest Management, the Establishment requirement is to “[e]stablish an indoor integrated pest management (IPM) plan, defined as managing indoor pests in a way that protects human health and the surrounding environment and that improves economic returns through the most effective, least-risk option.” The Performance requirement reads: “Demonstrate that the IPM plan was implemented and maintained 100% of the time.” A building that satisfied IEQc6 in its initial Existing Buildings: O&M certification and that has not made significant changes to its building or its indoor IPM policy since then will not have to submit documentation demonstrating that an IPM plan has been prepared, but only that the plan has been followed 100% of the time.

Can we attempt different credits than we did for our initial certification? Yes, you can attempt different, or even additional, credits. In fact, this is a good opportunity to improve your rating. At least one Leonardo Academy recertification client has gone from a Silver rating to a Gold rating when recertifying. For new credits, however, you will have to satisfy both the Establishment and Performance requirements.

When do we have to register our recertification project? According to Leonardo Academy’s Michael Arny, the best time to register for recertification is right after your building receives its original certification. This accomplishes two things. First, it puts recertification on your to-do list rather than on the back burner; recertification becomes something that must be budgeted for and accomplished, rather than something that you might put off indefinitely until it suddenly becomes too late. Second, registering locks in which version of LEED you will be using for recertification. Remember, LEED v4 has just been successfully balloted and will be available this fall. You can register your project under any version that is open for registration, but if you want to recertify under LEED v2009, registering your recertification soon will guarantee that option.

Registering right away doesn’t mean you have to submit your recertification application for review right away. Your performance period can still be as long as five years.

What are the GBCI fees for registration, certification, and recertification? Registering for recertification is free. Review fees for recertification are the same as for initial certification under LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M. Remember that the GBCI treats the first certification under LEED for Existing Buildings after certification under LEED for Building Design & Construction as an initial certification and will charge a registration fee.

This is complicated; where do I go for help? There is helpful information on the USGBC’s and the GBCI’s websites, and If you want more help, many consulting firms offer recertification assessment and implementation assistance and can shepherd you through the recertification process. Check out Leonardo Academy’s recertification web page for more recertification guidance as well as case studies and success stories.

Leonardo Academy is a nonprofit organization that develops sustainability solutions through consultation and certification services in the LEED Green Building Rating System and the Cleaner & Greener sustainable event program. Leonardo Academy also provides sustainability and continuing education training, including training for the LEED Green Associate credential for individuals who support green buildings in their profession, such as building owners and facility managers.

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