New LEED credits address health and safety as communities reopen from COVID-19

The Safety First credits promote healthy homes and workspaces
USGBC's new program aims to help LEED projects maintain occupants' safety. (Photo: Martinmark,

Over the past few months, we have all had to adapt to a new way of living and working, but as our communities get back to business, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recognizes that we need to remain cautious. USGBC recently announced a new strategy, Healthy People in Healthy Places Equals a Healthy Economy, intended to leverage LEED to support buildings and communities in a post-pandemic world. Under the new strategy, USGBC is implementing a series of actions that will address how to make our indoor environments safer and healthier, while also addressing how green buildings can close the gaps in social and economic inequality.

Related: Managing COVID-19 on jobsites: CPWR

The Safety First Pilot Credits were made available in early June to projects that have certified or are pursuing LEED certification. The guidance addresses four key areas: cleaning and disinfecting, occupant re-entry, water systems and indoor environmental quality.

The Safety First: Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space credit requires facilities to implement procedures that follow green cleaning best practices that support a healthy indoor environment and worker safety. The credit requires procedures and training for cleaning personnel, occupant education and other services that are within the management team’s control.

The Safety First: Re-enter Your Workspace credit is a tool to assess and plan for re-entry into workspaces as well as measure progress once the space is occupied. It identifies sustainable requirements in building operations and human behavior that take precautions against the spread of COVID-19. It aligns with the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Re-occupancy Assessment Tool and requires transparent reporting and evaluation of decisions to encourage continuous improvement.

The Safety First: Building Water System Recommissioning credit helps building teams reduce the risk of occupants being exposed to degraded water quality. Building and business closures over weeks or months reduce water usage, which can potentially lead to stagnant water or water that is unsafe to drink or use. The credit integrates recommendations from industry organizations and experts, including the U.S. EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Safety First: Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19 credit builds on existing indoor air quality requirements and credits in LEED. Building teams should ensure indoor air quality systems are operating as designed and determine temporary adjustments to ventilation that may minimize the spread of COVID-19 through the air. Additional considerations include increasing ventilation and air filtration, physical distancing of occupants, and following measures outlined in public health and industry resources. The guidance also encourages monitoring and evaluating indoor air quality on an ongoing basis.

Related: Maintaining comfort and health in green homes

There is a clear connection between environmental and public health, which is why LEED encourages green building strategies that also support health and well-being. In fact, two-thirds of the credits in the rating system address this goal. The current pandemic, however, has put a spotlight on the need to better support health while also rebuilding a struggling economy. We believe these LEED pilot credits are a good first step to establishing a new normal.

Charlie Woodruff

Charlie Woodruff is regional director for the mountain region at U.S. Green Building Council.

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