The LEED Dynamic Plaque keeps score on a building’s behavior.

WRITTEN BY Mary Grauerholz

We hit Gold!!!” The email, accompanied by a smartphone photo of a sleek-looking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Dynamic Plaque, landed in the employees’ inboxes at the San Francisco office of DPR Construction, headquartered in Redwood City, California, last September. Joe Nguyen, IT field engineer at DPR, was psyched to see the score increase—he had been waiting for this. The excitement in the office was palpable. Seeing the results of DPR’s work to track and improve its new net-zero energy office’s performance, and in near real time at that, was big news.

Human behavior can change the status quo, and Nguyen and his colleagues had witnessed this profoundly.


Buildings, like people, can change. Contracting and expanding, getting healthier or sicker, structures can support the health of their occupants and the environment—or drain it. “A building is alive,” says U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC) chief product officer Scot Horst. The LEED Dynamic Plaque, now in the early stages in commercial properties, is Horst’s brainchild, rooted in his years working on the LEED rating system. “This is not a new idea,” Horst says, “The LEED Steering Committee began talking about this concept in 2006.”


Humans are visual animals, and Horst knew the first step was a prototype that people could see. He gathered a team in San Francisco—not only the traditional building designers and operators, but software engineers from Building Robotics, the West Coast design firm IDEO, and a mathematician with a PhD in artificial intelligence. “It wasn’t people who just know buildings,” Horst says. “It was people who know software.” It was a diverse team and a diverse approach of looking at a rating system.


Suddenly, the LEED Dynamic Plaque raced from concept to a tool with the potential to turn the measurement of sustainable building practices on its head. Transparent, dynamic, and understandable, the LEED Dynamic Plaque

Cover: The LEED Dynamic Plaque. Photo: Emily Hagopian; Above: Scot Horst, chief product officer of USGBC. Photo: Ryan Smith

evolved into an interactive system that engages everyone in a workplace organization, by demonstrating in clear terms how the organization is faring on different “racetracks.”


Horst suggests an analogy. “It’s like a diet book and a scale,” he says. “LEED is kind of like a diet book, telling you what to do to be healthier. The LEED Dynamic Plaque is like the actual scale measuring the results.”


The LEED Dynamic Plaque’s display, about 18 inches in diameter, is the same size as a traditional LEED plaque. From there, the similarities are few. When performance data is input to the LEED Dynamic Plaque, a score updates on five tracks: energy, water, waste, transportation, and human experience. Working on an annual rolling average, it allows for seasonal adjustments, making the data verifiable. As Horst says, employees “get to see it and own the score.”


Sleek and somewhat futuristic looking, the LEED Dynamic Plaque has accomplished a tall order: showing systemic change—not flash-in-the-pan spikes—with a phenomenal visual component. Perhaps best of all, the platform leverages existing technology.

Natural light and an open floorplan encourages collaboration within the USGBC headquarters cafe. Photo: Ryan Smith

“Essentially, we’re separating strategies from results and measuring the outcomes,” Horst says. “It’s not what you did to try to improve, it’s what you actually improved.” Another big gain, Horst says, is the LEED Dynamic Plaque’s ability to track progress in all LEED buildings, no matter what system they originally certified to. “One of the longest-standing criticisms of LEED, which we’ve taken seriously,” he says, “is that we haven’t measured the performance of these buildings. The LEED Dynamic Plaque is for recertifying all LEED buildings. It has the biggest influence on new construction projects—which typically do not continue to engage with LEED after achieving certification—and requires recertification every year.”


There are 50 projects worldwide with a LEED Dynamic Plaque, a number that is actively growing every week. While building managers may work behind the scenes to review the complex data that the LEED Dynamic Plaque is gathering, the display itself has a tangible, hands-on quality that is one of the platform’s biggest calling cards.


“You walk in the front door, you see it, and you see what the score is and how it breaks down,” says Eric Lamb, executive vice president of DPR Construction. DPR, with 2,800 employees and offices in 20 locations, became the fifth workplace to install a platform’s Dynamic Plaque when it was hung in DPR’s San Francisco office in May 2014. The announcement last September that the building had hit Gold was trumped in April by news that the building needed to improve its score by just eight points to reach a Platinum performance score.


DPR’s San Francisco office was designed and built with innovative and sustainable strategies, such as photovoltaic panels on the roof and walls filled with plants to freshen the air. “We wanted to create a kind of living laboratory,” Lamb says of the San Francisco location, which was the city’s first net-zero energy building. “We did it the first time to prove to ourselves it could be done. It was very successful.”


DPR expects the San Francisco office to be generating more energy than it has needed by this summer. “We anticipate being net positive at the end of one calendar year of operation, likely in June 2015,” says Ted van der Linden, the director of sustainability at DPR.

Open catwalks connect second floor work spaces. Photo: Emily Hagopian

The first ever LEED Dynamic Plaque installed in USGBC’s front lobby. Photo: Ryan Smith

Lamb first heard about the LEED Dynamic Plaque last year, from Debra Gondeck-Becker, the Construction Industry Leader for Honeywell Building Solutions. The two were gathered at the National Institute of Building Sciences conference in January 2014, when Gondeck-Becker began talking about the new LEED Dynamic Plaque. Gondeck-Becker had been inspired by Horst’s unveiling of it at Greenbuild in 2013.


The Honeywell Enterprise Buildings Integrator, the company’s building management system, was already in thousands of facilities, collecting and analyzing data on such factors as energy and water use, and indoor air quality. Gondeck-Becker recalls her thought process: “If companies already have the data, why not power the LEED Dynamic Plaque with it?” So, Honeywell staff expanded the technology to pull the information from buildings and feed it, via the cloud, to the LEED Dynamic Plaque system, in near real time.


The LEED Dynamic Plaque development team—Mika Kania, project manager; Gautami Palanki, senior consultant, building performance; Gretchen Sweeney, vice president of LEED implementation; and Dhruv Gami, director of technology—have spoken to hundreds of people about how they can engage with the LEED Dynamic Plaque, particularly those in commercial real estate. One of them is Jessica Long, sustainability manager with The JBG Companies, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland. JBG is an investor, owner, developer, and manager of real estate property in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area with a portfolio of about 23 million square feet of office, residential, retail, and hotel space.

Jessica Long, sustainability manager with the JBG companies. Photo: Ryan Smith

LEED Dynamic Plaques hang in two JBG properties, the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, and U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington. “This was an option for us because we do have a goal of sustainable buildings across the portfolio,” Long says.


Mika Kania knows the power of the LEED Dynamic Plaque, simply by keeping an eye on the one hanging in USGBC’s front lobby: the first one ever installed. “Having the physical display in a lobby when they’re entering a building and seeing it every day, people notice whether the performance score has gone up or down,” Kania says. “It’s meant to create occupant engagement.” She recalls a time last year, when USGBC’s LEED Dynamic Plaque dipped to Gold from Platinum after a waste audit. “People started to notice, and wondered why the score had changed and what we could do to get the numbers back,” she says. “Our facilities team made some extra signage next to garbage receptacles and composting bins. We saw an increase, and we were back up to Platinum.”



Ted van der Linden, director of sustainability at DPR. Photo: Emily Hagopian

For Renee Loveland, the sustainability manager for Gerding Edlen in Portland, Oregon, the LEED Dynamic Plaque is an easier and clearer way to access a structure’s environmental sustainability than the traditional LEED recertification process. Gerding Edlen, which specializes in real estate investment and development focused on sustainable properties, has 65 LEED projects in its portfolio. The LEED Dynamic Plaque hangs in one of those properties, the historic Dexter Horton building in Seattle, which is currently reading Gold. Using the LEED Dynamic Plaque to track the building’s real-time performance, Loveland says, “makes it a simple conversation.”


“It can be onerous to track and gather all the data,” Loveland says of traditional LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) certification. “The LEED Dynamic Plaque is very performance based. It doesn’t consist of a lot of paperwork. It’s more focused on the results you’re getting.”


The fact that the occupants of the Dexter Horton building can see the results on the LEED Dynamic Plaque is exciting for Gerding Edlen, Loveland says. “They can use their smartphone to track the performance data. We’re excited the LEED Dynamic Plaque allows us to show our tenants that their daily actions really do affect building performance and that they have a direct role in the certification outcome.”


The Paharpur Business Centre (PBC) in New Delhi, India, a LEED Platinum building, has set sustainability as a bottom-line expectation. “Green building is like a high school degree; you have to have it,” says CEO Kamal Meattle. “The LEED Dynamic Plaque allows every organization to keep its sustainability goals focused on a continual real-time basis and not merely resting on the laurels of a one-time green certification. It surely is about staying relevant at all times. PBC has always believed that sustainable business is sensible business.”


The PBC experience gets to the heart of the LEED Dynamic Plaque. “It makes a building whole,” Horst says. “Making it whole means you can’t separate the landlord from the tenant and expect things to work. You can’t separate the designer from the manager.” Everyone has a part to play.


The resulting sense of pride and engagement in a workplace is a very real extension of the LEED Dynamic Plaque. For some, it becomes personal. Dhruv Gami recalls Horst approaching him about developing the LEED Dynamic Plaque. “Obviously, to make his vision a reality, it was clear technology would play a pretty significant role,” Gami says.


Gami recalls, chuckling, that he and his team started on a different plane than Horst. “It took me quite a while to realize how big Scot’s thinking was,” Gami says. “He was visualizing and thinking blue sky. We were thinking, what can we do with all of this? How do we make it move the needle without a lot of complex work? What can we do to leverage pieces that already exist, like water meters?” Gami and his staff did their part to devise a seamless system architecture that, with the eye-catching display, leverages a solid existing technology platform.


“I’m supremely proud of what we accomplished,” Gami says. “I’m so excited about it. I feel like a lot of new parents who show pictures of their new babies. I pull out a picture of the LEED Dynamic Plaque and tell them how much I love it.”


Since its introduction at Greenbuild, held in San Francisco in 2012, the LEED Dynamic Plaque continues to forge new ways of thinking that started with LEED. “We have design principles,” Horst says. “One, my favorite, is to ‘make the invisible actionable.’ Everyone’s thinking, how do we engage occupants in a building? The LEED Dynamic Plaque shows them when they’re doing worse and when they’re improving, and that engages them.”


Highly technological yet so outwardly simple, the LEED Dynamic Plaque is joining a legion of products whose value couldn’t be fully appreciated until they were experienced. Today, the early adopters of the LEED Dynamic Plaque, and the growing number of workplaces around the world that are following suit, are pushing the LEED Dynamic Plaque toward a new standard. Did anyone consider how great it would be to have a car that didn’t require manually cranking the motor until they heard of it and then tried it?


Gautami Palanki, USGBC senior consultant, building performance, and a trained architect, explains the evolution of the concept to reality by relating a comment by a designer whose company has two LEED Dynamic Plaques in its offices: “For the industry, this is the next best thing to sliced bread.”