USGBC Develops New Pilot Credits in Response to COVID-19

USGBC Develops New Pilot Credits in Response to COVID-19

Best practices to help safely reopen the nation’s offices, industries
and beyond.

Summer 2020 | Written by Nancy A. Ruhling

Nearly 50 applicants working on projects ranging from schools and offices to hotels have registered for the four new LEED Safety First pilot credits. The pilot credits were created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in response to COVID-19, to provide guidance and to help ensure that people feel safe and healthy in the places where they live, learn, work and play—while rebuilding our economy and replacing unprecedented job losses around the world.

The credits, available to LEED 2009, LEED v4 and LEED v4.1 projects that are certified or undergoing certification, were announced in June and outline sustainable best practices that align with public health and industry guidelines related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace reoccupancy, indoor air quality and plumbing operations

Left: Melissa Baker is senior vice president for USGBC technical core. Center: Theresa Lehman is director of sustainable services for Miron. Right: Nancy Larson is a sustainability consultant for Envision Realty Services.

Melissa Baker, USGBC senior vice president for technical core, says that the pilot credits build upon USGBC’s pioneering green cleaning practices, which she notes are also effective against the virus.

Atelier Ten, an environmental design consultancy based in New York City, is considering incorporating recommendations from the Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space and Re-Enter Your Workplace pilot credits into its new office, which is in the design phase.

“We’re interested in the credits because we want to do all that we can to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone working in our new space,” says senior environmental designer Rebecca Riss, who would like to see the credits extended to all LEED rating systems. “The Re-Enter Your Workspace credit is particularly helpful, as it references the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Re-occupancy Assessment Tool v2.0, which is a comprehensive checklist that our office can use as a guide to develop a reoccupancy plan with strategies tailored to our specific needs.”

Noting that the credits are based on current COVID-19 information, Baker says that USGBC will refine its recommendations as new developments arise.

“The pilot credits are an ongoing dialogue with the community,” she says. “We want everyone to use them as guidelines and test them and give us feedback.”

The following case studies offer insight into the initial implementation of the new credits.

Miron Construction’s Offices

Miron, a century-old private company, is using the Safety First pilot credits in its Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay offices, for which it is pursuing LEED Silver certification, and is also implementing them in its LEED-certified offices in Neenah, Wisconsin, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Theresa Lehman, director of sustainable services for Miron, says that the pilot program “gives us the opportunity to provide real, practical, firsthand feedback on what works and doesn’t work using our own experience, including sharing any costs associated with initially implementing the Safety First requirements and the ongoing feasibility. I find all the Safety First credits helpful in managing the spread of the unprecedented pandemic.”

The Wisconsin-based company has implemented the Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space and the Re-Enter Your Workspace credits at all its offices.

Lehman adds that it would be helpful for the USBGC credits to reference additional federal, state, local or city ordinances or executive orders in its Re-Enter Your Workspace credit.

Metro Plaza, a seven-story, mixed-use commercial office building in San Jose, California, has registered for the Safety First pilot credit Managing Indoor Air Quality during COVID-19. Photo: Hudson Pacific Properties

USGBC has heard this feedback from many users and is working to provide additional guidance and alternatives in the COVID-19 resources section on The expertise shown by volunteers in working with USGBC to author these pilot credits is critical to answering questions like those raised by Miron, so our community can support one another and work together to solve problems during these challenging times. Additional pilot credits will address topics such as construction job site safety and pandemic planning at the city and community levels.

Hudson Pacific Properties’ Metro Plaza

Metro Plaza, a 456,921-square-foot, mixed-use commercial office building in San Jose, California, is implementing the Safety First Managing Indoor Air Quality pilot credit and is applying for LEED v4 under LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance: Existing Buildings.

The seven-story building, which was constructed in 1986, is owned by Hudson Pacific Properties.

Nancy Larson, a sustainability consultant for Envision Realty Services, says that USGBC’s air quality pilot credit was the best fit for Metro Plaza because “it addresses minimizing the spread of COVID-19 through the air and gives some additional guidance to some of the procedures already in place.”

Metro Plaza, which is documenting implementation for the LEED project, was already fulfilling requirements in the pilot credit. “By pursuing this credit, we could take a deeper dive into investigating the best practices for this property with the ability to continue to monitor outcomes,” she says. “This pilot gives us the opportunity to put in place a no-cost credit for a best precautionary practice.”

Larson also notes she was glad to see that “this pilot credit touches on the concern over trading out energy efficiency with the addition of increased outdoor air. It asks for details about reinstating energy-efficiency measures taken offline when COVID-19 is no longer a risk.”

In addition, she has found that registering for the pilot credits was easy: “I like the fact that they align with established standards and protocols and are not reinventing the wheel or adding separate options to guidance that is already in place to address COVID-19,” she states.

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