June 17, 2021

LEED Submittal Review Process: An Overview

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By Emily Reese Moody
Sustainability Director, Certifications & Compliance at Jacobs

Emily is Jacobs’ Sustainability Director of Certifications and Compliance in the People, Places, and Solutions group. She provides leadership expertise and project coordination for all aspects of sustainability in the built environment with work on over 100 different projects that span LEED, WELL, Fitwell, Envision, ParkSmart, and Guiding Principles.
green construction buildings

What are LEED submittals and how is the LEED submittal review process managed?

This post is an excerpt from a recent webinar hosted by Green Badger. We encourage you to view the entire on-demand webinar on Nailing Your LEED Submittals where our distinguished panel of sustainability experts including Emily Moody (Sustainability Director, Certifications & Compliance for Jacobs), Emily Purcell (Green Building Specialist for Solomon Cordwell Buenz, of Chicago), and Garrett Ferguson (Sustainable Building Advisor at Perkins&Will) offer a host of practical tips for managing the LEED submittal process. For an overview of the webinar, check out this blog post.

1. Rough Transitions with LEED

LEED v3 (LEED 2009) was a cakewalk compared to our experiences with LEED v4. The transition from LEED v3 to LEED v4, and now LEED v4.1, has been a rude awakening for everyone involved with the process. It continues to be a rude awakening for project teams even though LEED v4 has been out for a couple of years now. On every project we get, there are people involved who have never been on a LEED v4 project before – so welcome to the party!

In the past, our designers didn’t have to pay nearly as much attention to the specifications of what was going to be used in the project. All that has changed with LEED v4. We can no longer rely on the contractor to provide us with all the recycled content and certified wood information. Now we really have to be specific in everything we do on the design side in order to enable the contractors to meet the requirements of the LEED credit we’re trying to pursue.

2. LEED is Always Changing

This means we have to remain flexible because things are always changing. As of April 2021, LEED v4.1 is currently in its 8th iteration of what the requirements are. So get comfortable with revising, revisiting, and checking those emails that come out from USGBC with LEED updates. Make sure you’re on those mailing lists!

3. LEED Spec Guidance

We call them specifications for a reason – so be as precise as possible! Put your requirements in the specs so everything is outlined according to what your project needs and make sure that it’s front and center. We put everything in Division One so we guide the contractor by highlighting everything they need to do in one place. Then we can follow up in the individual divisions and disciplines to reiterate.

Part of this is attempting to get experienced personnel on the construction side. At Jacobs, we usually have this requirement built in to try and target a specific person on the team with recent experience managing a LEED v4 project – not just having someone who has worked on a LEED project sometime in the past 10 years.

4. LEED Construction Kickoff

Then have a construction kickoff meeting with the full construction team, the client, and your side of the project management team where you can go through these requirements one at a time and make sure they are fully understood. Especially the process of doing the LEED submittals. Make sure everyone can identify: what’s the content, who is going to do the submittals, are you going to use a program like Procore? 

5. Expect a transitional period in the LEED Submittal Review Process

No matter how well you spell everything out, be prepared for a transition period. There will be a number of submittals that go back and forth when you start out as you figure out how things should be working.

6. LEED Submittal Coversheets

There are all sorts of coversheets out there for LEED submittals. I do recommend including one in your division 1 if you have one that’s proven easy for the contractors and subs to fill out. If not, you can leave this for discussion at the construction kickoff meeting so that you can look at options together and agree on what will work best for your team. If you do have an experienced LEED person on the construction side, they may have their own version that they’re comfortable with using. In general, that’s fine with me as long as their version of the cover sheet covers all the information that we’ll need.

From a content perspective, make sure it’s organized! Sometimes people will see ‘LEED’, get excited, and dump all this information in there without any order. Make sure to highlight the exact info you’re reporting on the cover sheet in the backup data to make it easy on everybody. And make sure that you’re talking with your specific disciplines so that they’re on the lookout for these best practices too. You can download Green Badger’s LEED submittal cover sheet here.

6. GGG: Google for the Greater Good

Here’s the truth: none of us know completely 100% what we’re doing because LEED requirements are always changing. Make sure everyone on your team is communicating and helping each other succeed.

Google for the greater good! Products change, certifications expire, they shift programs, they’ve lost a link on their website – all kinds of things happen! If you don’t see something in the submittal that should be there, the best thing to do is help each other find any missing information. The more we’re helping each other on the design and construction sides, the more successful we’ll all be.

7. Know your Client

Some clients are forced to do LEED and only focus on the minimum of what’s needed to achieve the credits, maybe a little more to have a buffer, and then they stop. And sometimes that’s fine! Some clients will want to go all out and then use this data to benchmark for other projects to build their own product libraries – they want everything. So determine what’s appropriate for your project and your client specifically.

Keep an open dialogue between the design team and the construction team. It can save a lot of time going back and forth with the submittals. When someone has a question about filling out a submittal, a simple email or phone call asking, “Is this right? I want to talk about it – do you have 15 minutes?”, will save a lot of time during the review process.

8. Understand the General Process of the Project

Not every submittal will be completely filled out because of the nature of how the construction process works. A good example of this is wood doors. We always get the submittals in and we never have the cost data until closer to the end of the project. Just make sure the contractor knows that it’s okay to purchase this product, but we will need to come back and fill out any missing information that we need later on when it’s available.

9. LEED Submittal Review Process: The Submittal Log

Something that people don’t always think about is that there’s always a submittal log. Make sure to use that and reappropriate it to include the LEED tracking information. Then the whole team can easily identify which submittals are expected to have LEED content. If they get one and it’s supposed to be on that list but has nothing, you know you can send it right back to have them fill it out and resend. And it should all be one submittal. The more integrated the LEED process is to the rest of the construction process, the more seamless everything will be.

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