This fall, the U.S. Green Building Council revealed its 2012 class of LEED Fellows, the highest honor the group bestows upon LEED-accredited professionals.

More than 5,000 people were eligible to be nominated for the honor; the group selected 43. NREI introduces three of them, focusing on what they consider the biggest green issues facing the commercial real estate industry, their major success stories from the past year and what’s coming down the road in 2013 with LEED v4.

Holley Henderson, founder, Atlanta-based H2 Ecodesign

Holley Henderson says one of the most intriguing issues that will affect the commercial real estate industry will be what happens when the U.S. General Services Administration releases its revised report on the green building rating system of choice for federal government buildings. That step is expected to come before the end of the year, Henderson says.

“Typically, the commercial real estate market follows the government’s lead,” she says. “If the federal government thinks that something is efficient and a good return on investment then the corporate world will say they want to do that on their buildings. If corporations want to be in early compliance with regulations that may be coming down the pike anyway, they’ll want to go ahead and adopt these standards early.”

The fourth version of LEED is also set to go to a USGBC-member vote in June 2013. One major change will be technical solutions for data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality facilities, mid-rise residential as well as existing schools and existing retail.

Proposed LEED v4 also includes measures that reward builders who select materials made by companies that engage in transparency—that is, they release the full details of the materials’ contents. It further rewards builders who go a step beyond that and use less-toxic materials. Henderson says that means the USGBC is broadening its view to focus more on human health.

“In the past, LEED was very much focused on the green triangle—reduce, reuse, recycle,” says Henderson. “Now we’re looking at the life cycle of products. Where does it come from? What does it do in its useful life? How do you maintain it?”

Jason Kliwimski, sustainable design director, Spiezle Architectural Group

The fact that the world of sustainable design is moving more toward human health factors is going to be a huge selling point for the commercial real estate community, agrees Jason Kliwimski.

“From a PR standpoint, from rentability, from marketing, companies are really starting to see the benefits of the human health factors,” Kliwinski says. “They’re seeing it as a way to stay competitive. When you’re looking at one class-a building versus the other, what’s the deciding factor? Tenants are starting to ask about sustainability policies.”

This year, Kliwinski says he was particularly proud of a project for Hartz Mountain in Secaucus, N.J., which obtained LEED Silver in August. The 260,000-sq.-ft. complex is the company’s HQ and also has tenants. The project cost $385,000 and will save about $91,000 annually in energy costs.

One particularly interesting point was in landscaping. The company switched to native plants from green lawns that are costly to maintain. The savings? About a 25 percent reduction in maintenance costs.

Still, some corporations are skittish.

“I think there is still a perception of cost and complication and that can create inertia and fear,” Kliwinski says. “You can assure folks it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg, it’s going to save you money and pay for itself quickly, it’s going to keep your building rented and give you good rates. Once they see that, it’s a question of ‘Why wouldn’t you do it?’”

Clark Brockman, principal, SERA Architects Inc.

Sustainability efforts have so far have focused on predicting how well a building can perform. Clark Brockman says the next frontier will be in guaranteeing building performance, by providing design that is focused on actual performance or “outcome-based.”

“If you look at where we are going it’s going to be, ‘We’re promising this is how it works,’ and eventually I think that method will become law,” he says.

“It’s unclear how quickly that will come about,” he says, noting the outcome-based standard is already in place in parts of Europe and within the GSA’s guidelines, which apply to a large portion of federal projects, both new and major renovations. For example, one GSA requirement is that the building will achieve an Energy Star rating of 97 and reduce potable water use by 20 percent, he says.

“Once building owners realize they can find out exactly how much energy their building will use and they can drive their existing building portfolio to use less energy, eventually they’re going to like this world,” Brockman says. “But it’s an uncomfortable discussion right now.”

Why so uncomfortable? Brockman says it’s because there are still a number of quirks that need to be ironed out.

“For example, if the building codes were actually requiring building energy use to be a code requirement, how do they retain jurisdiction over a project after occupancy?” he says.

Just as transparency in building materials contents is currently a part of LEED v4, Brockman says transparency in energy use will also come in vogue. More cities nationwide are requiring building owners to report their energy and water usage, including New York City, Seattle and San Francisco. Brockman says he expects that trend to continue.

“Building owners are legitimately uncomfortable with the notion of having their buildings’ energy use on display for fear of what it can do to the value of their property,” he says. “But I think we’ll find that there are as many great performers as those who need work and there are a lot of ways to provide assistance to poor performing buildings, but we don’t always know which ones are poor.”