Monday, August 31, 2009

LEED is a Work in Progress

A good New York Times article today discussing some of the kinks in LEED, specifically how some LEED certified buildings perform with regard to energy and water usage ("life cycle costs" in LEED terms). Newer versions of LEED seem to be taking this into account by requiring higher minimum numbers of energy credits so that "gas guzzler" buildings can't qualify by getting all their credits in sitework and materials and ignoring energy completely.

The USGBC plans to continue raising the bar, and the article cites that it is considering moving more toward the Energy Star model, in which buildings only get kudos for energy usage for the year or period in which the award is given.

The bar for LEED will also inevitably get higher and higher as we move forward. A presenter at CNU 17 described an aggressive track for increased standards that many are pushing the USGBC to implement. With this model, the standards for LEED Gold today will ultimately become the standards for simple LEED certification over the next decade. Concurrently, net zero energy usage for buildings would become a requirement to attain a higher-tier award like gold or platinum, and ultimately would be demanded of any LEED certified building.

The time is now to start pushing designers and builders with more stringent requirements. The fifth paragraph of the NYT article from before describes how "builders covet LEED certification" as a major marketing tool and a way to obtain tax credits. LEED has become so recognized by the general public that developers are now pursuing certification to attract clients. This is great - we want sustainability to be "in", the norm, the next cool thing, but as long as it's the right kind of sustainability. The USGBC needs to tweak the standards higher and higher starting now and over the next few years now that it has the collective attention of the nation. If this does not happen now or soon, LEED risks being lost forever in the growing greenwashing market.

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