LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

The USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) was founded in 1993 with the mission “To transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.”

In 2000, the USGBC unveiled a certification system, known as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). In the eighteen years since its inception, LEED has helped transform the way we think about designing and operating buildings. Their four-tiered certification system rates buildings according to expected environmental performance as Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Moving from one tier to the next through a point system, a primary focus is energy reduction. As the design becomes more energy efficient, points are gathered.

LEED certification has grown to become the standard by which the ecological responsibility of most green building projects is measured. While the various LEED standards have increased awareness and implementation of sustainability in new and retrofitted architecture, there are multiple areas in which the certification and its process are lacking. With the exception of the sun and wind, the resources we use to power and/or heat our buildings are finite. We will eventually run out of these resources. So, while LEED Platinum buildings will slow the depletion, it will not avoid it entirely.

As such, increasing attention has been paid to alternative certifications that go beyond LEED, most notably in the form of the Living Future Institute and their Living Building Challenge.
This challenge is to design a building that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water, takes care of occupants, and is aesthetically beautiful. The Living Building Challenge uses the metaphor of a flower as its unifying theme. The flower’s petals are: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty.

This initiative must also include retrofitting older buildings which is far more cost and energy efficient than building new. A study published in 2011 entitled “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse” published by Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, WA, with help from the USGBC Cascadia Chapter, Skanska, Green Building Services and others revealed, “Building reuse almost always yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction, when comparing buildings of similar size and functionality.”

The report goes on to state, “The range of environmental savings from building reuse varies widely, based on building type, location, and assumed level of energy efficiency. Savings from reuse are between 4 and 46 percent over new construction when comparing buildings with the same energy performance level.”

This report finds it takes 10 to 80 years for a new building that is 30% more efficient than an average-performing existing building to overcome, through efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts related to the construction process. So, we still have a long way to go in constructing restorative buildings and becoming truly sustainable.

LEED has created awareness of green building technologies and has made products and processes that weren’t common, now standard practice. The next step is to become truly sustainable. While LEED postpones the depletion of natural resources, The Living Building Challenge, if implemented, will further delay if not end the inevitable destruction of our resources and environment.

Whether interested in a certified design or simply looking to be environmentally responsible, let the professionals at C.T. Male Associates assist you in designing your next truly sustainable project. Contact Nick Lobosco, R.A. at 518.786.7400 or n.lobosco@ctmale.com">n.lobosco@ctmale.com for more information.