I realized that I had mentioned LEED in my previous post and not everyone may know what that means. LEED, or “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” is a Green Building certification program that certifies buildings that employ best-practices and strategies for sustainable construction and operation. It is essentially a set of requirements that a building must meet, and a checklist of sustainable practices that buildings can earn points towards, to achieve various levels of certification. There are four levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
LEED was one of the first programs to take on the sustainability initiative. It is a first step towards creating buildings that are either completely net-zero (meaning they contribute no pollution into the system) or even net-positive (meaning they actually contribute BACK to the system). But what astounds me is that all through my schooling the majority of my professors were highly critical of LEED. They told us it was merely a checklist and the sustainability it included was not true sustainability and it didn’t go far enough. They basically stuck their noses up at it. However, as I have been working through the study material, and working on one of our LEED projects, I am quite positive they are severely misunderstanding the point.
True enough LEED is simply a checklist for projects to gain points, but to gain those points there are many strategies AND pretty stringent requirements that a building must have incorporated all through the process of design, construction, and completion. For sure LEED could go further with the sustainability strategies it employs, but quite frankly, how can one be so critical if the alternative is to do nothing at all? At least LEED buildings are taking steps towards creating a better world, and THERE ARE additional credits you can gain for being ‘innovative’ (as my professors, and others, would have it). The point of LEED is to start getting everyone on board with what will be the future of architecture. Sustainability will become more and more important as the impacts we have on our environment are felt. And what we have to remember is LEED is not just about the environment, it is also about the health and safety of the people who occupy buildings. Of course it is not the be all, end all, and there are many things about it that could be better, but instead of dismissing it completely we should be teaching it in schools, so that the next generation of architects can improve upon it.
So in my opinion here are 5 reasons we should be using LEED now:
1 – Sustainable Building Practices
LEED outlines 7 areas a building can improve upon to perform above the standard: Location and Transportation (how can people access public transit? how does your site and building location have an impact on the surrounding community? etc.), Sustainable Sites (talks about what you are doing on your site to renew habitat, shed water properly, avoid heat islands etc.), Water Efficiency (which has to do with plumbing, water run-off from the building etc.), Energy and Atmosphere (how good is the building envelope? what are the energy savings? how does it do its part to not pollute as much? etc.), Materials and Resources (are you using recycled materials? local materials? Reusing materials? do you have a waste management plan?), Indoor Environmental Quality (is your ventilation efficient? Are there views and daylight for occupants? etc.), and finally Innovation in Design (which allows for buildings to either show exemplary performance in one of the credits OR come up with some new way of being sustainable that is quantifiable). I would call this pretty comprehensive – and although you do not have to achieve all the credits and we can pick and choose – not all buildings are able to afford, or can be perfect.
2 – Teamwork – LEED promotes the working together of ALL the professionals and trades working on the project. It requires coordination from the start and dedication to reaching these goals – because when going through the process of designing and constructing a building it is not easy to keep track of everything and everyone, particularly on huge buildings. Nor really is it standard practice in North America (and many other parts of the world of course), so it is often difficult to get people to move out of their comfort zone as there are definitely particular ways things are done in construction.
3 – Creates Responsibility – in this way, having everyone be aware from the beginning of their requirements to reach the LEED goals, it forces people to take more responsibility in their roles and perhaps makes them more aware of previous ways they have done things that are not very sustainable. Take the Waste Management portion of LEED for example – construction and demolition waste contributes to at least 35% of landfill waste – and if we are forced to reduce that percentage we come to realize that not everything we are throwing away should be thrown away.
4 – Promotes Awareness – this is obvious – but it is not just about promoting awareness within the field of architecture and construction, but also promoting awareness with clients and the general public. Convincing clients to have a LEED or even a more sustainable building is often difficult, as the upfront costs are much higher than traditional buildings. However, over the period of its life a sustainable building will cost less in the long run than others. Educating the general public comes in many forms, and LEED allows for credits to be gained for educational outreach programs that come directly from the building itself (i.e. real time updates on energy, water usage, etc., class tours, written material etc.).
5 – Allows for Innovation – LEED is not a static system, and neither is sustainability. Every year we come up with newer and better ways to employ sustainable practices within our architecture. Whether it be movable facades that reduce the use of energy through shading, or technologies within the building like occupancy sensors, and monitoring systems that help control electrical and mechanical systems – we are starting to see things change. These types of innovations are recognized as part of the LEED rating system.
I think that even if you do not agree with the LEED program, you should at least agree with the fact that it is trying to promote sustainability and educate architects, and other professions, on how we can begin to change the way we think about architecture. I did learn about sustainability in school, and it was fairly comprehensive BUT we should be at least giving the option for students to learn more about programs such as LEED, in order to provide a better understanding of where the profession is going. Even if professors (and hey NOT JUST IN ARCHITECTURE) used LEED as an example of how to do it better, and actually taught the material, it would be a giant step forward in the right direction for championing sustainable practices (and yes I am generalizing a bit based on my own experience – I am sure there are many architecture schools out there that do a really good job of teaching this subject). Regardless, I am determined to gain my own personal education through this program, and I am certainly glad I have started – in the short few months I have been studying, having discussions with my coworkers, and working on LEED projects, I have learned a great deal about what we can do to make things better.
Also when I looked it up – Calgary has over 300 LEED certified buildings!