Should LEED continue to lead in green building?

In Salon’s article “How to build a green building without really trying (or caring about the planet),” I was expecting to read a piece on how intuitive it is to use building materials and structural design in a wise and consequently green manner. Boy, I was wrong — about the article.

Writer Daniel Brooks’ focus on LEED certification as the green building movement leader results in a criticism of the state of green building. His premise is that scrutiny of the standard’s application turns out buildings that fit LEED’s happenstance checklist better than true environmental benchmarks.

For example, for the same number of points, designers could add an inexpensive bicycle rack (and not actually change any behavior) or install an efficient heating system - much more expensive, but much more influential on environmental impact.

True, LEED is changing itself a few ways in 2008. It’s teaming up to evaluate communities, not just buildings, and it’s reassessing its checklists. But if our country is to seriously go down the path of green building, LEED isn’t going to suffice.

And because buildings alone account for 39 percent of our emissions, we must be looking into green building and retrofitting. Not to mention, energy efficiency is often called our ‘first fuel’ and is the quickest way to ensure emissions reductions while we develop more comprehensive and long-term solutions.

That said, competition for LEED is welcome, particularly if the marketplace is the most efficient and cost effective place to raise standards. Or perhaps something more like what the California Public Utilities Commission recently initiated. I’ve also heard rumblings over how useful a strict, nation - and industry-wide standard would be (one standard would make building across statelines easier). This is certainly a niche calling out for more policy development, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

– Kari M.

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