What’s Up with LEED

Posted on December 9, 2011


LEED is No Longer Leading

Once upon a time, an organisation came along with the intent to change the way we build buildings. Their goal was to create a rating system that would encourage clients and architects to design their buildings sustainably to better our world. That group is the USGBC and their method is the LEED rating system.

“The U.S. Green Building Council is a non-profit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everyone within a generation.”

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally-recognized green building certification system. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in March 2000, LEED provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.”

So, what happened? It started off well. They did raise awareness in sustainable design. They helped bring it to the forefront of building technology and make it a large part of the design process. Somewhere along the way, they veered off course. There have been numberous reports showing that LEED certified buildings aren’t actually better performing than the energy suckers we’d been building. There are many people who are critical of the USGBC and LEED for taking a lazy approach on sustainable design and for good reason. LEED really only takes into consideration the construction process and types of materials and systems used. There is nothing to ensure that the buildings actually perform over time in the ways that they’re intended and there is no enforcement of the principles claimed by the design team. If you claim to be able to use natural ventilation in your building, but then never actually open windows and run the AC non-stop, then what good are you doing? What if your systems end up being inefficient or you use materials that need to be replaced too often because of their poor quality?

LEED Certified parking garage…seriously!?

[Image Source: Inhabit]

There’s also the cost of going through the LEED process. It’s a very large chunk of change to have the title of a LEED building, whereas many other green rating systems cost considerably less with much better guidelines to ensure a more “green” building. I’m not going to break down any other rating systems since that would make this post considerably longer, but BREEAMCASBEEGBToolGreen Globes and Living Building Challenge are a few of the other options.

KAUST, You’re Doing it Wrong

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Wow, that’s a mouthful

[Image Source: Archdaily]

Here is the problem with so called “sustainable design” and LEED especially. This is taken from the November 2010 issue of Arch Record from the article on the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST):

“Creating a city out of nothing so remote from much of its own country’s population, and farther still from the professors and students with whom it wishes to collaborate, defies the very notion of sustainability. Filling the campus with high-energy-intensity lab buildings – despite the well-intentioned research conducted within them – in one of the world’s most extreme climates, seems counterintuitive; blanketing parts of its desert site in turf grass and adding a golf course, downright absurd. These were decisions beyond HOK’s control. It was charged with making the design, construction, and operation of the buildings themselves as sustainable as possible within the project’s accelerated time frame. Despite the fact that construction of the buildings used more than 16 million cubic feet of conventional concrete and all of the buildings’ interior spaces require air-conditioning, the project still managed to garner the highest possible LEED rating, which speaks to obvious shortcomings of LEED.”

LEED was a good idea to get people to start to think about building more responsibly and changing the way we think about construction, but ever since it’s conception it has consistently failed in doing much more than making those involved in the program rich and turning itself into a huge organization more concerned with power and influence than doing anything worthwhile for the built environment. Situations such as KAUST should get nowhere near a positive rating in any “green rating system”. Our problem as architects and as a society at whole has been our inability or unwillingness to look at problems as a part of a larger system. Just because the building itself is “green” doesn’t hide the fact that its place in a larger whole is incredibly destructive. We (architects and citizens) need to take more responsibility for the things that we do. We need to stop saying how “green” we are when we don’t even know the meaning of the word. We need to start thinking of our buildings as a part of a much larger organism in which we live and work. If our work is regenerative (giving back to the system and benefiting our society and the environment) and not just sustainable (to just get by, but by definition can still be harmful to the whole), then we can truly say we are “green”.

Posted in: Architecture, Rant