Green building. Sustainable design. High- performance building. All of these names have been used to describe the
multidisciplinary field that results in buildings with healthy indoor environments that minimize and efficiently use
resources, and that acknowledge the interdependence between the natural and built environment.
U.S. buildings use 13.6 percent of our water, generate 65 percent of our waste and consume 72 percent of our
electricity. Buildings are among the heaviest consumers of natural resources - 40 percent of the raw materials
globally - and account for a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emissions that affect our deteriorating
atmosphere. Buildings account for 39 percent of the carbon-dioxide emissions per year - more than either the
transportation (33 percent) or industrial (29 percent) sectors. These facts demonstrate why high-performance building
is vital in today's world.
Yet, striving for a high-performance building and actually creating one are two different things. Projects most
likely to succeed require strong, engaged leaders whose vision is translated into tangible performance goals early in
the process and who select the right team for the job. This team, usually consisting of the owner, architects, engineers, contractors and assorted specialists, must work collaboratively, communicate effectively and use the right
technology and tools to meet the owner's requirements.
This is where Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, comes in - as the most comprehensive tool for
measuring and verifying the green attributes of a commercial building. In use for almost a decade, LEED is a
third-party, point-based certification program and a nationally recognized benchmark for the design, construction and
operation of high-performance green buildings.
LEED is a program of the U.S. Green Building Council - a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Industry-led
and consensus-driven, the council's more than 20,000 members include building owners and end-users, real estate
developers, facility managers, architects, designers, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors, product and
building system manufacturers, government agencies and nonprofits.
With volunteer assistance from council members, LEED has been constantly evolving in order to meet the organization's
vision of transforming the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated. Since its inception in
2000, LEED for New Construction - for commercial structures - has had four major upgrades. In 2007, energy efficiency
of at least 14 percent above the required national energy baseline was made mandatory for LEED certification. In
2009, a combination of energy modeling, life-cycle assessment and transportation analysis resulted in a reallocation
of points and increased the relative value of energy efficiency initiatives.
The Green Building Council is currently working to close the gap between buildings' predicted and actual performance.
The Building Performance Initiative was launched in August and is designed to put in place a broad data collection
effort from all LEED- certified buildings, implement an appropriate analysis methodology of that data and provide
feedback for building owners to use in addressing any performance gaps.
As with any human system, LEED is not perfect, nor is it the only tool for measurement. Yet its use provides focus on
a destination and gives high-performance building issues a role in decisions concerning schedule, budget and quality.
LEED also brings integrity by preventing greenwashing," as it is a comprehensive standard with mandatory provisions
that include minimum energy and indoor air-quality performance standards, occupant recycling and commissioning.
The third party verification component elicits team member responsibility and prevents sometimes thorny issues from
being glossed over. This focus requires the entire design and construction team to work together in new and often
These changes can be painful and are often misunderstood as to their intent. So it becomes imperative that everyone
on the team understands the underlying concerns that are driving the choices and decisions that are needed to create
a productive working environment for the occupants and optimum operational functioning of the building itself.
The point of LEED certification is not the points. Consider the painter who profusely thanked me because he did not
go home with a headache for the first time in his career because of the non-toxic paints used on the project. His
health benefited, as did that of all the subsequent occupants of the building.
Several studies, including Cost of Green Revisited" by Davis Langdon, assert that there is no significant difference
in average costs for green buildings as compared to non-green buildings. Even an additional 5 percent in upfront cost
for high-performance initiatives pales in comparison to the operations and maintenance expenses over a typical 30- to
50-year building life span. Less tangible but no less important, employee productivity gains can easily offset
additional upfront costs.
That is not to say that LEED certification is appropriate for all projects. The building's size, budget and owner
expectations are variables to consider. However, institutional building owners have been some of the strongest
proponents of high-performance buildings because of the substantial investment and long-term ownership interests they
have in their buildings.
These owners realize that in order to reduce future operating expenses, they must first collaboratively develop
performance goals and use them as a guide for future decisions - including whether using LEED to meet these goals is
the right choice. To prevent compromising long-term sustainability principles, all those involved with building
projects must engage in honest dialogue, commit to continuous learning and improvement and invest in shared
responsibility for the ultimate outcome.
Michelle Reott is the owner of Durango-based Earthly Ideas LLC - a sustainable design and construction consulting
firm she founded in 1992. Reach her via "http://www.earthly-ideas.com/contact.htm">w "http://www.earthly-ideas.com/contact.htm">ww.earthly- ideas.com/contact.htm.
The Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado endorses this article.