In January of 2004, there appeared in this column the first of a three-part series entitled: “LEED: Leading the Way.” It took an in-depth look at LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) green building rating/certification program. I promised readers I would continue to keep them up-to-date concerning the LEED program at regular intervals.

In January of 2004, there appeared in this column the first of a three-part series entitled: “LEED: Leading the Way.” It took an in-depth look at LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) green

building rating/certification program that has, quite literally, changed the way America––and the world––builds. So much had transpired concerning LEED in the intervening time that in September 2005, another three-part about LEED appeared titled, “LEED Update.” In that series I promised readers I would continue to keep them up-to-date concerning the LEED program at regular intervals.

Accelerated Agenda

In November 2006, 13,000 USGBC members attended the annual Greenbuild Conference held that year in Denver, Colo. The big news out of Greenbuild ’06 was the USGBC’s intentions to use their LEED program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by the built environment dramatically. Initially, this would include two new minimum requirements for all LEED-certified projects. First, reduce all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50 percent. Second, require a minimum of two out of 10 points under Energy & Atmosphere (EA) Credit 1: Energy Optimization, be achieved.

Mark Twain said there were three types of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics. Unfortunately, the statistics concerning the pollution caused by the built environment are all too true. Transportation and industry account for 33 percent and 29 percent of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels respectively. However, the lion’s share: 38 percent is directly attributable to buildings. Through the year 2030, the USGBC projects an increase of 1.8 percent per year of CO2 emissions. LEED-certified buildings, when compared to conventional buildings, reduce carbon emissions by about 40 percent. Unfortunately, as of December 2006––after six years of the LEED program, only 600 buildings had been LEED-certified; too few to make a significant difference.

The USGBC is determined to change this snail’s-pace of certification with a bold initiative. By 2010, they want no less than 100,000 LEED-certified commercial buildings and one million LEED-certified homes. By 2020, the USGBC wants a 10-fold increase of their 2010 goals: one million LEED-certified commercial buildings and ten million LEED-certified homes. Talk about a big ambition!

These extraordinary figures/goals are not pie-in-the-sky, they are based on real concerns and needs. Derived from the Kyoto Protocols, 80 million metric tons of CO2 emissions must be eliminated by the year 2020 to avoid catastrophic climate change in the form of global warming encompassing glacial meltdown, tsunamis, floods etc. To eliminate these 80 million metric tons, the equivalent of one million commercial buildings or 40 percent of all new and existing commercial buildings must reduce their CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2020. If just half of all new buildings used 50 percent less energy, the annual savings of CO2 emissions would be the equivalent of six million metric tons: about the same polluting effect of one million automobiles.

Challenge Accepted

With the main focus of Greenbuild ’06 being global warming/climate change, the USGBC issued their “2030 Challenge.” By the year 2030, they challenge the design/build community to reduce the operating energy for all new buildings by 50 percent along with providing “carbon-neutral” buildings. To meet this challenge, the USGBC is partnering with the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Enterprise Community Partners to develop affordable green housing. Getting to the very heart of the design process itself with the hope of allowing building designers to envision the carbon “footprint” of a building from its inception, Autodesk and the USGBC are allying themselves with the hope of “mainstreaming” sustainable design while, at the same time, expanding the potential for environmentally sustainable/responsible designs.

Wanting to set an example of environmental responsibility for others to emulate via “carbon offsetting” (reducing by action the release of carbon into the atmosphere), the USGBC moved its headquarters in suburban Washington D.C. to a downtown location whereby its employees can use mass transit rather than their fossil-fuel powered cars to get to work. Recognizing that existing buildings represent 90 percent of the problem therefore; by any logical interpretation they also represent 90 percent of the potential solution, all LEED-NC (New Construction and Major Renovation) and LEED-C&S (Core & Shell) certified projects will be automatically registered free-of-charge under LEED-EB (Existing Buildings).

As mentioned in LEED Update, for every new building there are 80 existing buildings in the United States. Also, for the purpose of achieving higher LEED certification levels, the USGBC is offering a rebate on certification fees (about $2,000 to $3,000) for all LEED platinum certified buildings. Though not a significant amount of money in the vast scheme of things, the gesture was “good politics” on the part of the USGBC and was widely praised.

Beyond Platinum

The highest LEED certification level is the much-coveted “LEED Platinum.” If the Cascadia Regional Green Building Council (CRGBC)––a chapter of both the USGBC and the CaGBC (Canadian Green Building Council) has its way, platinum LEED will have to take a back-seat to an even higher certification level.

At Greenbuild ’06, the CRGBC issued a “Living Building Challenge” which would become the pinnacle and holy grail of green building recognition. The CRGBC defines their Living Building Challenge as: “To define a true measure of sustainability in the built environment based on the best current thinking possible.”

Certification under the living building mantle will include 16 prerequisites but no credits nor will it include Olympic-style “levels” of certification: Certified (formerly Bronze), Silver, Gold and Platinum, as are applied to the LEED programs. Either an applicant meets or does not meet the Living Building requirements. However, to achieve this higher standard an applicant will be subjected to a more rigorous review process than even LEED platinum currently requires. As well, the certification will be performance rather than prescriptive-based. Though more difficult to document, a performance basis allows for more creativity and flexibility than the more easily documented but more rigid, inflexible prescriptive basis.

Not intending to make the living building a competitor to LEED, the CRGBC is ready and willing to work in collaboration with the USBGC and CaGBC to achieve this higher standard collectively rather than independently. At Greenbuild ’06, 12 developers expressed interest in the living building challenge and, in general, interest in it was high. One aspect of the program will be the retention of award of living building certification until the building/facility has been in operation for one full year. The CRGBC expects to certify the first living building sometime in 2009.

Though too involved to describe in detail here, prerequisites for living building certification will include:
1) Responsible site selection
2) Limits to growth
3) Habitat exchange
4) Net-zero energy
5) Materials red list
6) Construction carbon footprint
7) Responsible industry
8) Appropriate materials and services radius
9) Construction waste
10) Net-zero water
11) Sustainable water discharge
12) Civilized work environment
13) Healthy air & source control
14) Ventilation
15) Beauty & spirit
16) Inspiration & education

Next time, in part two, we’ll continue with our look at what’s been going on with LEED. We’ll see how the USGBC plans to meet its stated goals with volume certification and we’ll also take a look at what’s been happening with the LEED for Homes (LEED-H) initiative.