LEEDing the Way: The "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" Rating System Will Inevitably Foster Greener Buildings and More Sustainable Communities

Article excerpt

OUR BUILDINGS are changing, but scarcely anyone's noticing. Don't worry; you will soon. When you notice your neighbours talking about grass roofs and ground-source heating, and berating the carpenter if he or she doesn't use a low-VOC glue, you'll know it's happening.

People have been building creative, eco-friendly homes ever since the 1960s, and earlier. There are passive solar homes, Earthships (using old tires), cob homes and straw-bale homes scattered all across North America.

As the world slowly becomes more eco-aware, things seem to evolve in three stages. In stage one, a few leaders step out, taking the slings and arrows as they come. In stage two, there's enough public understanding to support the introduction of a voluntary labeling system, such as "certified organic food," or "FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) timber." By stage three, public support is strong enough that politicians can introduce legislation to guide us down a certain route, or phase out certain products or behaviours altogether, such as pesticides, clearcutting and formaldehyde.

Thanks to the US Green Building Council and the newly formed Canada Green Building Council, green building has just entered stage two, with a certification program the market has embraced. LEED (which stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design") is a green buildings rating and certification system. So far, it exists for commercial and institutional buildings, both new and rehabilitated. LEED for homes is in the pipeline, and a LEED for neighbourhoods is being discussed.

The goal of LEED is of course to encourage beautiful, healthy green buildings with a minimized impact on the earth. But advocates of LEED hope it will do much more than that--they hope LEED will actually transform the building marketplace. As people get better at meeting LEED credits, the standards will get more challenging in order to continually encourage the market to improve.

If you are an architect or developer who wants to be on the cutting edge of green design, LEED has a checklist of 70 points to guide your thinking. The points are divided between six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. A building that scores between 26 and 32 points will be LEED certified. A score of 33 to 38 will be awarded LEED silver, 39 to 51 LEED gold, and a building that scores 52 or more points will be awarded LEED platinum.

But more to the point, you'll also get some very satisfied tenants who discover that living and working in a green building is ... well ... wonderful! This is the feedback that green building owners have been receiving, and it's nearly all due to just three of the many aspects that make a building green: natural ventilation, natural daylighting and non-toxic building materials.

For the earth, it's great that a green, LEED-certified building uses less energy and less water. It's great that it may have solar panels, solar hot water, and maybe a grass roof. It's great that some of its materials are made from recycled stock, some are reused building materials, and that almost all the construction waste has been recycled. It's great that the building may recycle its rainwater into water-efficient toilets, and collect its storm water in natural swales or wetlands where it can seep back down into the earth. It's great that there's less parking, the best facilities for cyclists, transit stops nearby, and maybe a recharging post for electric vehicles. It's great that the lights from the building don't pollute the darkness of the night sky.

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For its human occupants, however, the most remarkable discovery is that fresh air feels so good. We have grown sadly accustomed to the stale, polluted air that lingers in so many buildings, pumped through the often dirty pipes of heating and ventilation systems. …