If you follow any news about the sustainable design of architecture and neighborhoods you have probably come across the term LEED. It stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it’s a series of rating systems created by the United States Green Building Council.
The first LEED Rating System created was for new construction, which focused more on the construction of commercial, institutional, and larger residential buildings. But because having one rating system didn’t allow to take into account the nuances that are specific for a particular building type other rating systems were created.
It’s been argued that these rating systems have just created another layer of bureaucracy within the process of designing and constructing a building, and in some regards those people would be right. It’s already difficult enough to design a building in accordance to pertinent building codes, accessibility codes, and other relevant guidelines. But what these rating systems have done quite successfully is to provide a baseline for measuring the level of sustainability attained by a building. Without any rating system a project could be self-described as a green building because of one aspect of the design, essentially green-washing the project to make it appear it’s more sustainable than it really is.
There is a cost associated with pursuing LEED certification, which essentially promotes the growth of these systems and provides a marketing opportunity for the building. Of course a building can be sustainable without being LEED certified, but if there’s a need to essentially prove your building’s level of sustainability (including charging a premium in selling or leasing your building) it definitely helps to have the legitimacy of LEED certification.
And another important attribute of the LEED Rating Systems is that it’s continuously updated based on newer technologies and current building practices. I’ve worked on a project in the U.S. Southwest that benefited from how the most current version of the rating system defined an urban environment. The previous version defined an urban environment in a manner (i.e. minimum density of 60,000 square feet per acre) that essentially prohibited any project built within cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas from attaining any points related to building a structure in an existing neighborhood. Because this minimum density rarely occurs in some cities the rating system adapted and now provides other baseline measurements.
LEED does create another layer of requirements for designing and constructing a building, but the LEED Rating Systems provides legitimacy to a project’s holistic approach to sustainability.