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LEED Certified Buildings Aren't Perfect: But They Were Never Meant to Be

posted 10 Feb 2013, 07:53 by Yusuf Turab
Ram asks: LEED places no restrictions on the size of the building, home etc, relative to a person's needs. Say, that we need a 2000 sq.ft place for X people. Then LEED should not give any points for buildings over 2000. First allowing a person, an organization to build an unrestricted building. Then asking them to be energy efficient. Means what? It is like asking a V8-Ram Charger to be a Hybrid. Just pull out the spare tire and get better mileage. For instance, everybody in the rest of the world uses a daily water requirement per person as 150 litres. In the US, it is like 150 gallons. And then you ask someone here to be conscious of water usage. Imagine using chlorinated and flourished water for gardening. This is drinking water. In most material usage, US with a 5% of the world population uses 25% of world raw materials. And in some cases, it uses 64% of the world materials. If someone uses 64%, and agrees to use 60%, looks like LEED will award some points for that. I would arrest that person for robbing world resources. Should we coin 2 terms - Restricted LEED and Unrestricted LEED. In my Rural projects in India, I have always used Rainwater harvesting, Recycling of waste, using bricks with fly-ash, making 5% cement bricks using sun-dried bricks. All parking lots with gratings to allow water percolation. By this token, I should get a LEED diamond rating. But it means nothing. Please Google these 2 - Auroville Earth Institute and an architect named Laurie baker - both from India. Common on, let us take LEED a few more steps higher and real?

Advice provided by: Yusuf Turab, Y T Enterprises

Dear Ram

You raise some fair points and they have been raised a few times before. The issues you have raised are related mainly to politics, culture and economics of a place and its people.

Firstly, you have to appreciate the fact that LEED or for that matter none of the Green building rating systems are perfect. They have never claimed to be and will probably never become in the future either. But they are the best we have got and I believe every project does have to go beyond rating systems to truly deliver value to stake holders and protect the environment along the way. This is already happening in many projects in India where promoters have brought in the concept of Green living within plain old LEED certified Green buildings. I recently wrote a blog on what I believe is the true difference between the term Green and the term Environmentally friendly. You can read it by following the link here.

Coming to your point about restricting the space based on the expected number of full time occupants; this is already happening as building is an expensive exercise and no one wants to build more that what they need.

In some cases it is always better to build a little bit extra as it is almost impossible to predict exactly how many people will use the building and how the building will be used 10-15-30 years down the line. Many have tried and failed miserably. A promoter is always required to plan for the future and it is also better for the occupants if a building can absorb changes without any additional construction.

Secondly, it is not the job of a rating system like LEED to teach one moral ethics or tell how much one should build, this should be done by the government planning authority when any plan is sent for approval. LEED was never designed to teach people how to live more responsibly, how to consume smartly or how to make a positive impact on the environment on a daily basis. Such things require high levels of awareness and a massive cultural change and do not happen overnight. The purpose of LEED is to inform the building owners, users, occupants and other stakeholders that the building has been built in an environmentally conscious manner and has taken account of their health, comfort and well-being.

The point about over consumption in the US is a separate issue. Over the last century the US economy has been built around consumption using cheap credit and this model has been tremendously successful in economic terms. The world is a little different now and this is changing slowly with people consuming more responsibly. The change is going to take a few decades and the emissions in the US will eventually come down to at least the European levels.

Your point about restricted and unrestricted LEED might require more deliberation. But at this point I do not see why a customer would want to buy space in a restricted LEED building over an unrestricted LEED building specially when they might be priced exactly the same. The more important change LEED needs right now is of combining its rating systems. USGBC needs to consider making it mandatory for all LEED New Construction buildings to go in for a LEED EBOM rating after every 5 - 7 years of occupancy. If buildings do not comply they should lose their LEED NC rating all together. Maybe there could be other incentive attached like paying only half for the LEED EBOM certification. This will ensure that a building remains green through out its life and the promoters do not keep bragging about their building's green credentials well after it is all the technology within it is completely outdated.

Let me know what you think.