Last month the US Green Building Council announced another LEED-related milestone: The total footprint of LEED-certified commercial projects worldwide has hit the 2-billion-square-foot mark. Perhaps more significantly, another 7 billion square feet worth of projects is in the works, either registered with the organization or under construction.
According to the USGBC, LEED-certified commercial space–almost 50,000 projects in total–have been built or are underway in 130 different countries. This is in addition to homes and residential buildings (23,000 built and 86,000 registered).
That so many buildings are registered shows that LEED–which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design–continues to gain momentum at an astonishing pace. And LEED is not the only certification program for sustainable or green building; other rating systems have slightly different emphases and goals but also many points of overlap. These systems include the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s Envision rating system for infrastructure projects, the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes, and others. Some focus specifically on landscaping rather than buildings; the article on page 62 of this issue details some of these, such as Seattle’s Green Factor scoring system and, internationally, Berlin’s Biotope Area Factor and MalmÃ¶, Sweden’s Green Space Factor. Almost all include stormwater measures in some fashion; LEED for New Construction, for example, offers credits for Stormwater Quality Control, and other LEED guidelines include points for keeping development out of the floodplain, controlling erosion during construction, and other related considerations.
What is it about these systems that has made them catch on so quickly? And why do we need them? After all, a well-thought-out project, designed for its environment and built with the right materials, could always achieve energy efficiency, with or without a checklist. A large budget never hurt, either, especially when such buildings were mainly one-offs, custom designed, and focused on the kinds of efficiencies and values that weren’t necessarily common practice at the time.
One thing these rating systems and their associated design standards have accomplished is to make green construction less expensive. Through more widespread knowledge of ways to achieve greater energy or water efficiency, and through economies of scale as suppliers make the necessary materials more widely available, prices have come down so that today a green building–even one that achieves LEED Platinum certification–does not necessarily cost more to design or construct. And companies and individuals increasingly view green building practices not only as a way to save money on energy, water, and building maintenance, but also as an investment: Going green enhances a company’s public image and may increase the resale value of a private home.
Maybe even more importantly, the ubiquity of these systems has made “green building” recognizable, common, and in many cases expected. I remember attending a sustainability conference more than a decade ago where most of the participants seemed to despair that truly sustainable building practices would ever catch on–the cost, the lack of incentive, and general apathy among the development community and the public at large seemed to doom them. LEED was founded in 1998, and although it has had a remarkably rapid spread considering the magnitude of the changes in practices, materials, and attitudes that it requires, it hadn’t yet reached the point then that most of the conference participants either knew about it or had much hope for its success.What has your experience been with these types of rating systems, particularly with regard to stormwater and water efficiency? Does local government in your area require public projects to use them? Do you see room for improvement? Share your thoughts below.