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A There is no question that Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the green-building
rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council
(USGBC), has been a success. After all, its original mission
was one of market transformation. In my professional
career, no other tool has been as powerful in encouraging
designers and builders to look at the environmental performance
of buildings, says Bob Berkebile, FAIA, principal of
BNIM Architects in Kansas City, Missouri, founding chairman
of AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE), and former board
member of USGBC.
Today, LEED has virtually become a household
word. More and more projects have been registered, and LEED
ratings increasingly find their way into marketing brochures
distributed by developers, building owners, architects, and
contractors. Accredited professionals proudly add LEED
to their titles, and most significantly, numerous federal
agencies and state and local governments require some form
of LEED certification. Green architecture is no longer a fringe
Despite the fact that LEED has beenand
remainsa critical tool in making this necessary transformation,
its far from perfect. Recent assessments of LEED from
various sources have pointed out some of its more glaring
flaws. This doesnt surprise many of its original developers.
Referring to that pivotal moment when the decision was made
to release a sustainable measurement tool that would address
commercial office buildings, Berkebile recalls that the USGBC
volunteers knew that it was clumsy and limited, and
many wanted to wait until it could be put on more scientific
footing, but more wanted to get something out quickly.
Berkebile continues, What was shocking was that many
agencies and cities so quickly embraced it as their tool,
not realizing that it was not regional, did not do life-cycle
analysis, and was focused on corporate buildings.
The ABCs of LEED
In the early 1990s, many facets of the
building sector appeared skepticalif not outright hostileabout
the green movement. The construction industry, like a tanker
cruising in one direction, was not in a position to quickly
or easily turn 180-degrees. For example, some building-product
manufacturers, unprepared for questions regarding the environmental
impact of their materials, were fearful of releasing proprietary
information. And contractors, accustomed to certain business
practices, saw no financial incentives in changing their ways.
Although scientific evidence suggested that standard construction
processes contributed to environmental degradation, no one
was able to clearly quantify which methods were worse or which
alternatives were better. The industry was still groping for
a widely accepted definition and measurement of green building.
Many sought a safe forum within which the different facets
could consider the economical, environmental, and social costs
and benefits generated by various design and construction
options and could forge a path through the many unknowns to
establish a workable, positive action plan.
of the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco
supports 30,000 square feet of photovoltaic
panels (installed by PowerLight Corporation),
a technology encouraged by LEED.
Photography: Courtesy PowerLight Corporation
The USGBC was formed in 1993 as a coalition
of a handful of building-related organizations to serve this
role. By 1995, staff and volunteers began to develop a digital
measuring tool for sustainable buildings.Version 1.0 of LEED
for New Construction (LEED-NC) was piloted in 1999, and version
2.0 publicly launched in March 2000. Since then, about 1,900
projects have registered to use LEED-NC, and another 200 have
been certified under it.