WHAT IS LEED?
Many people are not aware of the many benefits of obtaining a LEED certification. However, before we can explore the many environmental and economic advantages of obtaining a LEED certified building or house; we must first understand what exactly LEED is? The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), announced the creation of a new rating system in the year 2000 for both commercial/residential properties and they identified this environmental program as the, "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design." LEED ratings are used to certify buildings that meet certain environmental metrics like a reduced CO2 emissions, water usage, and overall improved energy efficiency. Although many other sustainable development certification standards exist today, the LEED certification has currently become the gold standard for any environmentally friendly project available today.
Much more than just an assessment of the final product, LEED measures nine different environmental categories. They include:
Sustainable SitesWater EfficiencyEnergy & AtmosphereMaterials & ResourcesIndoor Environment QualityLocations & LinkagesAwareness & EducationInnovation in DesignRegional Priority
These categories use a point system which is then used as the data when applying for LEED certification. Some of the most optimal sustainable methods to earn points include building on previously used land, which falls under both the Sustainable Sites and Locations & Linkages categories. In addition, ideal points can be earned for limiting impact to the ecosystem, reducing pollution and soil erosion, and controlling storm water runoff. Appliances that save water and electricity are a great way to earn both Water Efficiency and Energy & Atmosphere points. Of course, Recycling, waste reduction and sustainable production processes are also encouraged in the Materials & Resources category.
In general, the LEED certification standard has been well-received, and highly sought after. Not only is there prestige associated with being LEED certified, but developers and builders have learned that promoting environmentally friendly and sustainable building methods is great for both the property value and marketability of their business. i.e. In most cases, just having a LEED Certified story behind your business can substantially increase the investment value by upwards of 10%-15%.
SHORTCOMINGS OF LEED LEADING TO NEW STANDARDS
Although extremely efficient, the LEED certification process is not as foolproof as originally hoped. Over the years, several complaints have arisen regarding the ease with which certifications can be obtained. For example, builders and developers can include systems that allow them to check things off a list and gain points in the short-term, but they never have to actually intend to use those systems in the long-run. In addition, points can be awarded, but not deducted. There's no pragmatic incentive for including a comprehensive environmental plan in new construction.
Taking these criticisms into account, the U.S. Green Building Council is proposing changes aimed at addressing most of the primary concerns. For example, the U.S.G.B.C has announced that a new ratings system, "LEED 2012." This new standard will be rolled out this November 2011. This new system will require LEED-certified buildings to make sustainable upgrades with information readily available in the hopes of encouraging more transparency and data-sharing. It will also require buildings to undergo a re-certification process every five years.
If nothing else, LEED certification raises awareness about the overwhelming need to start thinking long-term about the environmental impacts of development methods and construction practices. As the U.S.G.B.C continues improving its certification process, there primary goal is "Leeding the Way" for a safer future that our children's children can be thankful for.