Measuring Green Standards

30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In the discussion of addressing climate change, the role of buildings and their energy consumption is a crucial factor. According to a study published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the building industry accounts for nearly 48 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States per year. Both governmental and institutional organizations have created initiatives to reduce the current emission rate, such as the goals listed above. While these numbers vary in time and scale, they all hold one common ground. Adapting sustainable building practices has the potential to tackle the needs of the current climate changing world. Addressing this need, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has become the necessary standard for green building design.

Created in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGCB), LEED offers a framework for holistic, sustainable building methods. A project applying for LEED certification can potentially earn up to 100 points for specific design elements in 6 different categories. This standard expands beyond energy efficiency, and takes into consideration the materials, site, water efficiency, design innovation and indoor environmental quality of the proposed project. Points within these categories are distributed based on potential environmental and user benefits. A building that receives 40 points is certified, and more points are necessary to receive silver, gold, or platinum rankings.

Any type of building can apply to be LEED certified, including public buildings, commercial offices, individual homes, etc. According to the statistics provided by USGCB, “LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world with 1.8 million square feet of construction space certifying every day.” There are currently 72,000 projects participating in LEED across 150 countries. The reason why LEED so widely adapted is due its flexibility and holistic approach to sustainable design. It emphasizes all aspects of the building process. The operation and maintenance of building are as important as the original design process to maintain energy efficiency. This standard can also be applied both to new construction projects and renovation projects.

However, the LEED standard falls short in the long term. “LEED is a design tool, not a measure of a building’s energy performance,” points out Maya Ezzeddine, manager of the NY Passive House organization. The published energy reduction of LEED buildings are based on design projections. A measure of energy performance is not one of the requirements needed for certification. In many cases, the projected energy efficiency and the actual performance do not add up. The design requirements are also not site specific. Design decisions which are not the most site or climate appropriate can be made by designers as a quick way to earn points for certification.

While LEED may not measure energy performance of a building, it provides another valuable approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. LEED for Neighborhood Development broadens the sustainable framework to a larger scale, by looking beyond the scale of individual buildings. “Unfortunately, it is not enough for green building to lessen the effects that humans have on our climate. It must also prepare us for the inevitable consequences of climate change on our homes, communities, and society as a whole,” writes Nora Knox, Digital Marketing Manager of USGBC. The LEED standard for neighborhoods seeks to reduce other potential greenhouse gas emissions on the site of the building. For example, access to public transportation, bike paths, or walkways play a significant role in how the buildings’ users decide to travel. This is only one example of how design can influence a person’s daily activities to be more sustainable sound.

“LEED planted the seed of sustainable architecture, but now we need more. Ideally, the combination of high-performing buildings and high-performing communities will maximize the efficiency of sustainable design.”