The statistics are staggering:
In the United States, buildings account for an estimated 40 percent
of our total energy consumption, 40 percent of our landfill waste
and 50 percent of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon production.
Americans use more than five billion gallons of purified water
each day to flush toilets while many countries struggle to supply
enough clean water for drinking. And from 1982-1992, more than
1,000 acres of prime farmland were destroyed every day by sprawl.
A century ago, Earth was thought to be infinitely resilient and boundless in
resources. Today, ecological crisis and decline has shattered this misconception
and forced us to check our use. As a result, a growing segment of the building
industry, including architects, engineers and contractors, have recognized our
nation’s shared responsibility to limit, conserve and ultimately create
a more sustainable world.
For an architect, client, owner or other building professional, sustainable building
translates to design that makes sense for today and tomorrow. Sustainable building
is the ultimate form of user-friendly design for both construction and renovation.
Sustainable building cost-effectively fulfills its purpose today while respecting
the world of tomorrow.
In order to help architects and construction firms achieve sustainable building
practices, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. The LEED initiative has already
begun to achieve broad recognition across the country for advancing sustainability
LEED presents a valuable framework of carefully chosen guidelines for sustainability.
The client, architect and consultant set goals based on building program, design
intent, budget and desired social message. The team then uses LEED certification
guidelines to receive points in various categories. The point system allows for
flexibility in design while still enforcing a recognized standard of sustainability.
LEED can be implemented, in part or in whole, for any building project. By making
sustainable design a priority early in the planning process, we can achieve long-term
benefits to ourselves and our planet without adding significant cost.
The LEED system can be confusing to those trying to understand how they can integrate
LEED certification into their building projects; the following is designed to
explain the system. The LEED certification system is based on a maximum of 69
possible points, and is evaluated based on the following criteria:
26-32 points: Certified
33-38 points: Silver
39-51 points: Gold
52-69 points: Platinum (best)
Sustainable Sites (14 possible points):
Sensitive siting of the building is an essential part of the conservation of
natural resources and the preservation of ecological diversity. This includes
preventing untreated stormwater from discharging into rivers and lakes. High-albedo
or vegetated roofs, along with shading, porous paving and ample green space can
help avoid unwanted heat island effects. Provision for and encouragement of alternative
transportation is an important facet of sustainability while shielded exterior
lighting can be used to eliminate light pollution, ensuring starry skies without
Water Efficiency (5 possible points):
Reducing water use can greatly lower costs while easing the burden on municipal
water and sewer systems. Low-flow fixtures, dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals
and automatic shut-off sensors can save a building’s lifetime water usage
by millions of gallons. Some advanced systems collect rainwater or reuse greywater
for flushing or irrigation. Landscape architects can be called on to find drought-resistant
plantings to eliminate irrigation or institute low-volume drip irrigation.
Energy and Atmosphere (17 possible points):
Proper insulation and energy-efficient windows help to reduce a project’s
costs while conserving non-renewable fuels. HVAC systems can often be downsized
by decreasing heating and cooling loads. Passive solar designs use glass and
heat sinks to capture and appropriately distribute the sun’s heat. Roof
openings, skylights and windows allow sunlight to filter deep into the interior
spaces while modulating glare. In some instances, on-site renewable energy generation
using photovoltaic panels or wind turbines can reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Ultimately, a smart, holistic approach to insulation, heating, cooling and illumination
can significantly reduce energy use and pollution over the life of the building.
Materials and Resources (13 possible points):
Keeping track of how building products are harvested, processed and disposed
of can greatly impact sustainability. Specifying renewable or recycled materials
greatly reduces the already strained demand on natural resources. Bamboo is an
alternative to wood that grows quickly and gives a high-quality appearance. Substituting
wheatboard for composite wood and wool or post-consumer-recycled carpet for standard
petroleum products are just two of the dozen ways we can help limit waste. Waste
management programs often pay for themselves by recycling, salvaging or donating
materials rather than transporting them to a landfill.
Indoor Environmental Quality (15 possible points):
The quality of the indoor air we breathe can dramatically impact our health and
productivity. Poor ventilation, mold spores and dust, and volatile organic compounds
(VOCs) from carpets, paints, adhesives and sealants can contribute to asthma
and allergies. Even at low levels, indoor air pollutants can diminish a worker’s
productivity and increase their sick days. Techniques shown to significantly
reduce these problems include increasing ventilation, protecting HVAC ducts and
utilizing low-emitting materials.
Innovation and Design Process (5 possible points):
Creative thinking is what makes sustainability possible. To encourage ongoing
progress, LEED awards points for innovation and design techniques not captured
in the other categories. A point is also awarded for including at least one LEED-credited
professional on the project team.
John M. Rossi is principal at Cubellis Associates, a client-focused, multi-disciplinary
firm providing architectural design, interiors, structural, MEP and civil engineering,
as well as graphic design services from offices throughout the country.