why leed and green are not the enemy

As many in the architectural profession, I can be conflicted in my opinions about LEED and “green” design in general. These terms are thrown around too often to have any real affect and in my opinion sometimes create problems where previously there were none. Speaking just of what these two principals are trying to accomplish, I often take the approach that “green” design is nothing more than a minimum that architects should be designing to 100% of the time. I even touched on this in a previous post in which I describe a legacy that we are leaving for future generations to deal with.

But, there are also those out there who will tell you flat out that LEED and by extension the USGBC are the most vile and reviled organizations that are after nothing more than your money. They’ll even go so far as to say that “green design” is a total waste of time and effort. Some people are really friggin nuts. Often the truth of the matter is they simply have no clear understanding of what it is that the whole “green design” movement is trying to accomplish and therefore seek to vilify and destroy that which they have no comprehension of. This is not an uncommon thread in human behavior. Been to D.C. lately? πŸ˜›

So, let’s get down to “brass tax”, as it were. Why aren’t LEED and “green design” the enemy? Why should I care? In the words of Eddie Murphy, “what have [they] done for me lately?” Throwing out the “why” questions is really more a matter of laziness and frustration than a legitimate grievance against the systems in place. And I know we’ve all heard about the projects that shuffle points around to get a “rating” without really adding any ecological benefit to the building. The truth there is that any system will never be perfect. And, for better or worse, there are always going to be kinks in that system, places of exploitation. But that’s not what this is about. This is about a holistic approach to building, or building “green”.

LEED is a system that tries to offer a framework within which to do that. And it’s not the only one. There are many other systems out there that are just as good or even better at helping architects and builders accomplish sustainable building and design. And here in lies the moral of our little tale. It is not the system that is the enemy. The tool is never to blame because the worker screws up. The tool is just that – a tool. It has no more malice than a tube of toothpaste. But we’re human and we all want a scape goat, so we go after the easy target not realizing that it’s our own ignorance and fear of a little hard work that keeps us from understanding that real architecture is about responsibility, respect and an understanding of the materials and methods available to create a lasting piece of art. Something that future generations can be proud of, that will work with its environment and perhaps even contribute to it.

So the next time you want to rail at the fences about the evils of LEED and green/sustainable design, instead look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’re really railing against.

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4 thoughts on “why leed and green are not the enemy

  1. Push back is an inevitable side effect of change, but we must work diligently to maintain inclusion.

    Here in California, supposedly the leader in all things green, their are bastions if conservative hold outs that accuse the green movement of being a government trick to separate people from there money. Solyndra didn’t help much, but the point is that as a local USGBC chapter representative I have to be aware of such criticisms and be responsive in as positive way as possible.

    As a developer of local initiatives one must not be too critical of complaints, because the long term survival of the movement and our organization requires that we adapt our environment. To some extent the squeaky whelk gets the oil, but having buy in from as broad a spectrum as possible equates to greater, more inclusive success.

    One thing USGBC does well is sell products to those if us who are already drinking the punch. In order for this to work however, we will need to find ways if resolving issues that people have. Ultimately, we are sharing space with 7 billion fellow humans now and ordering decrees from on high will irritate anyone accustomed to greater freedom, but chalking this up to lack of information alone is a bit unfair. USGBC’s mandate – one anyway – is to educate and claiming that people just don’t know is a total cop out. We have to do better than that when our economy, our environment, and our future is at stake.

    • Robert, thanks for your comments and don’t worry, I’ll overlook the typo’s. πŸ˜‰

      Let me first say that I’m on the side of green building and sustainable design. I think that’s obvious. And while education on our part is essential to success, I don’t agree that it’s a cop out to say that there are MANY in the building industry who simply refuse to “drink the punch” as it were. This is not a failing of education, but a failing to simply seek out the information available. I don’t see it so much as fear of change, but rather simply not wanting to go the extra mile to ensure that a building performs to a higher standard, which in my opinion is simply a standard that used to be…well, “standard”. Buildings used to be designed within their micro-climate. They used to respond to their surroundings, not combat them. This is the real heart to my argument.

      Thanks again! Cheers.

  2. Jeremiah,

    Great post, I couldn’t agree more on all counts. As an architect as well, the process of integrating sustainability is one that I encounter often, but I think you have the right of it.

    I get a lot of questions about LEED. Absolutely, LEED is not a perfect system nor will it ever be. The point is that LEED is a place where people (architects/builders/clients) should start, not where the conversation should be ending. The fact of the matter is it is not really that hard to get a LEED Certified building, so how do you capitalize on the fact that conversation is started in order to push things to the next level? In a society where the discourse is now active, how can designers push efficiency into buildings in ways that far surpass LEED? These are the questions I ask, anyway.

    I also think that people forget what LEED did for the green building market. We live in a country of consumers. We buy products. LEED took green building out of the language of architects (which we all know is esoteric and full of dialects) and turned it into a product that people could ask for and purchase. Now, we could argue that commoditizing architectural components is a slippery slope, but the fact is that 15 years ago no one knew anything about green building. Today, many people outside of architecture know what LEED is. It has put the recognition into a term that more people can understand and in my mind, that alone is progress and makes it worth its weight.

    Completely agree on information/education as well. Americans may be a group of avid consumers, but not informed consumers. I continue to try to cling to the belief that our relative lack of progress in sustainability is not due to apathy, but ignorance. Again, LEED makes people aware that a higher standard (or rather a real standard) is available. Designers have to continue to push the rest of the way–knowing enough to make the case well or, as you said, simply be designing to those standards as part of a regular practice.

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