Ever since LEED became mainstream I have really struggled to find my place within its world. Something about it just never really felt right. Most telling to me, I think, is that the exam to become LEED AP tests you more about your knowledge of the certification process than about the science and the strategies behind energy and resource efficient design.
First, I don’t think the world needs saving. At least not from humans. And if it were really in trouble, there is really nothing we could to do to save it. It’s too big. It’s too complex. It’s too dang awesome for us to have much more than a superficial impact. To be sure, we may be able to wipe out ourselves and some animal species (which would be bad), but the planet? I don’t think so. So any impact that we may be having, really, is an impact on us and how we can or cannot enjoy the earth. For example, we may pollute the water, but the earth will filter it. We may pollute it so bad that we can’t enjoy it or that it eventually kills us, but in the end, when we’re pushing up daisies, the earth will clean the water and it will go on. So the impact we have in keeping the water clean is more about us than it is about the earth.
Second, I like clean water and air and I’m poor. Those are all the reasons why I design “green.”In fact, they are the only good reasons to design energy and resource efficient buildings. Anything else and all you are doing it for is social status and self aggrandizement, to make yourself look good against your neighbors so you can walk around all smug. LEED lets you do that.
It’s like buying a Prius. It isn’t really any better for the environment than many cars when you consider the life cycle costs, relative fuel efficiencies and the effects on the environment of the creation and supply of all the components that go into one, but they sure do scream to the neighbors that you care more about the earth than they do.
LEED is a Prius. It’s a badge.
We recently got a proposal from a 3rd party consultant that would prepare all the documents and do all the legwork to obtain the LEED certificate for a commercial building. Mind you, they weren’t going to do any design, select any materials, choose any building location on the site, specify any HVAC system or anything else. They were just going to do the documentation after we designed everything. Their price to do this? $15,000. 15k for a piece of paper that is really only good to show people. The certificate doesn’t do anything to help my building. It doesn’t increase the efficiency of my air handlers, or CFL’s. But it looks good and I sure can tell the world how much I care about the environment once I have one.
You see, I think that after designing, selecting and building a structure that would otherwise qualify to be LEED certified, you should take that $15,000 and save it. Put it back into the project and do one more thing that you otherwise would of run out of money to do. Maybe a little more insulation, a little bit better glazing or maybe just 15k worth of bike racks. Then, you are actually doing something. Otherwise, you’re just showing off, and showing off doesn’t do anything for the environment.
I have been designing buildings using good building science and energy and resource efficient design since long before LEED came around. I don’t need LEED to tell my clients that I am going to design the best possible building for them. They can look at my track record. They can talk to my customers and then I will save them their 15k and the fact that they actually care about clean air and water will be our dirty little secret.