LEED 2009 Closes Loopholes But Does It Address Climate Change?

Today I had a cursory foray into LEED 2009. I like a lot of the advancements that have been made. I do think that weighting energy and water efficiency more heavily will result in a more stringent certification with a more solid reputation. But I was disappointed to find out that it still does not address the impact of buildings on our climate. LEED 2009 does not signal strongly enough that we were going through a climate crisis and that the owners, operators and designers of our buildings bear a large responsibility for that impact.

Some energy advancements have been made by closing some loopholes that were in the rating system. On example is the change of status on process loads in energy modeling. In the old system process loads were not part of the building model so were exempt from the energy efficiency effort. Now they have to be considered. Yes, this will help to address the impact of the building, but will it change the mindset of the building owners or designers quickly enough?

The energy efficiency points are still dependent on the ASHRAE base model comparison assessment. This leaves much potential impact of passive design and design brief program changes out of the realm of assessment for LEED. Much is left on the table in terms of passive design potential, and essentially this is like trying to make lemonade but leaving the lemons unsqueezed and throwing the slices in only to flavour the water.

Instead, I would recommend a comparison to an energy benchmark much like 2030 Challenge and this is similar to energy benchmarks that are used in the EU. It would be a more truthful comparison, and would utilize architectural and engineering teams more fully to their capacity of leveraging the integrated design process for the achievement of a magnitude of energy savings. Put this energy benchmark in the client’s design brief would allow the design teams to create a fee proposal (and project team workplan) against this goal, and would leave enough time in the budget to reach this level of achievement.

In summary, LEED 2009 makes an attempt, and still does a modicum of effort towards the full potential of gaining architectural eco-efficiency. Unfortunately, many projects will use LEED 2009 and think that they have made every effort to minimize their impact. For this huge amount of paperwork they will be rewarded greatly. Project teams will feel justified in their reward of LEED Certification because of the level of effort that it entailed. But in the meantime, much, much more could have, and should have, been done for this matter that affects the very survival of our species and the ecosystems on which we depend.

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