LEEDing the Way to a Greener World

I stumbled upon LEED while working on the Energy Challenge project in our Environmental Science class. While discussing ways to make buildings, such as our own school, more energy efficient, a classmate brought up the concept of LEED. She mentioned how a school down the street had become “LEED-certified,” making their newly built dorms incredibly environmentally friendly. At first I was puzzled. Based on this explanation, I thought of LEED as just a label, directly meaning clean and energy efficient. But after delving into some research, I discovered that it’s more than that. LEED is a carefully crafted movement designed to inspire businesses, schools, and others to “save money and resources and have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy”.

Figure 1: This colorful and eye-catching LEED logo is one of the many ways that the USGBC is attracting businesses, schools, and others to become more energy efficient.

Figure 1: This colorful and eye-catching LEED logo is one of the many ways that the USGBC is attracting businesses, schools, and others to become more energy efficient.

So what is LEED, actually? LEED, standing for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is an offset of the U. S. Green Building Council. This council was created in 1993 with a mission: to “promote sustainability in the building and construction industry”. And as this committee expanded, the purpose did too, as seven years later, the USGBC created a prestigious certification system to promote environmentally friendly buildings called LEED. LEED, most basically, is a point based rating system. As structures are being created, specific elements are given points for the design of the building itself, the building materials used, and the construction process. Examples of factors that are examined include “the energy envelope, the lighting, the daylighting, choosing non-toxic building materials, using recycled materials, protecting the landscape, plants, water collection and use“. Those who get the most points receive the greenest certification, the platinum award. In descending order, the next best awards include gold, silver, and simplify certified.

Figure 2

So why is LEED important? Having an energy efficient building is more than getting a shiny medal to put on you front desk, is it not? Well, yes, and no. There are cons to this procedure, and as always when combatting energy overuse is cost. First, registration is $1,200. Then, certification fees start at $2,750, but it only goes up from there. After my group for the Energy Challenge and I discussed St. Mark’s in relation to LEED with Mr. Warren, our headmaster, we discovered that large additions, renovations, and new building certifications can cost upwards of $20,000. St. Mark’s, while creating the new center, chose to adhere to LEED specifications but not become officially certified, believing that the money would be better spent elsewhere. As a student, this logic is virtually irrefutable. But as a business, there are major benefits to becoming LEED certified. The first would be the press. Corporations, schools, and homes may seem more desirable if they are more energy efficient, green and environmentally friendly. Secondly, in the long term, they are cheaper to sustain. As quoted from the USGBC website, “LEED-certified buildings cost less to operate, reducing energy and water bills by as much as 40%,”. And people are not shying away. Just this week, Mission College of Santa Clara, California earned a gold certification for it’s new Wilmor center’s features such as a “geothermal system that uses the ground as its heating and cooling agent and solar panels, which will help offset one-third of the building’s power consumption,” as well as “water-efficient landscaping, use of certified wood, efficient lighting controls and use of low-emitting materials“. Office buildings in New York City have set goals to have more green features, and just this past summer 8 West 44th Street received a gold certification. And it’s not just the United States that is part of this movement. Looking at figure 3 below, one can observe that countries around the world have become home to LEED certified buildings. With each day, the world takes a step towards becoming a greener place. Though there are both pros and cons to this LEED, I believe that if more people were to follow their guidelines, there would be major improvements efficiency wise. Though progress will certainly not be immediate, I am sure that LEED is leading the world to become a more environmentally place.

Figure 3: An infographic detailing the spread of LEED throughout the world, and it’s magnitude.

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