The Future Of LEED: The Green Building Rating System Gets An Update

By Johanna Schweiss, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator,
USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter

As Americans, we spend an average of 90% of our time indoors, and the buildings where we work, live, and learn have a huge impact on our personal health, our community, and our environment. The built environment consumes 76% of our national electricity use, creates 65% of our nation’s waste, and is responsible for 39% of our greenhouse gas emissions.

It was these negative impacts that prompted the founding of the U.S. Green Building Council, referred to as USGBC, in 1993. Their mission: to promote sustainability in the building and construction industries.

In order to achieve that mission, USGBC developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, or LEED. The LEED rating system guides developers, designers, contractors, building operators, and building occupants through the sustainable design, construction, operation, and maintenance of their buildings, homes, and communities. As a third party rating system, the LEED rating system acts like the nutrition facts on your cereal box- it makes green building design and operation transparent, tangible, and measureable.

Since it was introduced in 2000, LEED has challenged the status quo, transformed the marketplace, and certified more than 19,000 commercial projects. A 2011 study showed that LEED certified projects enjoy 25% lower energy use and have 19% lower operational costs compared to the national average. However, even though LEED buildings perform well; they still typically have a net negative impact on the environment. They are, in short, “less bad,” than their non-LEED counterparts. And the goal of the U.S. Green Building Council is to do more than be “less bad”; their goal is for our built environment to have net positive impacts, to eventually get to a state where our built environment contributes “more good.”

With this goal in mind, LEED rating systems are regularly revised. LEED version 4, a revision to the current version (LEED 2009), is debuting this month at the international Greenbuild conference. Yet again, it raises the bar- asking our building designers, builders, operators, and occupants to do more.

The goals of LEED version 4 are to reduce our contributions to global climate change, to enhance individual health, to protect and restore our water resources, to protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services, to promote sustainable and regenerative material cycles, to build a green economy and to enhance our communities’ quality of life.

Meeting these goals will be a challenge. A challenge to the marketplace to go further, to make the next great leap toward better, cleaner, healthier buildings. While LEED version 4 pushes green design further than it has been before, it does not require all certified buildings to have net positive environment impacts. So one thing we can be sure of is that after LEED version 4 has become the norm, the U.S. Green Building Council and LEED will continue to push, continue to transform, and continue to strive to a point where our best will not be simply to be “less bad,” but will be more and more good.

Visit www.usgbc-mogateway.org.