LEED: Green or Greed?

What do you think causes more carbon emissions: cars or buildings?

Though many tend to think it’s traffic pollution, the correct answer is actually buildings. Responsible for up to 70% of the carbon emissions, commercial and residential structures also release up to 35% of all greenhouse gases, contribute to 35% of landfill waste, and use 70% of the municipal water.

With this type of footprint, making buildings greener is a vital component of improving our environmental impact. That’s why the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was founded by scientist Rob Watson and real estate developer David Gottfried. Together, they created a rating system that consists of four levels of certification: certified, silver, gold and platinum. The LEED process applies to all facets of the structure, including initial design, construction, and operation once complete. Now used as the standard of green building in 150 countries, Watson and Gottfried’s vision has become the international marker of excellence across the globe.

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Photo: LEED Canada/Facebook 

Canada is the second largest market for LEED developments in the world. With over 5,300 projects across the country designed on these green principles, sustainability is becoming a driving force in the future of development. According to Thomas Mueller, President and CEO of the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC), certifications not only reduce the impact on the environment, but also ensure quality, corporate responsibility, and healthy competition.

However, not everyone sees it this way. Since its inception, the points system and many other parts of the LEED certification process has received criticism from architects, building contractors, and environmental activists. One of the issues raised is the expense. Besides the fees to become certified, the high construction costs associated with sustainable materials and systems causes many builders to forego it all together.

Others argue that LEED isn’t about the environment, but rather a way for the council to make money and the developer to use as a marketing tool. They view the system as actually discouraging forward thinking because builders just think of sustainable construction as a checklist and find loopholes to gain points. This limits, rather than encourages, eco innovation.

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The LEED certified Telus Garden Project in Vancouver. Photo: Telus Garden/Facebook

Despite its critics, LEED is considered by many to be a widely successful initiative. The CaGBC recently announced a new system called LEED Version 4, which includes new market sector adaptations for data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, schools, retail, and mid-rise residential projects. V4 also incorporates a significant overhaul to the material and resource credits.

However you view LEED, there’s no denying that there is market demand for green building. Since commercial structures have the largest impact on the environment, having a standard of responsibility is an integral component of how we build forward. 

To learn more about LEED and LEED V4, visit http://www.cagbc.org.

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