Summary and critique of LEED 2.2 New Construction Reference Guide

Jonathan Ochshorn

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LEED Reference Guide cover image

Cover image of LEED Reference Guide showing Tom Stevens, 2006 president of the National Association of Realtors.

1. Introduction

Following is my summary and critique of the LEED 2.2 New Construction Reference Guide, Second Edition, Sept. 2006. My commentary on the Reference Guide can be found in the red boxes below, and within each of the chapter links immediately above.

Cover

The cover of the Guide shows National Association of Realtors president Tom Stevens surveying his domain.

Forward

The forward from the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) reinforces the implicit message of the book cover, framing green building as serving the twin purposes of maximizing "both economic and environmental performance." Note that both the Forward and Introduction are available as a free PDF download.

Introduction

The introduction summarizes the canonical rational for green building: buildings use 30% of the energy, 60% of the electricity in U.S.; toilets consume 5 billion gallons of water daily; etc. Like the "Forward," the intro describes sustainable practices from two standpoints: (1) reducing or eliminating "negative environmental impacts" while (2) lowering costs of building operation, improving marketability, increasing productivity, and limiting air quality liability.

The idea that buildings use such a high proportion of the nation's non-renewable, polluting, ozone-depleting, and global-warming energy supply forms the basis for the remedies rewarded through these Guidelines. While such statistics are undoubtedly true, the manner in which this statement is framed obscures a rather important fact: it is not the use of energy by U.S. buildings, per se, that is the problem; rather, these environmental problems have emerged as a result of the specific ways in which energy has been produced and supplied to U.S. buildings. Put another way, if all energy supplied to buildings were derived from non-polluting and renewable sources, the amount or percentage of such energy consumed by buildings would not qualify as an environmental issue at all.

This is a key point in understanding one of the fundamental weaknesses of the LEED guidelines. By focusing on the performance of individual buildings, the actual sources of, and reasons for, many of the key environmental problems cited in the Guide are pretty much excluded from consideration.

Overview of categories (chapters):

SSSustainable Sites
WEWater Efficiency
EAEnergy & Atmosphere
MRMaterials & Resources
EQIndoor Environmental Qualtiy
IDInnovation & Design Process

There are several different LEED reference guides; this one is for commercial and institutional buildings, along with some residential/hotel occupancies (if greater than 3 stories high); also applies to major renovations. A glossary is also included.

Credits: The process of getting LEED certification is based on the accumulation of points derived from meeting criteria for LEED credits in the categories listed above. Certification can be obtained at four levels, metaphorically linked to the value of precious metals:

Prerequisites: Note that many of the LEED sections also have mandatory minimum standards (i.e., "prerequisites") for which no points are received.

Comments on the LEED rating system are inserted within the sections to which they directly relate (find links above). For an overview of the Guide in its economic and political context, see my essay: What Sustainability Sustains.

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