A Look at LEED Milestones and Green Building To-Do Lists for 2011

A Look at LEED Milestones and Green Building To-Do Lists for 2011

Choices, choices, choices … To ruminate about the last year and the last decade or to talk about the great lineup we have this week. False choice really, I've got to talk about the lineup, but looking back over the new century's first decade and the last year is irresistible.

Of course, any green building summary of the first decade of the 21st century must begin and end with the introduction of the LEED Green Building Rating System. In under a decade, LEED has transformed one of the most important yet conservative industries on the planet. Not bad for what started with a bunch of volunteers and now boasts a professional industry numbering in the many tens of thousands.

Some may deride LEED as "just a list," but that would be like deriding a guitar as "just six strings" or the fact that there are "only" three primary colors. Such an over-simplified characterization simply misses the point, a point that is well articulated in the post by Richard Fuller and Anna Dengler entitled "LEED as a starting point." Just like the six strings on a guitar, the roughly eight prerequisites and 34 credits in the various LEED standards represent the defined starting point for building sustainability. If you want to mindlessly strum the six strings, there won't be silence … but there won't be music either.

The Fuller/Dengler piece reminded me of the rather humbling but enlightening talk I received from my martial arts master before I received my first black belt. He said to me "People get their black belt and think, 'Oh, I'm a master now.'  But you are not a master: A black belt is a Prepared Beginner. Now, you can begin your real training."

So, with the rather daunting environmental challenges facing our species, for all of its progress even the most aggressive reaches of LEED should simply be considered a "prepared beginning" for a truly sustainable, and ultimately regenerative, future.

Supporting this "prepared beginning," we are seeing the evolution of the green building industry toward a much more sophisticated and integrated set of tools and resources. Although we knew about lifecycle assessment when we were putting together the first LEED standards, there was no common framework nor any widespread resource on material lifecycle assessment readily available to the building industry. With the advent of tools such as Pharos and the emergence of large and experienced players such as UL Environment, which is introducing rigorous frameworks such as Environmental Product Declarations for building products, the hoped-for evolution in the field appears to be well underway.

Over the last year, we saw LEED hit one billion square feet and the beginning implementation of Version 3, the standard's fifth iteration since its introduction. Existing Buildings Operation and Maintenance now rules as the predominant standard in LEED. New Application Guides for Retail and Healthcare made important progress and the LEED Volume Build channel was launched. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars of green building stimulus hit the streets, but it was not enough to prevent the overall construction doldrums from hitting the green building market, though to a much lesser degree than the market overall.

We do have a couple of fun lists for you this week. The first comes courtesy of the sustainability elves of the Environmental Defense Fund and gives us a dozen handy tips for saving energy for your business. The list runs from super-smart (your own in-house experts and employees are an invaluable resource to help your business run more efficiently) to shamelessly self-serving (hire a Climate Fellow), but all of which are guaranteed to make a real and important impact your bottom line. To whit, EDF Climate Fellows found over $350 million in energy savings in fewer than 50 companies last year alone.

And what is sure to be a very popular resource, the Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals, which is an online resource created jointly by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, the Association for the Healthcare Environment and the American Society for Healthcare Resource and Materials Management. This new website includes a wealth of practical tips and resources on sustainable building design and opportunities for reducing energy and water use and solid waste management.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you-said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to Fireman's Fund for its ongoing leadership in the insurance field. This week we report on Fireman's Fund continuing to walk the talk by installing Bloom Box fuel cells to power approximately 60 percent of its operations at its Novato, Calif., headquarters. This measure alone is expected to reduce the company's carbon footprint by 15 percent. The investment in the Bloom Boxes is expected to earn $1.5 million over the next 10 years on its investment in Bloom, not bad in today's economic climate, but my guess is that in 10 years the investment will look way better in retrospect.

This is our last newsletter of the year and I wanted to thank all of you for your support and continued readership. I hope you had/are having a blessed holiday season and that your new year brings health, happiness, prosperity and lots more green!

Image CC licensed by Flickr user GKS -- The LEED-Platinum rated building at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City.