For a little over 10 years, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has proposed a new standard for building con struction focused on stronger energy efficiency and environmental standards. Known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the USGBC’s LEED program has grown to include of 14,000 projects in the United States. The program itself is based on a rating system that allows new and renovated buildings to achieve certain degrees of LEED from ‘certified’ to ‘silver’ to ‘platinum’ depending on the number of criteria that are me t in six standard categories .

As with any new system, LEED has experienced its share of growing pains as it has gone through continual refinement to meet the nuances and challenges that are found throughout the vast array of building projects throughout the world. Recently, the USGBC released its most advanced latest revision, LEED 2009, which incorporates rules for a wide variety of circumstances and attempts to achieve a baseline focus on not just things such as energy efficient appliances, but the overall holistic lifestyle approach to the building design and its operations. Ensuring such things such as shower facilities for bikers and low maintenance landscaping, LEED has always been concerned with and understands that the user experience is also at the heart of an energy efficient building.

However, the strength and credibility of the LEED program has grown with the current economic crisis.  A number of Federal Government American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant applications have now required construction and building upgrades to achieve some level of LEED certification. Local and state governments are continually subsidizing and providing rebates for projects specifically certified by the LEED system.

However, many have been critical of the fact that LEED is not strong enough to meet the impending dangers of climate change. Perhaps in one of the most bold moves in the history of construction law for the state, Massachusetts is currently discussing a requirement that all construction projects, new or renovated, will often require some level of stringent energy efficient certification. Known as the ‘Stretch Energy Code”, all construction over 5,000 sq. ft., would inherently lower its total energy consumption an average of 40% when compared to current state code.

This isn’t good news to all. The Homebuilders Association views the measure as rash, potentially raising the cost of projects an additional $10,000 – money that the current economy can’t handle in the first place. The legitimate concerns call for a more nuanced approach, the respects all levels of sustainability, from environmental to economic.

Regardless of the specific actions taken, the news is promising as government policy, however slow, begins to catch up to the needs of the environment and the needs of the growing public concerned with our role in the world.

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