The field of green architecture is concerned with the design and construction of buildings that make the most sustainable and efficient use of resources throughout the entire life cycle of the building. Green buildings are designed to have the least amount of impact on the natural environment and human health.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification system designed to rate and reward adherence to green architecture principles. The LEED certification rates design, not long-term performance, so it is only part of the puzzle. There has been some call for the LEED certification to contain performance tracking, but that is not yet required.
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the LEED criteria and certification, while in Canada, the Canadian Green Building Council uses a modified version of the American system for its LEED Canada NC v1.0 certification.
The LEED criteria encompass five major categories: Green Building Design and Construction, Green Interior Design and Construction, Green Building Operations & Maintenance, Green Neighbourhood Development, and Green Home Design and Construction.
Points are awarded within these categories to determine the rating of the building. Developments are rated separately. A new designed neighbourhood might have a LEED rating for the design of its streets and central waste-water treatment, but the houses themselves will have a different rating based on their materials and efficiencies.
There are four levels of LEED certification, based on rating. Certified means that it complies with the basic requirements, while Silver, Gold, and Platinum reflect better ratings along the scale. Points are awarded based on categories such as Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. All of these taken together add up to the rating assigned.
There are many advantages to the LEED certification. It provides information for clients and customers to help them determine where they want to put their money. For many people, the LEED certification is very important, as the certification supports life choices that they are trying to make. On the other hand, LEED certification can make the building process take longer, driving up costs. LEED certified sites tend to be more expensive to buy and lease as a reflection of that.
Research has shown that buildings constructed to LEED guidelines are more efficient, with cost-savings as a result. However, as the LEED certification system has no monitoring requirement, it is not known how well these buildings measure up over time. This is a major criticism of the LEED process, and one that will have to be addressed in the future.
LEED certification is one more tool in the belt of building developers and consumers, providing them with information on how to reduce that environmental impact through the buildings they live and work in. It is not the only tool, however, and there is more work to be done to ensure that buildings meet, and continue to meet standards for lowered environmental impact.