Augmenting LEED


“Analysis suggests LEED buildings perform no better, and in fact perform worse, than non-LEED buildings.”

-Robert Orr, FAIA

It is no secret that in spite of LEED v4’s best intentions it still has a considerable amount of shortcomings and loopholes that undermine its purpose. Be that as it may, LEED has come to achieve a worldwide presence in the built environments and has played a seminal role in constructing a framework for sustainability-measures for both new and old construction.

Because of its recognition and universality, any additional sustainability amendments to LEED can have far reaching effects, such as the ones Robert Orr listed in his critique on LEED. Even if all of these recommendations were to be implemented (without negatively affecting the desire for constructing a LEED building), there is still the glaring issue of the flimsy building. 

A flimsy building is not defined by its structural integrity, but its anticipated lifespan. Currently, we are ignoring the embodied energy within a building as we tear it down in favor of one with newer and more efficient technology. Our current attitude severally impacts the cost that one building will impart upon a generation.

This can be explained, through an example of a building built in the 1930’s. Although the 1930’s building might require more energy to maintain, heat, light and cool, per year, costing (for simplicity’s sake) 1,000 mega joules per year. By knocking it down and replacing it with a new LEED certified building, it will cost 30,000 MJ to demolish the old building and construct new, and then 500 MJ to maintain, heat, light and cool per year (that’s a 50% saving in energy). Thus, 30 years after construction the 1930’s building will have costed 30,000 MJ (which is equal to the demolition and construction cost of the, now 30 year old building). The LEED certified building -which by now has cost 15,000 MJ in addition to the 30,000 MJ. The two buildings will not reach equal energy expenditure until 60 years in the future.

The current rate of technological advancement can allow us to assume that within these 60 years the LEED certified building will have become obsolete (in its energy efficiency metrics), justifying its replacement. This might arise even from the best intentions, by not understanding embodied energy we will just continue this myopic and unsustainable cycle.

LEED, because of its existing framework, has the ability to curb this cycle through adding two new high credits to its list.

  1. The Multipurpose – A building which can be adapted to house a wide variety of programs, and user bases, throughout its life.  This incentive will reduce the need to demolish it (thereby incurring high energy costs) because it can continue to serve a multitude of tenants, whereas a single use building will be abandoned due to its obsolescence.
  2. The Simple and Durable – A building that relies on being constructed from an initial high energy cost, but its materials (such as wood and masonry) will offset the generational costs that it will have during its life span. These materials are as close to true solar power as possible (e.g. trees) or do not require chemicals or fossil fuels to manufacture (e.g. bricks). These elements also have the added benefit of high salvageability and subsequent reuse.

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