The LEED Narrative – Going Beyond

I received an email this morning from Scot Horst , who chairs the LEED Steering Committee. He describes the behind the scenes narrative that has been going on since work began on LEED 2009.

Person A: “Global warming doesn’t give us much time.”
Person B: “But we can’t address much of anything, let alone global warming, if we’re only dealing with a small fraction of the entire built environment. We need to get everyone involved.”

Person A: “Yes, but why get them involved in a system that doesn’t take them far enough to save us from ourselves? We need our buildings to be restorative.”
Person B: “LEED can’t save us from ourselves. LEED, as a tool, can engage the market in transformation. That transformation is about people. It is not about LEED credits.”

Person A: “You’re missing the point. We have to be tougher. We have to go beyond.”
Person B: “No, you’re missing the point. We have to find ways to engage a market that has never thought about these issues before.”

Persons A and B: “Let’s find a way to do both.

”This is an engaging and very important narrative and perhaps the most important point for me is that LEED is a “tool” that helps to raise consciousness and “engage the market in transformation.” My personal view is that we must “go beyond” and that much of what we currently do in the green building movement, however well intentioned, is nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. The global warming mentioned in Horst’s narrative has provided the catalyst for both LEED and Architecture 2030, but focusing solely on warming misses the point. Warming is a symptom and not a cause. It has prompted us to take some action, but not to “go beyond”. As a premise for action it has been useful, but is easily attacked on it’s “scientific validity”. It is one of the canaries in the coal mine, but there has been is very little discussion of the coal mine. We need to expand the narrative and take a broader view.

Taking a page out of ecological economics, once you picture the built environment as a mere subset of our closed ecosystem, then your conceptual framework regarding sustainable building is forever changed. It means you have to accept that there are limits, and that we are not going to be able to grow forever. It implies the built environment must have some optimal size and level of consumption relative to the larger ecosystem. It means you cannot grow beyond that optimum without threatening man’s survival within that ecosystem. Out of this stream of thought flows a list of very troubling questions?

  • How do we stop growing?
  • What are the limits? What is optimal?
  • Does climate change tell us they have already been exceeded?
  • Do we face a kind of built environment armageddon when fossil fuel production peaks and begins to decline?
  • Is a zero energy standard imperative now?
  • What do we do? How do we do it?

Our very survival depends on how and when these questions are answered. LEED does not provide the answers, but it does help us to prepare.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Advertisements

10 responses to “The LEED Narrative – Going Beyond

  1. sunsetbeachguy

    Yep, greenbuilding, as almost acknowledged by USGBC is only a type of greenwashing if it doesn’t recognize limits.

    Limits are anathema to capitalism as we practice it.

  2. a list of very troubling questions?

    * How do we stop growing?

    * What are the limits? What is optimal?

    * Does climate change tell us they have already been exceeded?

    * Do we face a kind of built environment armageddon when fossil fuel production peaks and begins to decline?

    * Is a zero energy standard imperative now?

    * What do we do? How do we do it?

    ———

    * How do we stop growing?

    Cheap energy going away will stop this real quick. Cheap energy has enabled all this.

    * What are the limits? What is optimal?

    In my view, from an ecological economics and urban ecology POV, we have long ago exceeded them. Optimal is echoed in EO Wilson’s words, when asked about limits, paraphrased: “If we consume like the US and Japan, about 500 million people.”

    * Does climate change tell us they have already been exceeded?

    Man-made climate change is one indicator. Dead zones is another. So is the N cycle being disrupted. Our cr*ppy food chain. Taken individually, no. Together, yes. More here.

    * Do we face a kind of built environment armageddon when fossil fuel production peaks and begins to decline?

    Armageddon? This supposes folks won’t strip the materials bare for their own needs. Surely areas will depopulate, including my corner of the Front Range. But vast tracts of empty houses? Nah. They’ll get recycled. We’re not that dumb.

    * Is a zero energy standard imperative now?

    If by “now” you mean 1945, then yes.

    * What do we do? How do we do it?

    Socolow and Pacala’s wedges. And fast. And most have to be on board. And many in our society will have to live in denser environments, and think about what they’re doing, and then work with others to resolve the inevitable differences crowding makes.

    Hoo boy.

    That’s how I see it and tell people, anyway.

    Best,

    D

  3. Thanks D,

    Brilliant! I’ll have to research “Socolow and Pacala’s wedges”, but are we past the critical tipping point? Will peak oil (gas, coal, uranium, water,food) force humanity to dial back to a total population of about 2-billion, or can we find an equilibrium at 8-billion riding bicycles, becoming vegetarian, and living in 500SF homes?

    John

  4. John, unless you can find 6.7B people who are willing to put off their dreams or who are willing to have much taken away from them, I think we’ll have to somehow have the birthrate go way down.

    Wedges.

    Best,

    D

  5. D,

    If it comes down to how many people get to enjoy our standard of consumption, then I’m afraid it won’t be about the birthrate going down, it will be about the deathrate going up.

    A hard landing flavored with considerable armed conflict.

    John

  6. I support your hopeful view of LEED and the home program they released in January. We are rebuilding LEED platinum in San Diego after the wildfires of October 2007 wiped us out. The program gave us a framework to define “green
    building,” it educated us to assist us with choices and design decisions, and LEED is providing a coherent script for us to promulgate the message and debunk the myths of expensive, trendy, wheat hull-constructed green homes.

    Our project is possibly the first LEED home in a tract neighborhood in San Diego. Let’s hope in 10 years that will be the norm, and not the novelty.

  7. Thanks Jacques,

    Amen, and congratulations on your ground breaking project. Will your rebuilt home be net zero energy?

    John

  8. One thing Leeds to another. I’m sure you S.D. home will insire those around to follow suite.

    Charles Precht
    Sustainable Design
    http://www.sustainablehomeplans.com

  9. Great article. I hope that more homeowners begin to appreciate the benefits of this type of housing. Keep informing the public.

    http://www.hopetohomeowners.com

  10. With that being said, it’s good to see that the US GBC has a formal system for energy efficiency in the home. The Green Building Council in Australia only has standard for commercial spaces at the moment and nothing for green homes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s