Climate change and energy security are big, global issues that can leave the average individual feeling powerless to make a difference. Top Ten lists describing ways to reduce your environmental footprint and lead a healthier, more sustainable life can seem trivial in light of the scale of the challenge. But the truth is that solutions to society's greatest challenges can be the cumulative effect of lots of relatively small, individual actions.
One often overlooked opportunity that could represent nearly 40 percent of the solution to fight climate change is the built environment. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings' energy use accounts for 39 percent of the United States' carbon emissions. Building designs often fail to make the most efficient use of water, an increasingly scarce and valuable resource. The materials used to build them are often harvested and transported in ways that are detrimental to the environment.
The opportunity to make real change by building and renovating greener buildings is tremendous. Businesses, governmental agencies, school districts, homeowners — anyone who plays a role in planning, designing, building, operating or maintaining buildings — can save money, live and work in greater comfort and health, enjoy the durability of longer-lasting buildings, and help in the fight against environmental degradation all at once.
Green building is fast becoming the norm in the building industry, with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) leading the way. Established in 1993, USGBC is growing at a dramatic pace. USGBC now has more than 16,000 member organizations. They include building owners and end-users, real estate developers, facility managers, architects, designers, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors, product and building system manufacturers, government agencies and nonprofits.
But with the tremendous growth of green building comes the risk of "greenwashing" — products, services and building methods being sold as "green" for marketing purposes without actually contributing to a more sustainable built environment. That's why in 2000 USGBC launched the LEED Green Building Certification System. LEED is a technically rigorous, third-party certification system for buildings, developed by consensus among USGBC's membership and drawing from public comment. It was created to assure building owners and occupants their green buildings really were built to perform as they are supposed to.
Growth and evolution
Today, some 3.2 billion square feet are registered or certified under LEED — more than 11,000 commercial and public buildings nationwide. Various LEED initiatives including legislation, executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, policies and incentives are found in 90 cities, 29 counties, 20 towns, 30 states, 12 federal agencies or departments, 15 public school jurisdictions and 37 institutions of higher education across the United States.
LEED continues to grow and adapt to meet the needs of the marketplace. When it was first developed, LEED was primarily used for newly built commercial and institutional buildings. Since then, the LEED rating systems have been created to address specific building types. In the past year, USGBC has launched rating systems for schools and residential homes, and pilot programs are under way to help LEED target the specific needs of retail and healthcare applications.
As LEED continues to expand to address specific applications, the overall LEED system is also evolving to reflect changing needs and increasing urgency to find solutions to climate change and energy dependence. The evolution of LEED is a multi-faceted initiative to streamline and create capacity for LEED project execution, documentation and certification. This initiative is referred to as LEED Version 3 (commonly referred to as LEED v3). In the spirit of the most successful LEED projects, this initiative has been undertaken in an integrated fashion made up of three key pieces: 1) LEED 2009 — LEED Rating System updates/revisions. 2) Revision and evolution of the LEED certification process. 3) LEED Online v3.