Sustainability continues to gain momentum in the construction industry, and as it continues to become more prevalent steps are being taken to set the standard for sustainable construction. One area contractors may encounter more often is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
What is LEED?
Since 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has worked toward creating a sustainable future for the country through green building. The first version of LEED was released in 1998 with only a new construction focus. The current version of LEED, version 3, has nine types including New Construction, Existing Buildings, Core & Shell, Commercial Interiors, Retail, Homes, Neighborhoods, Schools and Healthcare. The latest updates will expand the types to cover 21 different areas of the construction industry.
“It’s meant to strike a balance between environmental needs and what’s most appropriate for the market,” says Theresa Backhus, sites technical specialist in the LEED department at USGBC. “It’s trying to find that sweet spot between pushing innovation and the realistic constraints of the market.”
To date, there has been roughly 10 billion square feet of LEED development in 135 countries. “At the heart of LEED is the fact that it is a voluntary rating system,” Backhus says. “It wasn’t designed to be a required code. Some municipalities are starting to require LEED or some component of it as a code. We’ve stressed that it works better as a voluntary system because projects can pick and choose what strategies are most appropriate for each project.”
Several factors have played key roles in the evolution of LEED. “Because it’s voluntary and we have 20,000 member companies, all of those people can be involved in the evolution of LEED,” Backhus says. “It’s a really open and transparent process. The goal of LEED is to be a consensus based continuously evolving process.”
LEED and the pavement maintenance industry
With nine types of LEED rating systems and counting, the areas points cover can expand a wide array construction segments. As for the pavement maintenance industry, Backhus offers suggestions of what LEED areas contractors should be familiar with.
There are five main credit categories including sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, materials & resources and indoor environmental quality. “The two most important categories for your industry are sustainable sites and material and resources,” Backhus says. “Sustainable sites focuses on the type of materials used on the site, how they are designed, how they are constructed, etc. The materials and resources focus on the selection of materials, amount of recycled content within the materials, how materials will be disposed of etc.”
Each category has prerequisites that are required while there are some optional credits allowing contractors to pick and choose from the information. “The most relevant credits for your contractors in the sustainable sites category will be Heat Island Reduction,” Backhus says. “Both Heat Island Reduction—Roof and Heat Island Reduction—Nonroof credits focus on the materials and the placement of the materials both on the hardscape as well as the roof of the building. That includes paving, parking lots, sidewalks – essentially any reflective material other than plants.”
According to Backhus, a lot of materials will achieve multiple credits, but contractors must consider the trade-offs. “Storm water management is another available credit for your contractors,” she says. “If you’re looking at the heat island reduction materials versus the storm water materials you’ll be looking at options such as porous pavement or pavement being broken up by landscape. You’re not only looking at the type of material being used but also how the parking lot is designed and constructed.”