LEED, 10 years old, is still growing

Coastline Pilot

Ten years after the launching of its flagship product to the public — the LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] system — the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has launched LEED for Neighborhood Development (ND). This is its seventh rating system and the first that brings the LEED approach to the neighborhood planning and development scale.

A strategy developed in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Congress for the New Urbanism that integrates the principles of new urbanism, green buildings and smart growth into one system, it goes from the building level to a more holistic approach that now includes the context of those buildings at a larger scale.

The goal is to establish a national standard to asset and reward green neighborhood development practices within the framework of the LEED Green Building Rating System.

The new rating system has four categories:

Smart Location and Linkage

Neighborhood Pattern and Design

Green Infrastructure and Buildings

Innovation and Design Process (to address innovation and issues not covered under the three categories)

Unlike all previous systems that focus primarily on building practices, LEED-ND emphasis is on the site selection and on the design and construction of the elements that bring it all together into a neighborhood, as well the regional context. Regional bonus credits also available acknowledge the importance of local conditions in determining best environmental design solutions.

It is important to note that LEED-ND is a three-stage process toward certification. At the end of the first stage, a project is awarded conditional approval of an LEED-ND plan. This is scheduled before completion of entitlements and with the goal of getting community support.

At stage two, the plan becomes a Pre-Certified LEED-ND plan, a status that can help projects to secure financing and attract tenants.

Finally, only at completion of stage three, a project can be referred to as a LEED-ND Certified Project. An application for this final stage can only be submitted for those projects that are completed — after the appropriate regulatory authorities have issued a certificate of occupancy for all buildings within the project and have accepted all infrastructure within the project.

This process recognizes that neighborhoods' certification requires a much longer time frame than that required for individual buildings, and may incorporate different owners over the life cycle of the project.

According to the USGBC, LEED-ND projects will typically comprise of numerous buildings within a geographical area of up to 320 acres. As happened with all LEED systems previously, LEED-ND has developed from being just a good idea in 2002 to an operating pilot program with more than 200 projects reviewed, 68 of those certified as of March 1.

At the news conference in Washington, D.C., Kid Benfield emphasized "that 50% of the buildings we will have on the ground in 25 years have not yet been built, providing us with both a major challenge to sustainability and a major opportunity to get it right for both people and the environment."

It is still very difficult even today to judge how environmentally friendly or green a project really is, and usually what ends up being called "green" lacks of a scientific basis for performance.

LEED may be imperfect, and for many doesn't go far enough; others question also what a truly sustainable project really is. There is no question that more is needed to set an even higher standard, but it is also true that LEED is much better than conventional construction as we know it.

LEED-ND is a step forward in closing that gap, articulating the kind of development that reduces global warming emissions, land consumption, traffic, resource waste and pollution while enhancing life quality.

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