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Yianna Bouyioukou October 19, 2008
Measuring Sustainable
by Yianna Bouyioukou

There is a lot of talk (and not enough action) regarding “green buildings.” But what does this term really mean? And what role will it play in architecture and construction in the future?

A “green” building is a high-performance structure that in some ways is like any other building. It is planned and constructed according to a client’s needs and within accepted construction schedules and budgets. The difference is that the structure is (ideally) built on a sustainable site, utilizes significant water and energy savings, and is constructed with material and technologies better suited for the protection of health and the environment.

To sharpen the definition of a “green” building, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed a set of criteria called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED is a green-building rating system that includes requirements for numerous factors used to design an ecologically friendly structure.

It’s astonishing how quickly the LEED system has become important. It started only 10 years ago and in a very short time became the green building standard for the federal government and for many state and local agencies. Just as quickly, its practice is rapidly spreading to the private sector. Not only are national governments and government agencies beginning to require that all new buildings meet certain LEED certification levels, they are supporting these requirements with attractive financial incentives. LEED is becoming more and more mainstream, rapidly moving from experimental to mandatory. There is also a huge amount of projects that do not meet LEED certifications but nevertheless incorporate some of LEED’s sustainable elements, standards and rules.

There is no question that something like LEED is good and necessary, and needs to be part of the building code more and more in the future. What makes some architects and builders hesitant to use its principles, though, is expense. Isn’t building sustainable structures, utilizing “special” materials and systems, significantly more expensive than in “normal” constructions?

The answer is no. If a builder knows how to use LEED, he can certify it without a lot of effort and expense. These days, there is a wide variety of materials and processes that architects and builders have at their disposal; the choice is almost limitless. Building green need not cost a lot of “green.” 

Sustainability is the wave of the future, and LEED is leading the charge in the architecture sphere. In its short existence, LEED certification has raised the standards of building industry in relation to the environment, and has had a huge impact on formulating and applying environmental considerations into structures. The speed and force of this is revolutionary and no matter what direction architecture and construction go in the future, LEED will be a significant part of both.

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