At this past week’s Dwell on Design LA conference and expo, one of the most striking conversations centered on whether LEED standards are enough to meet the growing climate challenge. Energy consumption by buildings contribute to almost half of carbon emissions in the U.S. As a result, many city governments, including Los Angeles, have created ordinances for new buildings to comply with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. But just how effective are LEED standards in addressing resource consumption and carbon ouput? Is LEED becoming more of a marketing tool for high-rise developers? Influential players in the field were present at Dwell on Design LA to discuss these very topics.
For city governments, LEED provides a blueprint for creating healthier, less water-intensive, and more energy-efficient buildings. Eric Garcetti (President of the L.A. City Council) proudly mentioned that there are currently 49 city buildings that have been created according to LEED standards. The city recently passed a new law that says that all new buildings over 50,000 sq. ft must meet LEED Silver standards. Developers use the LEED checklist as a guideline to comply with this ordinance.
There is reason to believe, however, that cities may be establishing a baseline for development that does not do much to improve current environmental degradation. Warren Wagner (Architect and Sustainable Design Educator) characterized LEED as “minimum requirements at minimum investment.” Many buildings can qualify for LEED in ways that are relatively cheap and easy, neglecting the overall goal of significantly reducing the building’s impact.
Wagner believes that LEED does not propel the industry forward to meet the 2030 Challenge established by a global community of architects in 2006. This global initiative calls for all new buildings and major renovations to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2010 and become carbon neutral by 2030. The only way for this challenge to be met is by exceeding LEED standards as they currently exist.
Is something that’s “better than nothing” good enough? This is the question that designers, developers, and policy makers need to consider in a timely fashion. While LEED has been instrumental in starting the green building development, it is critical to rethink the intent and impact of LEED standards as they currently exist in order to create urban sustainable living spaces.