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LEED Changing the World for the Better (Linda K. Smith & David S. Mann Commentary)

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Once a trend, the sustainable, or green, building effort is now the norm in the design and construction of commercial and public buildings. The United States Green Building Council has coordinated the establishment and evolution of a national consensus effort to provide the industry with the tools necessary to design, build and operate buildings that deliver extraordinary performance inside and outside the building footprint.

The USGBC developed the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, standard, which is a rating system based on optimum site selection and sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere optimization, materials and resources (renewable and recyclable) and indoor environmental quality.

The LEED process is a systematic approach in which building design and construction must meet various requirements in the five segments to reach a certain rating level, and LEED certification is voluntary. Whether it is a school, library, government building or your office, you probably have been in a LEED-certified building.

Think of a green building as a high-performance building. The design, engineering and construction industry is constantly evolving. Whether it’s environmental or economic change, building industry professionals are transforming the built environment by making new and existing buildings more efficient. We know that buildings consume annually more than 30 percent of our nation’s total energy and more than 60 percent of our electricity. Research has demonstrated that green design measures in new buildings reduce operating costs, enhance building marketability, increase worker productivity and reduce potential liability resulting from indoor air quality problems. Go ahead, Google it!

The General Services Administration has used LEED for renovations and new construction of federal buildings for several years, which has translated into a 20 percent reduction in energy costs in GSA buildings since 2003 and a 19 percent water use reduction since 2007. Recently, during a mandated review of sustainable building systems, the GSA’s Green Building Advisory Council recommended to GSA leadership that the agency continue the use of LEED in future building improvements.

Since 2009, several sustainable initiatives, including the use of LEED in construction of state buildings, have made significant progress in meeting energy and water savings goals. The U.S. Green Building Council of Arkansas works closely with the Arkansas Energy Office to build on private sector experience and state initiatives to further improve and expand sustainable buildings in Arkansas. We should all appreciate that our legislators are good stewards of your tax dollars and how our public buildings are being operated.

Arkansas has 108 commercial buildings that have earned LEED certification along with 38 residential LEED projects. We have nationally recognized LEED-certified landmarks such as the Clinton Presidential Center, Heifer International Headquarters, both in Little Rock, and Eco Modern Flats in Fayetteville. Eco Modern Flats was recognized as the sole winner of the 2012 LEED for Homes Multifamily Outstanding Project in the United States. LEED projects spur manufacturing and the development of sustainable products that are growing their business and creating and maintaining well-paying jobs. Furthermore, it is a testament to the talent and skill we have in Arkansas that we have garnered this national recognition.

Your school boards are looking at LEED and other energy savings contracts to make their schools healthier and reduce the costs of running their buildings. The Fayetteville School District has just been named a Green Ribbon School winner by the U.S. Department of Education based on its sustainable achievements. The University of Arkansas has built and renovated a number of LEED-certified buildings on its campuses. Answering the call of our changing workforce needs, three community colleges — Pulaski Tech, Northwest Arkansas Community College and Mid-South Community College — have instituted an excellent weatherization curriculum that is training students for jobs available right now. The University of Arkansas and Hendrix College both now offer sustainability degrees.

Even though the practices of green building and LEED certification have been shown to save taxpayers millions of dollars and increase energy efficiency, there are still some opponents. Some chemical and forestry groups oppose the LEED rating system because it does have some rigorous building performance and material production requirements. Since they have been unsuccessful in watering down the LEED standard or adapting to the sustainable marketplace, they have tried to discredit the use of LEED in government buildings by feeding your legislators erroneous or misleading information.

Admittedly, the LEED rating system is not without its flaws, but it is adaptable. It is a consensus document that’s revised every few years. There are some things, however, that cannot be compromised. Your building must perform as it was designed. Measurement and verification are steps to ensure that it works properly. The same applies to the products that go into your building.

Greenhouse gases, diminished water quality, excessive landfill use, hazardous chemicals and high fuel and energy costs are all examples of the unintended consequences of our own creations. Most of us are reading this commentary from our computers and most likely you work in a building for the majority of your workday — and very likely your hands and feet are cold. If we know we can improve the way our buildings work, encourage a growing industry and ensure that we are more comfortable sitting in front of our computers, why shouldn’t we do it? It doesn’t have to cost more either, but we’ll save that for another discussion.

So what is the best and most scientifically based rating system for making a green building? You guessed it. It is the LEED rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED performance is measured on many levels, from reduced energy and water use to whether your natural resources are restored in a manner that encourages habitat and wildlife restoration. Without question, high-performance building, sustainability and the sourcing of local and regional materials go hand in hand.

To learn more, visit USGBC-Ar.org.

Linda K. Smith is executive director of the USGBC-Arkansas and David S. Mann is vice chair of its board. Smith can be reached at (501) 680-1573 or at Info@USGBCAr.org.

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