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LEEDing The Way

The major problems in the world are the result of the differences between the way nature works and the way people think.” ~Gregory Bateson

Today’s most influential back-to-nature movement isn’t being led by hippies or tree-huggers. It’s being led by architects, construction workers, and the everyday folks who are buying and living in modern “green” buildings. These buildings don’t fight nature; they work with it—and are proving to be healthier and ultimately cheaper than business-as-usual construction. (I’ve got to slip another appropriate Bateson quote in here: “The creature that wins against its environment destroys itself.”)

It is amazing how much energy our current buildings use—and waste. In his excellent book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins reports that “In 2007, U.S. buildings used more primary energy than the total energy use of Japan or Russia, and twice that of India’s 1.2 billion people. If American buildings were a country, they’d rank third after China and the U.S., in primary energy use.”

All this waste comes at a tremendous cost, not just in the billions of dollars we are directly throwing away, but also in indirect health costs, environmental costs, and opportunity costs (think of all the productive things we could be doing with that huge sum of money). Any form of waste is a hidden tax on our economy.

Many of us here in the U.S. equate the green building movement with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system. According to the USGBC, “With nearly 9 billion square feet of building space participating in the suite of rating systems and 1.6 million feet certifying per day around the world, LEED is transforming the way built environments are designed, constructed, and operated—from individual buildings and homes, to entire neighborhoods and communities.”

But LEED isn’t the first—or even the leading—green building standard worldwide. That honor belongs to BREEAM, which has over 200,000 building certifications and over a million registered for assessment.

Then there are the rest of the standards, which include Energy Star, the National Green Building Program, and Green Globes. Hot on the heels of all these standards are programs that aim to take buildings to the next level, such as Architecture 2030 and Passivhaus. There’s even a new International Green Construction Code that provides state and local governments with a handy template and tools for applying green building standards and sorting out the mess of overlapping or competing certification systems.

Landscape architect and regional planner Ian L. McHarg got it right back in 1969 when he foreshadowed today’s back-to-nature building movement in a book titled Design with Nature. Today, The Biomimicry Institute and others continue to train us in ways of solving problems nature has already solved. Indeed, architects often remind us that humans have solved many of these problems before—often long, long ago in lands far, far away. We have only to rediscover the wisdom of our own ancestors and work with nature, not against it.

“All living processes require perception, but education in general and art and science in particular are the most developed human expression of this” ~Ian L. McHarg

by Kyle Crider

Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America.