Carbon Crusaders

LEED, Green, Homes, Buildings by ddelcourt
November 12, 2007, 2:20 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The world’s first ever Platinum LEED’s certified carbon-neutral building was recently finished in Wisconsin. According to Inhabitat, the building scored a 61 of a possible 69 LEED points, which includes producing 15% more electricity then they consume thanks to a 40KW solar installation. Furthermore, the building was constructed with nearly 100% sustainable timber and is being awarded a design and building honor from the Forrest Stewardship Council. Congratulations to the Aldo Leopold Foundation for this incredible building.

Now what’s the big deal about LEED certification anyways? The system (described in detail on the LEED website) rates buildings based on several “green” characteristics, designating a score out of 69 possible points. Pundits applaud the verifiability and the attempt to govern claims to sustainability and “green.” It’s common knowledge that it can be difficult to discern between genuinely positive environmental claims and those that simply sound eco-friendly. Opponents complain about the bureaucracy, long time costs and pricey certification process.

There is also an issue regarding how the LEED’s points are distributed between the six main categories: siting, water use, energy, materials, indoor air quality, and innovation in design. There is no mixture necessary, just a minimum of 26 points from any of the categories in order to become LEED certified. The cut and dry point system allows for builders to pick and choose from the list of points without ever understanding the ideas behind the LEED.

Yet, even though there are obvious flaws with LEED, the United States Green Building Council that established LEED,  was the first organization to successfully identify a system for green building certification, and continues to improve that process. Looking at a parallel sustainability market, like that of renewable energy credits (REC), it is clear that this type of organized verification provides a regulated playing field for products. In the case of REC’s, there is a no clear certification, leading to a marketplace that is largely unsure, with pricing and consumer confidence varying widely.

The United States has become the target of criticism for its lack of federal commitment to climate change. From the Kyoto Protocol failure to federal miles per gallon standards for vehicles, the government has refused to mandate regulatory guidelines. LEED is a good example of a certification body providing a transparent framework for companies and organizations to approach the pivotal issue of sustainability. So, while nothing is perfect, let’s learn from the LEED system and start the regulatory cogs moving.


3 Comments so far
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First off, sustainable timber is nothing new. Unsustainable timber would be stupid. Tree farms have been tax write offs for years; anyone with enough land is going to plant trees, only to sell them to the timber companies once the tax exemption is over. Timber companies would hopefully replace the trees they take so they can stay in business by harvesting more trees from the same land in the future. Not replenishing your resources is not harmful to the environment, it is also bad business.

As for the LEED house…what about the 15% more electricity it produces than it consumes? Can it transfer this back into the grid? Can it store it? Otherwise, what good does it do? Will it still have a net positive electricity production in the winter with overcast skies? Will it still have a net positive electricity production once a family of five moves into the house, all of them take 20 minute hot showers on a daily basis, with three or four flat screen televisions spread throughout?

The geothermal energy is a great feature, and holds much promise. The problem is that it is has severe limitations. It cannot be transported over long distances because heat dissapates. There is a minimal amount of US geography that be used to build homes that is within range of geothermal energy for heat processing; that means this project, while a great enviromental asset, will be the exception. Not the norm.

The Bureau of Land Management recently held an auction of land located on or near geothermal wells in California. Some of the bids exceeded $14,000 per acre. The average every day American does not have money to build houses on land that is already $14,000 an acre. While that is a record, geothermal lands will be more expensive than the average acre. The costs of developing and paying for geotheramal energy will also have to be considered into the cost production of the house and its retail price.

Criticizing the US for signing onto the Kyoto protocol is a double edged sword. Governor Freudenthal of Colorado recently traveled to Rome for the 20th Annual World Energy Congress and Exhibition. Of his observations was that he heard resentment from developing countries about the US calling for them to reduce their carbon emmissions. he said the feeling is that th eUS has archieved its industrial development and is now trying to close the door on other countries trying to do the same.

Many of the countries that criticize the US have other alternatives such as nuclear fuel and easy access to natural gas. The great irony is that while we restrict our natural gas and oil access, and prices go up, the country will become more reliant on coal; which produces far more and away CO2.

Comment by Jack

The last sentence to the first paragraph should read: “Not replenishing your resources is not only harmful to the environment…”. Clearly not planting trees would be more harmful than good.

Comment by Jack

My son, who is fourteen, has managed to get our monthly electricity use down to 250 kw and we live in the Northeast. He has done this through constant tinkering with our energy use.

Don’t you think that there is a place for a television show for people of your age to give hints regarding energy use in an entertaining way? I am thinking of the BBC’s “How Clean is Your House” or “You Are What You Eat?”

I know that this will not solve global warming but these shows offer hints to people who actually clean their houses and are not fat in a way that actually further changes behavior.

Just a thought from an older worried person.

Comment by Elizabeth Connors

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