A Regenerative Context for LEED
In 2000 the U.S. Green Building Council officially launched the LEED® Green Building Rating System. LEED is a grading system that assigns points and levels of performance to various criteria relating to our health and the health of the ecosystem. It grades a client and design team’s willingness to reduce impact in a number of broad areas such as energy and atmospheric pollutants; community issues; habitat; water quality and conservation; material resources; and the quality of our indoor environment. The purpose of this rating system was to put these issues in front of us as a grouped system. While it has been very successful in its impact on the marketplace, the danger is that users think that LEED helps create sustainable buildings. It does not.
LEED helps people create buildings that have some features that lead toward a sustainable future. Like a set of training wheels, it helps people move to higher levels of performance, in this case, to systems thinking. It is a scorecard to gauge performance of those at an entry level of green design. To be more than this, LEED must inspire people to ask questions such as, “I understand what LEED is about, but what’s the next level?”
So where to after LEED? One might think that we simply need to set higher performance benchmarks. Instead of saving 30% of our energy use compared to an energy code, the next step may be achieving a 70% improvement. This is certainly an important improvement but is it sufficient to reach a sustainable condition? If we achieve 100% “less bad,” as Bill McDonough says, have we achieved sustainability? The answer is that any approach that limits the damage is important but insufficient. It is essential that we begin to look at the earth and its life support systems not as mechanical constructs that we can manage by creating uniform conditions but as living and evolving systems of which we are in integral part. We need to participate with these systems on their own terms, meaning: it is essential for us to understand that we are a part of evolutionary patterns – birth, life, death, rebirth cycles. We are not above these patterns, nor below them, but simply part of them. Until we learn how to swim in these conceptual waters we will continually find ourselves exhausted by kicking against the flow of life that – while damaged for our purposes - overall really isn’t concerned with whether we exist or not. It will fill in behind us just as water fills in behind our movement through it.