20 years of USGBC: An accidental yet powerful benefit of LEED
I’ve been heavily involved with LEED for 12 of its 20 years. There were times when we were just trying to get people to start using it and many times when we were trying to reinvent it. Nowadays, time is spent evaluating energy data to measure the performance of LEED buildings against a wide range of benchmarks.
When I look back on the evolution, I am struck more by the accidental benefits that have accrued to project teams and building owners than I am by any numbers or inventions. This is saying something since I am an trained engineer with a business founded on building performance analytics! And the numbers remain important, but stay with me here…
Perhaps the biggest impact of LEED in my experience is the impact on communications within project environments. The vast majority of the LEED projects I’ve worked on have resulted in better overall buildings because the process of meeting LEED simply forced people to talk more and to share critical information. Before you even get to measuring energy consumption or environmental footprint, you get to people talking about how the project environment just felt better and they performed their jobs at a higher level. More talking and more sharing meant better coordination between technical disciplines and more proactive problem-solving.
I’ve seen LEED coordination meetings become the only forums within the project lifecycle for interdepartmental or interdisciplinary interaction. Faced with the requirement to document fresh air ventilation rates, designers hold discussions about occupancy assumptions, local climate factors, and new technologies that often don’t occur in conventional projects. Increased scrutiny on the source of wood in the flooring drives designers and contractors to work more collaboratively and creatively in evaluating vendors. Documentation of existing building practices brings together the Human Resources, Facilities, and Purchasing departments in ways that generate additional ideas for improving building operations.
This is not to say that this LEED-induced communications environment makes everything easier. There are times where the increased levels of coordination and integration add tension or weight to the project workflow. And there are the cases where project teams resist any process change and only make the minimum effort to comply with LEED on paper. I can only speak from my own experience on this one, but I’ve seen the positive outweigh the negatives overwhelmingly in this regard.
Thus, I propose that the 20th anniversary of USGBC is an appropriate time to recognize how LEED has transformed the project delivery process in addition to transforming the measured energy, water, and waste flows of the certified buildings. Both flavors of transformation are important and necessary. And to ignore one while proving or disproving the other does not do justice to the complete accomplishments of USGBC to date.
Combine this communications transformation with human ingenuity and the diverse wisdom of the global community now participating with the LEED program, and the specific rating system credit requirements become mere instigators and not end-points. It is the commitment by the team to step out of the comfort zone of “rules-of-thumb” and into a more collaborative project environment that ultimately makes for great communities, campuses, and buildings.