Sustainable with or without LEED

Posted by Rumin Mann
October 15th, 2010

At the time of writing [September 2010], we have three buildings under construction that have reasonable expectations of meeting the Living Building Challenge. With all this accumulated experience, we have come to the conclusion that it is most important to do the right thing – whether or not this gets you credit under LEED.

It is possible that we have a degree of bias, but we do believe that the structural design of buildings is badly underrepresented in the LEED rating system. While the building structure typically represents 20% of the construction value of the project, it usually contributes to only 3 – 4 out of 70 credits in LEED NC in Canada.  Limited to the Materials and Resources section, structure can contribute to a local materials credit, a recycled materials credit, or the certified wood credit should the structure happen to be of Forest Stewardship Council [FSC] certified wood.  There is also the possibility of a Design Innovation credit, but in this case any structural innovation will be competing with all the other design innovations there might be in the project.
Certified Wood
Even pursuing these few credits has presented us with a dilemma on several projects. The relative scarcity of FSC certified construction lumber in British Columbia can mean that using local lumber [even if certified under another reputable system] can brand the project as less sustainable.  Even though local certified lumber is the logical choice, the pursuit of the LEED credit may require the contractor to do some cross border shopping.

In the face of international recognition of other common North American certification systems such as CSA and SFI, the USGBC initiated a review of this issue in 2005.  The decision was made to create a LEED Benchmark and offer other certification systems the opportunity to demonstrate compliance and so become eligible for the LEED credit.

In 2008, the USGBC published the first draft of its Forest Certification Benchmark and invited comment from all interested parties. More than two years later, the process is in the fourth draft stage. The Benchmark contains 81 criteria that must be met to achieve compliance, making it unlikely that this will be a straightforward or streamlined process.  Again, given the acceptance by other international green building certification systems of non-FSC certified material, this seems an enormous and unwarranted effort for the clarification of a single credit, particularly when other structural materials such as steel and concrete do not appear to be subject to the same scrutiny.

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