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Copas, who says his firm has pioneered another way of thinking about green design and created a “cradle-to-cradle” philosophy in which all materials are recycled, says PVC is out. “We are adamant about using alternatives,” he says.
Still, the architects who work with William McDonough advertise their LEED accreditation proudly on their Web site, and Copas confirms that he still considers the building council’s appraisal useful. “For us, LEED has always been a tool,” he says. “It’s one tool in evaluating environmental components of a design. It is not the only tool. It is not the end goal. But as a consensus-based, market-driven tool, it has been able, in 10 years, to expand awareness of the environmental aspects of building design.”
LEED certification has also fueled the demand for nontoxic materials and made sustainable building the fastest-growing sector of the construction market. Only a few hundred buildings have been certified so far, but ideas about green building are now being filtered throughout the construction industry.
Probably the best use of LEED, then, is just the way Larry Eisenberg describes applying it to the renovation of the Van de Kamp Bakery for LACCD. Instead of settling just for LEED certification, LACCD looked for more criteria: In advance of construction, the building has sought the approval of the U.K.’s Building Resource Establishment Environmental Assessment (BREEAM). “We thought it was an interesting study and comparison,” he says. “BREEAM is the predecessor to LEED in Europe, and it takes into account some things that are social in nature. One example that made sense to us is that it asked, ‘Have you engaged your community in the design of the building?’ In the LEED system, you get no credit for that, but, of course, every building you put up has an impact on the community.” As a consequence, the neighborhood groups around the LACCD’s Northeast Satellite Campus Atwater Village location “have been active participants in the project.” The college system is the first to build sustainability into its policy in response to community input. “It was the community that told us, ‘We need someone who’s going to be a champion and support this stuff.’ Now we see it as a way to give another kind of education.” The buildings will boast high-efficiency lighting, recycled-content carpets, and air-conditioning units that shut off when the windows open. “One of the things they wanted was a wellness center,” adds Eisenberg. “So the building now has a wellness-center component.”
Other designers and architects have used LEED as a starting place from which to develop their own criteria. At Stanford University, a green-building working group culled from the best of green-building guidelines to invent its own rules, tailored to the unique needs of the campus. In Chicago, a coalition of architects, city planners, engineers and politicians joined forces to develop green-building criteria based on LEED’s silver certification but specifically tailored to Chicago’s particular environmental challenges. Says Sadhu Johnston, a commissioner in the city’s Department of Environment, “We prioritized storm-water management, urban heat-island effects and energy efficiency, and we added some things: We didn’t want to build a healthy building, for instance, and fill it with formaldehyde furniture.”
Johnston likes the LEED standard, he says, because “there’s a lot of greenwashing out there, and it’s hard to know what you end up getting. There are always naysayers around trying to stop any kind of change in the construction industry,” he says. “We work with developers who say, ‘This is going to be too expensive; the city of Chicago can’t afford to do this.’ ” His answer: With the cost of energy rising, “no city can afford not to do this.”
And in fact, says Johnston, many cities no longer wait for radical thinking about environmental design to be handed down from a council based in Washington, D.C.; they’re pushing forward on their own, with or without LEED’s stamp.
“Cities are leading the charge in the green-building movement,” he says. “And that’s a really good sign.”