What next for sustainability?

August 11, 2010

In just one decade, "sustainability" has grown from a concept that had almost no credibility, to one that has captured the imagination of forward-thinking building owners, developers, Federal and state agencies, school officials, colleges and universities, architects, engineers, and contractors.

Last November's U.S. Green Building Council meeting in Austin, Texas, was completely overbooked, with 4,000 attendees jamming the seminars. In the three years since LEED certification was created, USGBC membership has grown twelvefold, to nearly 3,000 organizations. The square footage of projects registered for LEED certification has doubled, to more than 100 million, with 48 projects certified and 700-plus in the pipeline. Outside the U.S., 10 countries, including China, Japan, Canada, India, and Brazil, have adapted LEED to their particular national standards.

This year, LEED moved into sustainability for existing as well as new structures. Some 75 entities, including the General Services Administration, cities and states, corporations like Sprint and H.J. Heinz, and universities (including Atlanta's Emory University, as described in this issue, p. 42), are working to "green" their existing physical stock.

Over the next few years, LEED will embrace commercial interiors and core-and-shell (in 2004), residential construction (2005), and ultimately whole communities (2007 or so).

Yet, despite numerous studies which show that green buildings can match or even reduce first costs (not to mention the life-cycle savings), many developers and contractors just don't want to be bothered with LEED certification. Nor are they convinced by studies showing that sustainability can give them a competitive edge.

At the same time, LEED has been criticized as overly restrictive and specialized. Trade associations feel locked out of the USGBC (which permits membership only to individuals and certain kinds of nonprofits). The USGBC's call for more research on sustainability, better funding for school environmental quality, Federal program coordination, and stronger Federal policies on green building (as described in its recent report, "Building Momentum"), remain ignored by the White House and much of Congress.

To address these and related issues, Building Design & Construction in November will publish a "White Paper" on sustainability in commercial, industrial, and institutional construction. This document will explore the history of the movement; what the top thinkers and policy makers in the field are saying; and what a representative sample of you, the 76,001 readers of BD&C, are thinking and doing about sustainability in your professional work.

The White Paper will conclude with an Action Plan that will describe what further steps need to be taken, who should be responsible for implementing those actions, the costs and time frame for achieving the goals, and an objective means to determine success or failure.

I invite you to participate. Please put "White Paper" in the subject line and e-mail me (rcassidy@reedbusiness.com) with your thoughts and suggestions.


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