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So, among the other ecrustations of my career, I’m a LEED-AP.

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is a certification standard for the built environment, from interiors, to buildings, to campuses, to entire neighborhoods.  As a lifelong environmentalist, it only made sense that I study, advocate and work towards its goals.

However, I have formed a misgiving, in having worked through a few of the certification processes.  What if certification is not the bet way t achieve environmental goals?  What if LEED’s goals were more appealing, powerful and common using a financial signal, rather than a certification process.

LEED is many things, all environmental, some remunerative, some not.  The five broad categories are in land use, water use,  energy & emissions, materials, and indoor quality.  Some of these, like waste management, baseline energy efficiencies, and paint quality, have become industry standards.  Want to know why paint doesn’t smell like paint anymore?  You can thank LEED.

Environmental stewardship often promises economic return, in nearer or further times. These returns are always more durably and longer termed than those of bald avarice. There should be a promise of value in each of them. Energy efficiency is easy, since energy costs are an operating cost, and savings on them can quickly accrue. Energy independence is slightly hazier, and hedges against and uncertain future of foreign entanglements and carbon supplies. Locally sourced materials are often more expensive than mass produced ones from halfway around the world, but they offer the same bet against the implications of carbon. Indoor air, temperature, and light quality offer benefits to the people who have to live or work in LEED certified buildings. Low impact, light imprint and small footprint building recedes the need for site clearance, and the chances of torts from neighbors.

The basic problem with LEED is the basic problem with buildings. Very few buildings are built to be used by their builders, they are built to be sold. LEED is a sales tool. An emblem of environmental quality. There is a LEED for existing occupancy, a step in the right direction.  Operations and maintenance is a whole different animal than design and construction.

One thing that would go a long way towards sustainable building as a default, not a cherry, would be a tighter fiscal relationship between buyer and seller. I don’t want to clog up the courts with malpractice suits, but perhaps a way of structuring loans and payments so that builders were interested in the success of tenants.

I just get blank stares from bankers when I talk about these things at cocktail parties. Maybe I should mx their drinks for them.

*Again, this was written and posted on the train, so I apologize for any typos that look great under fluorescent light. You’ll know when I post from the bus.