LEED Goes International!

by David Epstein, September 9, 2009

These days many people are familiar with the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System.  Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is a credit-based system that addresses 5 categories:
Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality.  There are also Regional Priority and Innovation in Design credits available as well.  In each category, there are prerequisites that are mandatory and an array of available measures to be considered, each with their own documentation required.  LEED Version 3.0 relies on certification by GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute), an outgrowth of the USGBC.  Because of both its flexibility and rigor, LEED has become the de-facto green building standard in the U.S.
And it is growing rapidly.  Currently, there are over 35,000 projects participating in the LEED system.  More and more clients are requiring LEED certification for their new projects. TruexCullins‘ experience bears this out, having completed 2 LEED projects to date and with 2 more undergoing certification.  Virtually every RFP (Request for Proposal) we see these days includes LEED certification as part of the project.
Despite its U.S. roots and U.S. based standards, LEED is now growing rapidly overseas. According to Alex Palmer of Nielsen Business Media, international projects now account for “…27 percent of all square footage registered for LEED qualification.  The number of registered projects outside of the United States went from only 8 in 2004…to 1,120 in 2008…There are currently LEED projects in 114 of the world’s 195 nations.”  The highest concentration is in Scandinavia, where 43 LEED projects are underway.
Our work with international schools has made us acutely aware of this trend.  For several years, we have been using LEED as a framework for evaluating environmental design opportunities on our international school projects.  Recently, however, we were retained by the International Community School of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to coordinate the LEED process and certification for 5 new campus buildings to be built over the next 10 years.  That the standards have not been converted to metric or European equivalents is the least of the challenges.  Some of the prerequisites, such as energy modeling and commissioning, are new concepts, and local consultants are not yet experienced with these activities.  On the other hand, other credits, such as Daylighting and Views, are easy to achieve in Ethiopia’s benign climate.
As LEED goes international, it will be interesting to see whether USGBC will adapt its standards to the metric system or European equivalents.  Currently, all documentation must be in the U.S. based “imperial” system.  Similarly, regional credits and climate zone choices are all based on North America.  With its growing popularity overseas, perhaps it is only a matter of time before LEED adopts standards that are viable across the globe.

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