LEED and Yoga ONE: Time for a Stretch

The newest version of the LEED rating system (LEED v4) has been out for use for a year and will become the only available version for Building Design and Construction projects come October of this year. There are many challenges in the system, and many significant improvements.

Stretch a BitFirst, let me point out that this new rendition is tougher. Intentionally. The USGBC, from day one, has pledged to guide and instigate market transformation and in order to do so the developers have set their sights just ahead of where we as practitioners are comfortable so we have to stretch. It’s time to up the game and try the intermediate yoga class and see what we can readily do and what joints and sinews need some stretching and training. And, in doing these new, more stringent poses, we may feel less than balanced, maybe even a little clumsy. But seriously – would you rather stay in the beginner’s class and be perfect and not break a sweat ever? We hope not.

One of my favorite and most readily understood changes is in the Location + Transportation (LT) Credit Category (CC). Actually, that whole CC is new, but many of the credits came out of the Sustainable Sites (SS) CC because they deal more with the selection of the site while SS deals more with the management of the site once you have selected it. In LT we deal with finding sites that support sustainability; typically sites in denser locations, economically challenged areas, and sites that avoid building on prime farmland or areas close to wetlands or in flood zones. We also seek sites that have diverse connections to the community and access to quality public transit, or support of green vehicles or biking options. This makes ample sense because a green building in the middle of pristine land 30 miles from anything else is not truly a sustainable choice, no matter how green the project, unless the building users commit to forever-hermitage. And remember, nature is extremely diverse and she is stronger because of the diversity. Our communities can benefit from diversity on many levels.

Okay, back to the credit for diverse uses. Diverse uses include churches, restaurants, grocery stores and banks as well as police stations, farmers markets and libraries, to name just a few. The change to this credit comes in how we calculate the distance to these amenities. In the past, one drew a ½ mile radius circle on a map and anything within that circle was considered “connected”. Now the actual walking distance must be ½ mile, and the team must depict the route with the safe pedestrian paths including crosswalks. Brilliant.

Why is this an improvement?

  • This speaks to the actual access and connectivity instead of just saying “nearby is fine”. There are many places I have visited where I wanted to walk to the ”local” store or restaurant from my hotel, only to find that store was across a 4-lane divided highway with jersey barriers and no crosswalks, making it incredibly dangerous to access.
  • It begins to illustrate the incredible interdependence of project (building) and community in order to have a vibrant community with usable access to amenities. We can no longer consider our responsibility in a project to end at the outside of its walls or at the property line. How does it connect? Even in my mid-urban part of Albany there are sidewalks that end at a property line and, for some reason, continue on the other side of the street! Not so usable.
  • It creates a moment for dialogue in the case where that pedestrian infrastructure does not exist. In discussing purchase of land, maybe a brownfield site or an infill opportunity in a city, communicate to the town the desire for a crosswalk and signage to protect the pedestrian access to and from the site. This will not only tighten the sale, it will make that part of that community more engaging, safe, energy effective, and resilient.

Bravo LEED for pulling us into the immediate yoga class and helping us to stretch our comfortable poses further into inclusion of community and connectivity. Breathe into your belly, elongate your spine, relax your shoulders. Namaste.namaste

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