Now LEED has Thrown us under the Bus

I love the concept that if one in 10 people in cars on the freeway carpooled, there would be no traffic problems.  OK, maybe two in 10 in LA, but you get the idea.  Very little change can provide a huge result. Look at it another way. The difference between rich and poor is very little money. If you spend $100 less than you make each month, you are rich. But if you spend $100 more than you make each month, you are poor. A person living in a slum in Mumbai would think a person living in a slum in Washington DC to be rich.

I was told today that LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – that part of the US Green Building Council – has said that parking garages cannot qualify for green certification, unless they are part of a mixed use project. Hmmmmmmm

Since I know nothing about this program (except that some garages have been so designated) and nothing about why they won’t certify a parking garage naturally I will speculate.

My guess is that LEED won’t give its coveted certification to stand alone garages not because of the design of the garage – it could meet all the LEED requirements for green design – it is because of the USE of the garage. It is used for parking cars, yuck, ptooey… and that is a bad thing. It would be like certifying a coal or nuclear powered electricity generating plant.

But are the folks at the USGBC missing the point? Just as taking a 10 percent of the cars off the freeway would greatly reduce congestion and pollution (cars travelling at 50 pollute less than those idling at 10mpg) and could be an achievable goal, wouldn’t building garages from old tires and recycled concrete and using low wattage lighting, and a great design where no artificial light was needed during the day move us down the ‘sustainability’ path just as far as the same garage with a few stores on the ground floor. Particularly if the garage was located where there was no good reason to have those stores in the first place.

It’s obvious this rule has happened recently. A number of garages that are stand alone have been certified. So why not continue.

My guess is that someone at USGBC felt it was time to apply pressure on our industry and take sustainability to that next step. Start moving away from the original purpose of the building, since it is, by definition, non-sustainable. I could be completely wrong, but I doubt it.

Don’t we miss the point when we take these things to the extreme? Rather than allow the auto companies to proceed apace in raising mileage (the market will force them to do so) the government is now considering DOUBLING the CAFÉ standards, a goal that might not be possible. Why? Because folks with almost religious zeal drive the process.

I think it’s time for some wisdom to be brought to bear on the whole concept of sustainability. Consider that if we reduced the energy use of all commercial buildings by say 15%, we would reduce the amount of fuel we burn to make that energy by a like amount. The building owners would see, it seems to me, that signing up for new more efficient heating and cooling systems, efficient lighting, and the like would be an economic thing to do and it would be done in due course. Businesses don’t keep spending money just for the fun of it.

Likewise, if the design of new buildings, including parking garages, brought technology and architecture to bear on the problem and reduced energy consumption that would be a good thing. And if this group or that wanted to give awards for such designs, super.

While the rest of the world is increasing their per capita energy use, we are reducing it. Right on.

But when we get to the point that we determine that certain types of structures don’t qualify for awards and set goals that are unachievable, have we lost sight of where we are going.

I think so.

JVH

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