Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®), developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED® promotes a whole building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human health and environmental impacts:
- Sustainable Sites (SS)
- Water Efficiency (WE)
- Energy and Atmosphere (EA)
- Materials and Resources (MR)
- Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
- Innovation in Design (ID)
- Regional Priority (RP)
Though the selection of building materials is only a small aspect of LEED®, it is still the most well known system for measuring sustainability in this area. However, environmental critics often point out LEED® uses a relatively simplistic format to gauge the greenness of a product and has a loophole for non-green buildings to be highly rated. The argument about the simplistic format revolves around the fact LEED® offers credit for recycled content of materials used and energy consumption and air quality impact over the useful life, but end-of-life implications, such as recyclability, are not considered. Though the energy consumption and environmental impact of a building during production/construction and use is important, what happens to a building at the end of its useful life can also have significant impacts.
Possibly even more frustrating is the loophole in the credit system. Industry professionals maintain a LEED® plaque is not necessarily analogous to sustainable development. Because each LEED® credit has the same weight (1 point), it is possible to garner enough credits for a high LEED® rating without obtaining a single point in energy efficiency. Critics argue this loophole allows some to undermine the rating system, and receive awards for being “green” when in fact the building’s environmental performance is poor. Regardless of these arguments, LEED® is still a useful rating system that provides a positive contribution to advancing sustainable development.