What Is LEED?
When you build a house or a shed or a store and successfully thread your way through all the local building codes to finally get your coveted occupancy certificate, you feel satisfied that your structure is surely solid and safe – isn’t it?
Well, consider that building codes are setting the lowest threshhold – the worst structure that you are legally allowed to build. Consider also that until very recently, energy efficiency and using renewable materials rarely figured into building codes at all.
With the explosion of environmental concern in the past few decades, as well as the fast and loose use of the term “green”, environmentalists needed new specifications that defined various levels and types of “green” buildings.
Today, there are over a hundred “green” building classifications in the United States, certifying that everything from appliances to homes, huge office buildings, and concert halls have been built to meet specific sustainable environmental standards.
The most well-known of these is LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), issued by U.S. Green Buildings Council. A project is awarded points for various environmentally sound features, determining which of the four LEED level certifications the project receives. LEED Platinum (the highest level) is quite difficult to reach and requires a strong committment to all things environmentally sustainable.
Living Building Certification
There is, however, a certification that is even harder to achieve and is considered the international gold standard for green building. The Living Building Challenge from the International Living Future Institute covers a broader range of issues than energy efficiency, even pulling health and happiness, equity, and beauty into the mix along with place, water, energy, and materials for a much more holistic approach. Sometimes called “LEED on steroids”, it is far and away the hardest certification to get.
Like local building codes, LEED certifications specify the least number of environmental goals that you need to reach for each level. A LEED Silver means that your project is less bad than a non-LEED building. The Living Building specifications flip the philosophy around: instead of “What is bad and how can we make it less bad?” the LBC says “What is good? Let’s figure out what “good” looks like and aim for that.”.
The LBC requires such pre-planning and dedication that there are currently only about 23 fully certified Living Buildings in the world – and four of them are in right here in western Massachusetts! Smith, Hampshire, and Williams Colleges each have one, and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment (also on Hampshire College property but not part of the college) is the fourth. All are within an hour’s drive of the University of the Wild.
In addition to the Living Building Challenge, the International Living Future Institute also has a Living Community Challenge “to create a symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.” Williams College is a registered Living Community.