This is the first installment of a multi-part series of commentary on the evolution of sustainability and the role of the design and construction industry in that evolution.
Since its beginnings in 1998, the USGBC has made steady strides in the strength and relevance of its various certification tracks (professionally, and certifications for buildings), and in becoming the default standard for sustainable design in the US. There continue to be other programs that compete for recognition, such as Green Globes, and new ones that are still being developed, like Living Buildings, but for now those haven’t gained the foothold that LEED has in the public consciousness.
Yet…..even as LEED continues to develop additional programs and regularly raise the bar on requirements, I am becoming more aware of its limitations to truly move the needle on sustainability – at least in its present form.
I should pause here for two things. First, to state that I support both the intention and the results of the LEED programs so far, which have raised public awareness, sparked dialog, and engaged the building community in practices that are helping conserve our resources. Second, to define sustainability for the purposes of this conversation.
Wikipedia, as our collective social dictionary (which seems appropriate to this discussion), defines sustainability thusly: “For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of responsibility, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible management of resource use.” I like to recall the Native American Indian philosophy that each generation has a responsibility to the survival for the 7th generation after theirs. (see Great Law of the Iroquois)
Assuming we can start there, the question is:
“How can we build even reasonable consensus (in the US or globally, take your pick) on how to act – in our personal lives, in our working lives, in our political lives – so that we actually leave things for the generations to follow in a better state than they are now?”
OK, that may be too big be a question to tackle here, so how about “What can the design and construction industry do to truly be sustainable, and lessen the negative impact our work has on the environment?”
Think about that for a while……and I’ll be back soon.