The greening of North American building seems to be taking hold. The intended market transformation of the LEED™ Certification system appears to be working. Statistics show that the numbers of certified green buildings in both the United States and Canada are increasing at an exponential rate. The proposed changes to the USGBC version of LEED™—2009/V.3—are intended to support changes in the system that recognize differences in credit values as well as regionalized differences in the required approach to green building. The introduction of LEED™ for Homes and Neighborhoods has extended the potential influence of the program beyond the original commercial building marketing target. ASHRAE’s proposed Standard 189.1 is also taking aim at increasing the standards for high-performance Buildings of a non low-rise residential variety.
However, with continuing environmental degradation, and more recent escalating concerns about global warming and CO 2 levels in the environment, it is becoming clear that even the highest standards of construction that are being implemented in North America today are simply not enough. While the design and construction industries in the United States and Canada scramble to adopt and evolve green building guidelines such as LEED™ to increase their rigor and range of applicability, the United Kingdom is advancing in the implementation of regulations that are specifically intended to control carbon emissions, and not just for commercial buildings.
Great Britain has already adopted policies that require all new housing stock to be carbon neutral by the year 2016. They are working towards the implementation of carbon taxes to motivate companies to look closely at the way that they consume energy and goods, and reward citizens that show initiative in responding to this crisis. The act of carbon counting is beginning to permeate a multitude of sectors in the UK.
The issue of carbon is not a simple one. There is carbon involved in the extraction of the resources that we use to create products; in the transportation of these products to the site; in the physical construction of the buildings; in the operation of buildings; and in the lives of people as they carry on business. In order to be able to reach a state of “carbon neutrality,” lifestyle changes will be necessary. The status quo cannot be simply modified to reduce its carbon cost. Consumption patterns must change. Buildings and their programs may require downsizing or creative reinvention. Understanding the definitions of the terms that are associated with this elevated movement is important.
This article will examine the means by which to understand the potential of ratcheting up the performance requirements of existing North American green protocols to achieve carbon neutral standards, as well as how to interpret and extend existing assessment criteria to highlight and include carbon neutral interests.