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Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - A critical evaluation by LCA and recommendations for improvement


Goal, Scope and Background. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a scoring system that evaluates the environmental friendliness of,buildings. It is composed of 69 credits, each one providing a score of one (i.e., one point) if implemented. However, since each credit does not always provide the same type and magnitude of benefits for the environment, a higher rating is not always synonymous with lower impacts. The goal of this paper is to evaluate the actual extent of the benefits and burdens of LEED, identify the critical credits and develop a new scale that will correct these miscorrelations.

Methods. The various LEED credits are qualitatively analysed. It is possible to quantify the actual outcomes and thus perform a lifecycle assessment (LCA) on 45 credits applied to an actual California office building. This allows comparing the benefits of the different credits among each other. Commuting of the employees is included in the system. The LCA is performed with the help of SimaPro 7, combining the ecoinvent 1.2 inventory database and the impact assessment methodology IMPACT 2002+ v2.1, adapted to North America. Impacts are evaluated for human health, ecosystems quality, climate change, and resource consumption. Impacts of the different credits are aggregated in one indicator to allow the design of a new scoring system that assigns to the different credits an amount of points (i.e., a score) that are related to the actual benefits. A school and a residential building are also modeled in order to perform a sensitivity study.

Results and Discussion. Operation, especially employee commuting and electricity consumption, dominates the impacts associated with the building. It appears that waste generation have limited but not negligible impacts, whereas water consumption has small impacts. Since the building is situated in California, heating is not an important source of impacts. As a result, credits that provide the most environmental benefits are the ones geared toward increasing the fraction of green electricity, reducing energy consumption, reducing employee commuting, and increasing waste recycling, along with the ones favoring the reuse and recycling of the building structure. The ones targeting reduction of water and land use, and recycling content in the furniture appear to be less beneficial. The scores of the different LEED credits range from -128 to 606. Negative credits are due to credits that lead to more burdens than benefits, for example, the one requiring the construction of a multifloor parking lot (with a score of -128). The most beneficial credit (with a score of 606) is the one requiring that electricity comes from at least 50% green power.

Conclusions and Outlook. Comparing the new scale with the observations on site shows that the LEED credits actually implemented are not always the most beneficial for the environment. This issue should be addressed in order to make LEED more efficient. The proposed rating system should help correct these discrepancies. The amount of reduction in employee commuting that the related credits really achieve, actual impacts of land and water use, along with the benefits of improved indoor air quality are among the main future challenges of the present study.

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