Green Architecture Benchmarking For Social Issues

As broadly defined, sustainability addresses three primary dimensions: environmental, social or human, and economic. The environmental aspects of green building have received most of the focus as the movement has unfolded, perhaps because they are easier to quantify and may include materials or technologies with a visible “wow” factor. Social aspects are harder to define as value propositions within the triple bottom line, and are often thought of as “externalities.”

Our analysis centers primarily on social sustainability as it relates to LEED for New Construction (LEED NC), the tool applied to the Central Library project. While there is certainly some attention to social issues in LEED NC, when looked at in total the system focuses the majority of its credits on the environmental aspects of sustainability. Of the 69 total possible credits, 20 of these directly benefit people (about 28% of the possible credits).

Each credit in the LEED Reference Guide starts with a stated intent. The intent of the credit provides a reference point to tell why we should do something. This effectively creates a philosophical and motivational framework for LEED. The stated credit intent also provides guidance for credit rulings. Credit rulings are necessary when interpretation of a LEED credit is unclear, or when a project requests that credit be given upon a different basis than that of the specific credit requirement. A credit may be given if the USGBC reviewer determines that the stated intent of the credit has still been met. Sixteen LEED NC credits contain a stated intent related to the human species.

These include all of the Indoor Environmental Quality related credits, with the stated intent to promote well-being, comfort, and/or productivity of building occupants or construction workers. Four additional credits benefit society even though their stated intent does not. Sustainable Site Credit SS 2 and SS 4.2 encourage walking and bicycling, which directly improve human health by helping to reduce obesity. These are secondary benefits of the two credits, and not the stated intent or motivation for providing the credit. The stated intents for the credits include “reduce pollution,” “protect greenfields,” and “preserve habitat and natural resources.”5 Materials and Resources Credits MR 5.1 and 5.2 give credit for “increasing demand for materials and products that are extracted and manufactured within the region.” This has a direct effect on the local economy, by focusing purchasing within a 500-mile radius of the project site, instead of outsourcing purchases to other cities or even countries. Of course, this also has the effect of matching construction materials with local resources, and reducing associated environmental impacts from transporting materials