Living Up To My Green China: USGBC Opens LEED For Public Comment

My two and a half year old daughter likes conversations about pee.  She is not the only one in my life, apparently.  To my infinite surprise, one of the top rated posts on GBLB over the past year was the one I did in February on waterless urinal problems

Either we are about to see a wealth of suits related to waterless plumbing failures or it is representative of the trend where people ascribe old problems to failures of new technology.  New technology is not without its pitfalls--as any user of a new version of Windows is familiar with--but people also have heightened expectations of what new technology can achieve. 

For example, one of the main issues with waterless urinals is odor.  However, according to my husband, the smell of conventional urinals at the average sports arena is nothing to write home about. In addition, according to at least one report from

Rasmussen’s department also has fielded complaints about odors related to the units, but more often than not, the problem is related to housekeeping methods rather than the unit’s operation.

So, new technology has two potential pitfalls--the technology itself, and how it is used.

Like waterless urinals, the LEED system is not perfect, and some say they both smell funny. But the tools that LEED provides are only as good--or bad--as the people who use them.  In defining LEED, the USGBC states:

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

If you choose a difficult site, your energy model is lousy, your architect acheives points for slapping a bike rack on the project, and you value engineer out the shading on the windows, I can promise you that your building will not live up to green expectations, even if you get your LEED plaque.  A building team that doesn't use the LEED system, but still works hard to conserve energy, water and other resources throughout the building process will undoubtedly be more environmentally friendly than a conventional building, and even some LEED buildings. 

Many argue that because both of these scenarios are possible, LEED is a failure.  However, the point of LEED, and at some level its greatest triumph, is getting the whole building industry to think about five key areas of sustainability in the built environment--site, water, energy, air quality and materials.  It also gives any building team guidance and structure on how to move towards sustainability on each of these metrics.

More importantly, any new system must have the capacity to incorporate feedback (good or bad) and improve.  Keep the good, and make sure what is "bad" is really bad, and not just unfamiliar or the result of heightened expectations, and evolve.  In that vein, USGBC opened the new LEED systems for public comment today.  If you hate LEED, this is your chance to tell the USGBC that, and have a voice in changing the system. But when you criticize LEED, make sure what you are criticizing is about failures with LEED, and not about unachieveable expectations for what LEED can do. 

As my friend Mitch Swann once  told me, LEED will not make you taller or grow more hair, any more than the waterless urinals will help the situation in the men's rooms at Citizen's Bank Park.

PS: For the reference in the title of this post, please see here.


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Klaus Reichardt - November 9, 2010 12:12 PM

Dear Shari,
great discussion and I appreciate that you are taking the urinals as a hook to make the point. I completely agree with your sentiment and to raise awareness of new technologies (albeit our urinals being in the market for the past 20 years)for implementation. Stigmas, rumours and innuendo plus competing products not working as well make it tough to implement changes.

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