Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chris Cheatham compares LEED talk with Nature's walk. "Does Sustainability Policy Really Support Sustainability?" | Sustainable Cities Collective

I recently spent five days in Vieques, an island just off of Puerto Rico, with my beautiful wife.  I fully expected to ignore all of the green building and sustainable cities thoughts floating around in my head.  But Vieques presented many sustainability issues that I could not ignore. 

During our trip to the small island off of Puerto Rico, we stayed at the Hix Island House, a local hotel.  If you enjoy eco-tourism, I cannot imagine a better spot.  From the picture, you can see that the structure we stayed in is essentially a bunker.  No windows, no air conditioning, but all of the other amenities you can imagine.  We even slept under a mosquito net at night. 

As my wife and I discussed the sustainable features of the Hix house, I mentioned that I did not think the building could get LEED certification since it did not contain a HVAC system, which led to us pondering the following question:

Do you think a building, like the Hix Island House, that is open air and does not contain an HVAC system should qualify for LEED certification?

The LEED rating system was created to transform the market for more environmentally-friendly, traditional buildings.  By traditional buildings, I mean those buildings you see with windows, and heating and cooling system.  The LEED rating system was not created to recognize structures like the Hix House.  I told my wife as much and she astutely pointed out the following: 

But what if the LEED rating system has become so powerful that tourists interested in eco-travel focus only on resorts with LEED certification, and fail to recognize that the greenest options, like the Hix house, are not eligible? 

I was reminded of this question again when I came across an article describing how federal employees are now supposed to lodge in LEED-certified hotels: 

It isn’t often that a US President creates a directive that speaks precisely to travel management. But that’s what happened in October 2009, when President Obama signed Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. . . . The order was specifically about government travel-related areas targeted for improvement—everything from pre-trip approvals to hotel selection. Highlights include:

• Stay at an environmentally friendly hotel, or at least one that conserves energy and water, engages in waste reduction practices and purchases from environmentally-sensitive suppliers. In particular, travelers should look for properties that are LEED certified, have earned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Energy Star rating or participate in EPA’s WasteWise and WaterSense programmes.

I can certainly see how the Executive Order may result in employees choosing LEED certified hotels over other sustainable, non-certified hotels, like the Hix Island House. 

But what do you think? 

A good opening for a discussion about durable and regional sustainable building vs the legislated and marketed variety. The answer is contextual, integrated design.