The History of Sustainability in Building Construction

Posted on 8/26/2013 2:15:22 PM By Bob Braun

In this and successive blogs, I will begin a focus on sustainability from the historical standpoint and then move into more recent developments and many related issues for sealants.  As mentioned earlier the sealants’ industry plans to develop PCRs (Product Category Rules) and EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations in association with ASTM as the program operator and ASC as the education platform.  The ASC Fall Convention in Minneapolis from Oct 21-23 will focus on “Trends with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)” one of the necessary inputs to creating An EPD.  A great lineup of Industry experts will be presenting at this meeting; you can view them here.

First, I want to discuss briefly one major event that helped drive modern sustainability initiatives.  Many actions blossomed largely after the June 1987 report from UN Documents “Gathering a Body of Global Agreements” which issued the “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future”.

The role of sealants is of course only one of the many components associated with the sustainability issue but sealants play a vital role in controlling energy consumption, preserving the longevity of the building structure, and even enhancing structural strength.

The “National Resources Defense Council” (NRDC) and the “US Green Building Council” (USGBC) created the “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) organization in 1994.  The USGBC was created in 1993 and the first LEED certification standard was issued in March 2000.  USGBC’s constituency includes builders and environmentalists, corporations and nonprofits, elected officials and concerned citizens, and teachers and students.  The vision and mission of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is to improve the quality of life by transforming the design, composition, and operation of the places where we live, learn, work, and play within the short space of a generation.  USGBC currently boasts 77 chapters, over 13,000 member companies and organizations, and 188,000 professionals who hold LEED credentials.  The LEED staff has grown from six volunteers and one committee to numerous volunteers, twenty committees and approximately 200 professional staff since 1994.  The LEED rating systems are distributed into the following categories:

Green Building Design & Construction

  • LEED for New Construction
  • LEED for Core & Shell
  • LEED for Schools
  • LEED for Retail: New Construction and Major Renovations
  • LEED for Healthcare
    Green Interior Design & Construction
  • LEED for Commercial Interiors
  • LEED for Retail: Commercial Interiors
    Green Building Operations & Maintenance
  • LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance
    Green Neighborhood Development
  • LEED for Neighborhood Development
    Green Home Design and Construction
  • LEED for Homes

Clearly, LEED has experienced phenomenal growth and now has successfully influenced many codes and standards and some even beyond the USA. For example, in 2008 LEED certification spread to Dubai, India, China, and Indonesia.  However as with any major initiative there have been issues.  For example, in 2010 several research studies on LEED certified buildings showed that about 25% operated below LEED energy codes and standards.  In addressing this issue, USGB has last year initiated the beta study version  LEED v4 which increases technical stringency from earlier versions.  The nomenclature for LEED certifications has also been revised from versions identified by the year of introduction to now the “v4” version identifier.  This was done in recognition of the much greater role in green initiatives and a new brand strategy as well.  LEED v4 has now been approved and will publish later this year.

Research has shown that LEED buildings may have a slightly higher initial cost but offer savings over the life cycle of the building.  In addition LEED buildings hold higher resale value, higher occupancy rates, higher rents, have less liability, have less operational costs, and are considered lower investment risk.           

Here is a link to a short paper from the “Royal Institute of British Architects” (RIBA) featuring the longer term history of sustainability although perhaps it was not historically named by this same term.  The author, Dean Hawkes: Emeritus Fellow of Darwin Collage, University of Cambridge and Emeritus Professor of Architectural Design, University of Cardiff, points out that technology actually helped lead the introduction of innovations that did not always improve sustainability and some were likely driven by very low energy costs as well.

My next several posts will summarize various foreign associations also engaged in certification for buildings and how their focus differs from that of LEED but also how international cooperation is evolving.  One British group actually preceded USGBC in the modern sustainability effort.  I will then continue with a look at the details for obtaining LEED certification for a building, the associated levels, and how individual products may contribute points.

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