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Posts by James Wilson

Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 1: “Just Sustainability”

The causes of social inequity and injustice are deeply rooted within the systems that shape our society, including the built environment. The built environment represents the literal foundation of our society’s presence in the world – from the smallest rural community to the largest city. The way in which buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained has a tremendous influence on the equity (or inequity), and the justice (or injustice), of our society. The way we build and the strategies we employ can either continue to worsen social issues or can lay the groundwork for significant progress to be made on these issues in places around the world.

The building industry continues to make progress on reducing negative environmental impacts of the built environment. In fact, we’re increasingly seeing practices and strategies go beyond “sustainable” to “regenerative,” with such goals as net-positive energy, water, and waste. Now, the industry is reckoning with the urgent need to integrate social equity into its definition of sustainability in order to also reduce negative social impacts of the built environment. We might accelerate the process by framing the goal as “net-positive equity.” (more…)

Leveraging LEED for New Construction Post-COVID Part 2

LEED: Toolkit for a Healthy and Resilient Post-COVID Built Environment

At SWA, we have used LEED across a wide range of projects and contexts. We have seen firsthand its strength as an adaptable toolkit for guiding high performance building design, construction, and operation. The intent of each LEED credit category takes on a particular meaning, both locally and globally, in response to the emergence of such factors as global climate change and its associated consequences—including pandemics. In the post-COVID context, these intents will take on new meaning and new urgency. Read Part 1 of this blog here!

image of coal plant

Credit: Arnold Paul | Wikimedia Commons

The overall goal of the LEED rating system is to reduce the negative impacts of the built environment on environmental and human health. Ideally, this focus contributes to our general, overall resilience to public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic by reducing and mitigating various factors that make us more vulnerable to diseases. For example, we know that long-term exposure to air pollution and poor air quality dramatically increases the chances of dying from COVID-19 and that most of the same pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death for COVID-19 are the same diseases exacerbated by exposure to air pollution. Anything we can do to improve air quality will also improve our resilience to disease. Most significantly, we need to move away from fossil fuel-based energy and toward clean, renewable energy—and a large portion of LEED is focused on doing just that.

As researchers have noted, many of the root causes behind climate change also contribute to a greater risk of pandemics. An example is deforestation and associated habitat loss, which forces wildlife to migrate, bringing novel viruses into closer contact with livestock and humans, and increasing the odds of disease transmission. On top of that, by altering temperature and rainfall patterns, climate change has created conditions that are more conducive to the spread of disease in general. So, the strategies we need to enact now to address the climate crisis—many of which are addressed in LEED credits—can also mitigate the occurrence, scale, and impacts of future disease outbreaks.

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Leveraging LEED for New Construction Post-COVID Part 1

In the post-COVID world, there needs to be a greater awareness that the built environment can protect and promote human and environmental health. Buildings can, and must, play a critical role in delivering a stronger, more resilient public health infrastructure that can help prevent and mitigate crises such as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The good news is that we already have effective tools for designing, constructing, and operating such buildings—chief among them LEED and the WELL Building Standard.

We believe people are now more conscious of how the built environment affects their health. As a result, we’re likely to see an increase in investment in sustainable building design, construction, and operation and a corresponding increase in demand for green building rating systems such as LEED and WELL. We may also see the green and healthy building concepts that are included in these systems increasingly integrated into building codes.

USGBC plaque

[Credit: Blanchethouse (username) / Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org]

Certification programs (e.g., LEED and WELL) have been developed though collective effort. They are extremely effective and adaptable tools that project teams can use to ensure that their buildings achieve the best possible performance in terms of protecting environmental and human health. Importantly, these programs continue to evolve, offering ever more effective strategies for improving the built environment, ensuring that buildings adapt to whatever circumstances may arise in uncertain times. But right now, project teams can make immediate use of LEED and WELL, and similar tools, to start preparing for the new reality ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How can project teams leverage LEED now? In this series, we’ve highlighted the LEED credits that can be used to guide efforts to make our buildings safe, healthy, and resilient. (In a follow-up series we’ll discuss the WELL features that can be used to guide our post-COVID building work.)

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