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LEED- Some are missing the point by passing on credits

“We usually cannot use enough reclaimed material to meet the LEED MR3.1 credit 5% level not to mention the 10% in 3.2, so we don’t usually reuse materials on projects. We go for other credits to reach the LEED certification level our Owner wants, but usually pass over the reuse credits. It’s not worth the time and hassle.” These are quotes from a conversation I had last week with a LEED consultant and it frustrates me. The USGBC’s assembly of a rating system in LEED to raise the bar is outstanding, but it bothers me that it is too often-times simply a checklist and not a design framework/mindset.

My question on whether or not you hit the 5% level is - why does the percentage and whether you get a credit matter?? If you reach 4.5%, haven’t you accomplished something for your Owner, even though you “missed getting that credit”? The environmental impact of landfill diversion, not to mention cost savings in reusing materials (especially with projects on the chopping blocks due to budget cut-backs) should drive you to this decision to reuse materials, but so should your drive to lead with sustainable design. It is good for the environment and good for the Owner's budget - regardless of the points achieved.

LEED provides a great framework to assure that design teams have thought about each possible sustainable component, but we all need to understand and push beyond the “cheapest point checklist” and “if we won't get the point, we won’t try”. A lot of firms that have been doing it for years understand this. With the Living Building Challenge raising the bar even higher and industry shifts to change some of the mindsets of the rating systems of sustainability, these will be welcomed changes.

Nathan