LEEDing to Better Buildings:
A New Program to Improve Our Workspace
Sustainability, in the broadest definition, means using resources to meet our needs today in a way that does not hurt future generations' ability to meet their needs. More practically, it means examining our building practices to ensure that we minimize the impacts on workers inside a building and the environment outside. Sustainable Design and Construction represents a paradigm shift in how we design, build, fit-up, and even lease buildings. It looks at how the construction and use of a building relates to the environment and the people using it. The design, construction, and maintenance of buildings have a significant impact on the environment and natural resources. It is desirable to build them to use a minimal amount of energy and to produce a minimal amount of pollution. At the same time, they should provide comfortable, healthy and safe workplaces. Traditional practices often overlook the relationships between buildings, surroundings and occupants. Green buildings, as these new efforts are sometimes called, integrate the approach to design for environmentally sound and efficient buildings. They promote conservation, reduced environmental impact, healthy and comfortable workspaces and reduced operational & maintenance costs.
The Sustainable Design and Construction Program at NSA incorporates a number of features and program areas. These include use of materials with recycled content, recycling of construction materials at project sites, waste minimization, and the use of biologically-based storm water management known as Low Impact Development (LID) systems. It also addresses water conservation and energy conservation. By far the broadest portion of the program is the incorporation of the green building program known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), of which NSA is a member, LEED is a technically proven, nationally recognized consensus-based system for delivering state-of-the-art green buildings. All the players within the construction industry – architects, designers, constructors, environmentalists, and suppliers – recognized the need to have a measure of what it meant to be a green building, and a means to validate those claims.
The goals of LEED are fourfold:
- Environmental – reduce the consumption of resources
- Economic – improve the bottom line
- Health – enhance building occupants life and productivity
- Societal – reduce the strain on local resources
The LEED program provides a framework for measurement and validation using scientific standards and economically available strategies.
Building certification is at the heart of the LEED program. LEED evaluates, or rates, building performance in six categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation & Design Process. Based on proven and documented standards, LEED provides a guideline for verifying the environmentally desirable characteristics of the building. Projects can evaluate their performance against a number of criteria, assessing points in each criteria selected. The USGBC then reviews building projects against established LEED criteria, and recognizes achievements, such as Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum, based on the level of points obtained. By defining measurable performance targets, LEED certification helps project owners achieve a singular set of health, environmental and economic benefits.
LEED is now accepted as the national standard for green building design, construction and operations in new and existing commercial and institutional buildings. LEED certification brings greater awareness of green building benefits and demonstrates the broad applicability of green and sustainable building design criteria. LEED is transforming the way buildings are designed and constructed by setting the standard for high performance green buildings and enabling organizations to reduce the negative impact of their buildings. LEED measures and validates successes and recognizes leadership in shaping the future of the building environment. Public, private, and nonprofit building owners are showing their leadership by seeking certification of their projects in all 50 states and numerous countries. Federal, state and local government entities are formalizing their commitment to better building practices by requiring LEED certification of their buildings.
NSA is using the principles of LEED to enhance the quality of future construction and renovation within the Agency. This is being done both with and without formal certification. This two pronged approach will improve the way in which our buildings are designed, constructed and operated for the benefit of the environment and the workforce, and put those goals into action as soon as possible. Even when projects are not scored, the use of LEED criteria changes the selected materials, construction techniques, and design approaches. These changes improve occupant health, comfort, and productivity as well aiding the Agency in being compliant with environmental regulations. Formal scoring is performed on new construction efforts and in leased facilities fit-up and renovation.
Through the use of industry LEED guidelines, NSA is working to improve our buildings in terms of worker comfort and environmental performance.