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Posted at 12:25 PM ET, 04/30/2010

Good neighborhoods trump green tech

By Washington Post editors

Green architecture is big right now, especially in the Washington region. It all started locally about 10 years ago when a private developer built the highly visible Tower Building along I-270 in Rockville. The building boasts of using "30% less energy than typical office buildings," thanks to recycling indoor air and relying as much as possible on natural light.

Many of the region's local governments have endorsed the concept, and the District has even gone so far as to require it for all new building construction.

But just what is "green architecture"?

For several years, an organization called the Green Building Council has been certifying environmentally friendly architecture through a process called LEED. To qualify for LEED certification, buildings rack up points for every environmentally friendly component they include. If they have enough points, they get certified.

Buildings get points for having things like natural ventilation, water-efficient landscaping and low-consumption lighting. The Tower Building, for example, has special high-tech windows that retain heat in winter and reflect it in summer, significantly lowering the amount of energy it takes to heat and cool the building.

It's a good system, except for one big flaw: Location. LEED focuses primarily on what goes into a building, but where a building is located makes a huge difference. Buildings in walkable, mixed-use, urban locations are inherently much more environmentally friendly than buildings in suburban locations, because it takes mountains more energy to access suburban locations. If everyone is driving to get there, your building will be a huge energy drain no matter how many high-tech light bulbs it contains.

Rockville's Tower Building, for all its techno-wizardry, is so isolated that it's not a good green building, despite its LEED certification.

LEED architecture without good urban design is sort of like cutting down the rain forest using hybrid-electric bulldozers. It kind of misses the point.

The good news is that as of today, the Green Building Council is officially launching a new ratings system called LEED-ND, or LEED for Neighborhood Development. LEED-ND is specifically organized to encourage development that is dense and walkable, and includes a mix of land uses. Building owners seeking certification under the program will have to show that they are encouraging environmentally friendly cities, rather than individual buildings.

It's a move in the right direction, and it is something that anyone interested in urban development will be hearing more about as time goes on. If local governments embrace LEED-ND the way they have embraced LEED, it could result in the construction of many more walkable neighborhoods in the region, and many fewer sprawling car-dependent ones. More places like Reston Town Center and Bethesda, fewer like Tysons Corner and Rockville Pike.

For more information about LEED-ND, visit the USGBC Web site.

Dan Malouff blogs at The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Washington Post editors  | April 30, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, energy, environment  
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Mr. Malouff,
It seems like you should have researched the LEED rating system a little better. The New Construction rating system provides credit for buildings constructed in urban areas based on the surrounding density of development as well as on the connectivity of teh site to surrounding services. Certain kinds of development, like warehousing or manufacturing for example, don't lend themselves to locating in such areas. So the rating system allows for "green" building in other areas by achieving other credits (like for energy or water efficiency). While avoiding sprawl and the use of automobiles is always desirable where possible, one size does not fit all when it comes to "green" building.

Posted by: thomaske | May 4, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

You have done yourself and LEED a great injustice. LEED for New Construction indeed considers location AND orientation of a building in allocating points towards one of the levels of certification. Your article is wrongly implying LEED as unuseful. I was skeptical of LEED's depth prior to studying for and obtaining my LEED Accredited Professional status. Now that I have obtained it, I know the incredible depth this certification strives to achieve and the outcome that will one day be realized because of this organization's attempts. It would seem you had a barstool conversation with someone on LEED and do not understand it fully. I hope you can research it more and re-report in a future article.

Posted by: snyderd29 | May 4, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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