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The green building movement has been going strong for more than two decades, with LEED at the forefront. On a global scale, there are LEED-certified buildings in 167 countries and territories, making a difference in the lives of thousands of occupants, saving money and natural resources, and driving broad social and economic prosperity.

Some of the challenges green buildings address have been part of the equation since the early days of LEED, including energy efficiency, waste diversion and minimizing the heat island effect.

Other issues have become more prominent in recent years and are leading to new innovations and trends in the design, construction, and operation of commercial and residential spaces. These trends include increased attention to human health in and around buildings, embracing city- and community-level perspectives, tracking and leveraging building performance data, and designing for resilience.

Health is Front and Center

Designing for occupant experience has always been at the heart of the building industry, but experience can be defined by myriad factors. Creating a pleasing aesthetic is a wholly different objective than designing for function, comfort or health. As building practitioners have increasingly embraced lessons learned from other professional disciplines, such as psychology, sociology and medicine, the focus on human health has intensified.

Today, the green building community is fully aware of the importance of creating spaces that are not only efficient and high performing, but also supportive of occupant health. In LEED, a pilot credit now exists to encourage project teams to involve public health professionals in the integrative process. Conversations between physicians or public health researchers and architects, engineers, construction and facility managers are inspiring new approaches to designing and building for desirable health outcomes.

Higher Order Thinking

The industry-wide discussion about human health is intimately connected to another trend in the green building space: city- and community-level thinking and planning. While urban centers have always been comprised of individual buildings and spaces, there is a growing trend today emphasizing a systematic approach to greening our cities and communities, with buildings as integral parts of the overall equation.

In 2017, Washington, D.C., became the first city in the world to achieve LEED for Cities Platinum certification. Soon thereafter, Arlington County, Va., followed suit, earning the first LEED for Communities Platinum certification. Both locales were recognized for their ongoing and impactful efforts to address water, energy, waste, transportation and human experience (which includes education, prosperity, equity, health and safety). The LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities programs emphasize outcomes and require participating municipalities to measure performance across a variety of metrics, allowing them to benchmark and improve their efforts over time.

Built to Perform

Emphasizing building performance, data transparency and incremental improvement informed by metrics are trends across the building industry. The old adage that “what gets measured, gets managed” could not be more true anywhere other than in the built environment. Understanding whether a building is living up to the intent of its design and how individual or integrated systems are functioning is critically important if green buildings are going to fulfill their potential.

In addition, new technology allows building owners, operators and occupants to dig into performance data and to make timely, informed decisions to improve their spaces. 

Real Resilience

Apart from being beautiful, functional, comfortable and healthy for occupants and the environment, buildings increasingly need to be resilient in the face of change. Extreme weather patterns, along with potential economic and social changes, drive decision making around new and existing buildings alike. Creating spaces that are flexible and convertible ensures a longer lifespan, while using innovative products and technology can support community-level resilience.

As highlighted in the recent 2017 Top 10 States for LEED announcement, leaders in the green building movement are aligning their objectives with local and state policies, as well as corporate and organizational targets, to reduce their contributions to climate change and to bolster resilience efforts.

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