How LEED Is Being Replaced by Carbon Neutral Green Building Certifications

By Georgette Kilgore | Updated on September 15, 2021

Every person on Earth should be ensured that the places where they live, rest, learn, and work are both healthy and safe.

But right now, most of the places where we spend the majority of our lives don’t foster that goal. Instead, they help contribute to the dangerous greenhouse gases threatening our health and the planet’s very existence.

So, what can we do?

Green buildings, like this 8 Billion Trees graphic, are being built with trees and other living plants as part of the structure.

New construction and remodeling projects come with heavy ecological footprint, and not just from the materials used (like concrete). That’s why the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification was developed.

It is a building rating system, that is globally recognized,1 established as a method framework used to verify any project’s compliance with the environmentally friendly standards it outlines, issued by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). These standards are designed to measure (and subsequently reduce) the ecological cost of a new building project.

But, there’s a problem.

As is often the case with good intentions, what sounds great on paper is nearly impossible to realize in the field. And that’s what’s happened here. Although LEED was developed to reduce emissions and generate a process that makes construction and new building design ‘greener,’ the practice has been abandoned by many builders and architects as cost prohibitive.

Fortunately, there’s a solution.

Transforming the construction industry into a positive influence that delivers real results for the planet is multi-dimensional, and takes more than simply ideas that look good on paper. It’s about fundamentally changing our communities, our cities, and our world for the better, right now… and it’s about establishing an impactful method that helps us all live healthy, sustainably, and safely in the future.

That’s why carbon neutral green building certifications are replacing LEED standards as an effective way to solve the problem right now, not 20-50 years from now. Using afforestation standards provides a way to establish a foundation that continues to benefit the planet long after the project is completed. Making your project “green” is possible, you just have to know where to look.

Problems with LEED: Real Environmental Issues

The problems with LEED are based on actual conditions. Sure, it sounds great to have a sustainable building, but if that building is located in an area that makes long commutes mandatory, any benefits garnered by the structure will be erased by its use.

Currently, the stipulations and ratings outlined in the LEED program (by GBCI) are (bluntly) impractical.2 In the western economic system, actions are awarded based on extractive, rather than regenerative practices. (This means that the focus is on ‘removing’ specific things that contribute to environmental problem… rather than focusing on tasks that can add environmental benefits.) Essentially, there’s no way to factor in the renewable aspects that could be employed for better results for communities and the planet.

For example, if a building gets LEED certification (regardless of level), that’s it.

Yet.. If to get that certification, the total ecological cost of building exceeds the benefits (the overall lifetime use of the structure ends up erasing any eco-friendly designs), then the certification was useless, because there was ultimately no actual benefit to the environment.

Currently, the planet is at the economic and ecological limits of this kind of construction and building model. It’s costing resources we simply don’t have.

Thankfully, there is a better way that approaches sustainable building through a holistic process. Carbon offsets applied as green building certifications have the power to transform sustainable construction.

An 8 Billion Trees graphic showing the building sector's emissions.

Current LEED Requirements Are Expensive

LEED ratings systems employ both prerequisites and credits, which contribute to the certification process. The prerequisites focus on energy and resources, but the credits apply to specific aspects of a project that set it ‘apart’ from traditional building.

But, in addition to the long-term issues present with these green building certifications, there are the immediate costs, and employing the prerequisites in the design is expensive. Because the current building industry is so competitive, the prerequisites are simply out of the budget for most projects.

A couple designing their dream home, presented with two bids for the same building with vastly different price tags won’t have a choice. If one, which is ‘ecological sound,’ based on LEED requirements, costs five to ten times the amount of the other, which doesn’t employ green building principles… for a family on a budget, there would only be one decision.

LEED Credits And Requirements

In order to achieve LEED credits and prerequisites for the construction categories outlined by the group, builders must strive to comply with specific requirements. Just a few include:

  • Materials and Resources: Credits are offered for sustainable materials and eco-friendly products, that reduce waste and enhance air quality, but these materials are much more expensive than traditional ones.
  • Water: New structures earn credits for having a water efficiency plan that reduces use, or employs ways to reuse potable water. But, for existing structures, such a credit is completely unattainable without a complete overhaul of building.
  • Energy and Atmosphere: These credits are given for enhancing the energy use of the building, such as using innovative climate control systems, and other energy savers.
  • Sustainable Locations: LEED credits can be attained by making sure the new construction will minimize environmental pollution, but not everyone is able to pick and choose their location.

Since these and the other LEED categories (like site location and overall impact) present insurmountable issues for most buyers, finding other practical ways to build sustainably is needed. That’s where forestry based carbon offsets step in to give business’ and home owners alike an opportunity to build sustainably with carbon neutral green building certifications.

Current LEED Certifications Are Hard to Apply to Existing Structures

Another problem with the LEED system is how to make existing structures and homes sustainable and carbon neutral. Buildings that were constructed 15, 25, or even 50 years ago were built and designed to operate on a set of principles no longer in use. Today’s buildings integrate “Smart” solutions and features that are designed to reduce operational costs, but back then, these ideas didn’t exist and simply weren’t in the equation.

Trying to overhaul existing structures with current LEED standards would be nearly impossible, even with complete demolition. But by targeting these principles correctly—from a total impact point of view—we can help existing buildings erase their footprint and become carbon neutral using afforestation and reforestation credits.

A side view of tree saplings growing in a greenhouse in Brazil, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark.
A man in an 8 Billion Trees shirt tending to tree saplings in a greenhouse in Brazil, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark.
A panoramic and bird's eye view of a flat, green planting site in Brazil, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark.
Team members in 8 Billion Trees shirts and work boots posing at a planting site in Brazil, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark

Carbon Offsets and Credits Step Up to Replace LEED with Carbon Neutral Solutions

Carbon afforestation credits can help bridge the current gaps and issues with LEED standards, replacing them with a better-balanced solution. This sort of holistic approach doesn’t just focus on new buildings and new community designs, it accounts for all the emissions generated by all buildings, everywhere, by providing equal and eventually better measures to replenish our environment and ecosystems, and by establishing healthier communities.

Essentially, the ‘carbon neutral’ idea is based on the fact that by planting trees, not only are the carbon emissions of the structure erased, but the additional benefits to the planet provide lasting improvements.

In fact, these credits are designed to make the world healthier. The credit is produced by tree-planting initiatives (and other actions), especially in areas and regions that have been destroyed by clearing, also called “hot spots.” By replenishing the natural vegetation, the native tree species are able to rebuild delicate ecosystems and restore the habitats that are desperately needed for endangered wildlife.

Plus, they work to stop the harmful impact of climate change. Studies confirm that when ‘carbon sinks’ (areas that store carbon emissions out of the atmosphere) are destroyed,3 the resulting increase of CO2 leads to all sorts of global weather problems, including increased droughts, floods, damaging storms and wildfires. In addition, new research suggests that deforestation actually plays a role in helping spread pandemics like the COVID crisis.4

So, when forest offsets are used to erase the CO2 generated by new construction (and existing buildings), they provide long-term benefits to the planet, our wildlife, and our communities.

Erasing the Carbon Footprint of Buildings, Homes, and New Construction—A Better Way

Because LEED standards are so difficult (expensive) to apply in a meaningful and comprehensive way, green construction carbon crediting and offsets deliver a real solution for businesses, individuals, and designers who want to do their part to help the planet and go carbon neutral, but who haven’t been able to attain LEED Certification for their existing or planned green building.

The benefits include:

  • Being able to act right now to stop climate change & provide homes for endangered species
  • Anyone can get on board and sign up to erase the emissions generated by any structure, whether you’re a homeowner who’s contemplating a renovation, a builder who wants to offer green solutions for clients, or a property owner who wants to erase the footprint of a structure that was built decades ago
  • Science-based action that helps the planet for decades to come
  • Help restore habitats for endangered animals

To learn more about using reforestation being used to rebuild habitats, reestablish ecosystems, and reduce harmful CO2 emissions, click here.


References

1U.S. Green Building Council. (n.d.). What is LEED? Retrieved May 24, 2021, from usgbc.org: https://www.usgbc.org/help/what-leed

2U.S. Green Building Council. (2020, December 16). Green Building 101: What is LEED? Retrieved May 24, 2021, from usgbc.org: https://www.usgbc.org/articles/green-building-101-what-leed

3Goerner, S. (2015, September 1). Regenerative Development: The Art and Science of Creating Durably Vibrant Human Networks. Retrieved June 9, 2021, from capitalinstitute.org: http://capitalinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/000-Regenerative-Devel-Final-Goerner-Sept-1-2015.pdf.

4Yale School of the Environment. (2018, July 24). Retrieved May 24, 2021, from e360.yale.edu.

5The President and Fellows of Harvard College. (n.d.). Stopping deforestation, regulating wildlife trade may prevent future pandemics. Retrieved May 24, 2021, from hsph.harvard.edu: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/deforestation-wildlife-pandemic-prevention/