Student’s Corner

Should major infrastructure projects strive for LEED certification?

When Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in August of 2017, it had achieved a significant milestone: it was the first professional sports stadium in North America to receive a LEED platinum certification.  Attaining such a certification is no easy task.  Everything from plumbing, ventilation, lighting, and edible landscaping had to be taken into consideration.  

For those unfamiliar with the certification, LEED is an acronym which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  It is, in essence, a ratings system designed to calculate how “green” a building is.  Therefore, when LEED platinum was bestowed upon Mercedes-Benz Stadium, organizations like the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta FC were proud to showcase its characteristics in environmental design.       

LEED Certification and infrastructure is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time.  As consumers demand the built environment to be more sustainable, it follows that contractors and the like would respond to those desires.  Similarly, it would follow that a certification system is established and developed over time in order to articulate clear goals in building projects that are, in theory, less environmentally destructive.  Nobody wants to create more damage than they have to.  

Therefore, the answer to the title’s question is ostensibly yes.  The LEED system can provide a good framework for developing the “cleanest” infrastructure projects possible, when applied properly.  However, the LEED system is not without its flaws, and should not be used as the “end-all-be-all” goal for buildings, stadiums, and the like.  

My main concerns with LEED are two-fold: 1) Property owners may use LEED certification as a crutch, thereby greenwashing and hyperbolizing the extent to which a building is “green.”  2) More importantly, pursuing any infrastructure project is inherently harmful, to the extent that it damages and alters the natural environment in question.  This is particularly evident for major projects like the aforementioned Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  While I don’t know the numbers off-hand, could one imagine how much concrete, glass, steel, and paint was needed to build Mercedes-Benz Stadium?  Even if relatively speaking, the builders minimized the amount of resources they used, it would still be a lot.  

Should we stop large-scale construction altogether?  No.  Sports stadiums, roads, buildings, whatever, should continue to be constructed as needed.  However, I want to remain realistic about the extent to which certifications like LEED are useful in determining how green or sustainable a project is.  To lead in energy and environmental design, all parties involved in the development of a project should strive to make continuous improvements.

 

Written by Dax Emerson, Class of 2021

Photo Credits: Inera Isovic on Unsplash

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