Is there a way to make “green” buildings as friendly to people as they are to the environment?
I had the opportunity to discuss indoor air quality and chemical susceptibility with some of the nation’s leading architects and building technologists at a recent conference about building standards. I was one of 13 guest speakers at the conference hosted by the School of Architecture at the University of Texas in Austin.
Indoor air has a profound effect on people’s health, and my goal was to persuade the group that poor quality air makes some people sick. My message was simple: If you protect the most vulnerable people, you will protect everyone.
I suggested adding a new level to the coveted LEED building certification. The new certification level would recognize buildings that assure excellent indoor air quality.
Certification under LEED, short for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” reflects a rating system for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, it is intended to provide building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. Buildings receive LEED certification based on five categories of construction quality. I proposed a sixth: indoor air quality. A building can be LEED certified and yet have indoor air exposures that pose major health problems for a building’s most susceptible occupants, such as the chemically intolerant, those with asthma, pregnant women, etc.
Americans spend 90 percent of their day indoors so architects and builders bear a major responsibility for the quality of indoor air.
Who is most vulnerable? Children, pregnant women, and more susceptible adults (people with asthma, allergies, or chemical intolerance). At any given time, of 100 people, 3 are pregnant or will become pregnant within a year, 7 are children under the age of 5 (another 17 are still under the age of 18 and the brain continues to develop into the early 20s!), 7 have asthma, 20 have
allergies, and 15 are chemically intolerant.
LEED certification does not protect the most vulnerable building occupants from indoor air contaminants such as chemicals, particles, allergens, and microbes. Although indoor environmental quality requirements are part of LEED certification and builders and owners can earn points by taking additional measures that can improve indoor air quality, the levels of certification such as “silver,”"gold,” or “platinum” are insufficient to protect the most vulnerable building occupants. A new designation, perhaps “LEED Diamond,” should be introduced with mandatory criteria to ensure excellent indoor air and protect all building occupants.