LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, has become an international standard for green building. Using the LEED points system, it’s relatively easy to construct or renovate a building to have a reduced carbon footprint and high efficiency. The generalized system certification also provides a framework for comparing the relative “sustainability” of two or more buildings, whether they’re in the same neighborhood, or separated by vast oceans.

However, as Ohioan and Africa-based architect Charles Newman discusses in this article, LEED can’t be implemented everywhere, no matter how much we’d like to. In unique situations, like much of Africa, the LEED system just doesn’t fit the environment, culture, or climate. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

LEED in Africa
Image via US Navy

“Many more of the points however (as many as 45 of the 100), are simply irrelevant or financially irresponsible,” writes Nelson in reference to implementing LEED in Africa. “In some cases, adherence to these credits can actually be detrimental to project success and community prosperity.”

Let’s take a look at some of the specific points he’s talking about.

1. First, there’s the Sustainable Sites credit that places great emphasis on facilitating the use of Low-Emitting and Fuel-Efficient vehicles. To satisfy this criteria, a building must provide preferred parking for fuel-efficient vehicles or offer a fuel-efficient car lending program for at least 3% of the building occupants. This makes sense in New York, London, and France, but obviously, not rural Africa.

2. Next, there’s the Commissioning of Systems credit, which stipulates that a third party must oversee the design, commissioning, and monitoring of all mechanical systems for a ten month period. This is ill suited for many African construction projects for the simple reason that a) there are far fewer skilled technicians to which to pass the responsibility at the end of 10 months, and b) systems that are this complicated typically add tremendous expense to a project.

3. Finally, there’s the Energy and Atmosphere credit, which essential instructs building owners to purchase at least 35% of the building’s purchased from renewable sources for a certain period of time. The problem here, as Nelson points out, is that it assume that electrification must be part of the building’s operation. “For many projects in rural Africa, electricity simply isn’t a priority,” he writes.

So if LEED isn’t right for Africa, what’s the answer for guiding green building projects in rural communities that so badly need responsible development?

According to Nelson, there’s a local alternative in the works, called the SEED Network (Social Economic Environmental Design). Instead of a rigid point system, “Submitted projects are reviewed individually by the SEED Awards Jury according to these principals – with no need for specific points or totals.”

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