LEED Green-Building Standards Travel to Canada

Although the Leadership in Energy and Design (LEED) rating system was created by the U.S. Green Building Council, it no longer is restricted to the States. In July, the Canadian province of British Columbia became the first non-American licensee of the LEED system, to be known as LEED-BC.

“Western Canada is much like the western U.S. when it comes to environmental issues,” says Alex Zimmerman, president of the nascent Canada Green Building Council. Zimmerman adds that the Pacific coast is “ahead of the curve” on issues of sustainable building, compared to the rest of North America.

The seeds of LEED-BC were sown about two years ago, when a group of government and business leaders in Vancouver, British Columbia began discussing the need for a green-building rating system. It was not always assumed that LEED would become the standard, but Zimmerman says the American rating system was chosen for its flexibility and easy adaptation.

“LEED uses existing codes, standards, regulations, guides, and so on to define the credits,” says Zimmerman. “It’s just a matter of saying, ‘Here’s what you’ve got to do to get these points.’”

LEED-BC is based on LEED 2.1, the latest version of the USGBC’s rating system. Little needed to be done to adapt the code to British Columbia, save for changing measurements into metric, adding site-specific details relevant to the province, and changing references to Canadian and British Columbian standards. In certain cases, though, LEED-BC is more precise than its parent, such as in its credit for transportation of local materials. Instead of lumping together all “local” transportation, as LEED 2.1 does, LEED-BC makes separate allotments for each type (train, truck, sea vessel, car), as some means of travel are more energy-efficient than others.

Despite it being early days for the code, the city of Vancouver is embracing LEED-BC; the municipality is requiring that all its civic buildings greater than 500 square meters be designed to earn LEED-BC Gold rating—the highest energy-efficiency mandate available. Zimmerman says such a standard is not surprising considering the city’s history of aggressively pursuing sustainable building.

The decision to go for the gold was influenced by the city’s National Works Yard, which opened in early June. The pilot LEED project was designed to achieve a Silver rating, but earned a Gold certification.

Aside from Vancouver, other cities in British Columbia also have LEED-certified municipal buildings, including Victoria, Surrey, and White Rock.

LEED-BC is just the beginning of LEED’s geographic expansion. In July, a Canada-wide LEED rating system was approved (it is awaiting ratification by Canada Green Building Council members). This system, called LEED-Canada, is also more stringent than its U.S. counterpart, demanding 12-13% more energy efficiency than LEED 2.1, according to Zimmerman.

Yet Canada is just one of the countries interested in LEED, according to USGBC spokeswoman Taryn Holowka. She notes that the organization is also talking to representatives from India and Australia, among others.

Until further developments, look for our northern neighbor to lead the LEED charge beyond the 49th parallel. And if the pioneering work being done there becomes as successful as it appears poised to be, the LEED rating system may someday become the global standard.

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