As I’ve written before (May 31, 2008) much of the world has a better understanding of whatSustainable Development means than we do in North America. Graphically Sustainable Development looks like this:
Sustainable Development requires environmental responsibility, economic responsibility, and social/cultural responsibility. Further for a community to be viable there needs to be a link between environmental responsibility and economic responsibility. For a community to be livable there needs to be a link between environmental responsibility and social/cultural responsibility. And for a community to be equitable there needs to be a link between economic responsibility and social/cultural responsibility.
But in North America many of the proponents of sustainable development ignore both the economic and social/cultural components, and even have a myopic view of what constitutes environmental responsibility.
This is most apparent in a “checklist” approach to “green building” called LEED. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a product of the U.S. Green Building Council.
I’m happy that LEED exists. It is an excellent first shot at trying to make buildings and neighborhoods more environmentally responsible. But to say that LEED is necessary but not sufficient for sustainable development is no different than saying dentistry is necessary but not sufficient for health care. But my other two dissents from LEED-mania are: 1) LEED only deals with the environmental component of sustainable development, not at all with the other two components — economic responsibility and social/cultural responsibility; and 2) even within the environmental responsibility component of sustainable development the contributions of existing buildings is irresponsibly inadequate on multiple levels.
In the US currently there are dozens of examples – some by environmental groups themselves – in which historic buildings are being razed with the excuse being given, “But we are going to be LEED certified.”
The US and Canada have much to learn from the rest of the world about the practice of sustainable development. But until we get over the absurdity that simply scoring enough points to rate a LEED gold star is the same as sustainable development, we won’t be making much progress.