Green label: from “indulgence” to depreciation

In middle ages, right before Counter-Reformation took place, indulgence trading was a common practice in Cristian world. Those who had money but no desire to change their sinful lifestyles, could buy a “sin compensation” from church and effortlessly “get clean”. Contribution for every sin type was clearly defined by church clerks, and such currency system worked pretty well for everyone’s benefit. Win-win situation, right? But was there ANY WIN?

Green building certification world sometimes reminds me of those middle ages and sin-trading. Especially in those cases where the client “just wants it” without willing to change anything in the building or it’s management practices. In other words, to buy the certificate. I guess, most building assessors have had that conversation with the client at least once in their practice – explaining that they DO NOT trade the certificates.

Green building certificate must be earned, it can’t (shouldn’t) be purchased.

It’s no secret that almost any building can pass throught the lowest possible certification level if only certification fees are paid and formalities executed.  For BREEAM Acceptable, the building has to fulfill only 10% of all the requirements to get that 1 star out of 6 possible. LEED threshold is a bit higher, the minimum is around 40% for LEED Certified. From my working experience, more often than not, these certification levels can be achieved with paper work only. No building upgrades or improvements to technologies and management practices are needed to get into the sin-free green buildings world.

Such formality at lower certification levels has a parallel with those indulgences in middle ages. We kind of know how much it costs to formally change the “brown”  status into “green” without actual changes. However, such indulgence is a small short-term win and a big long-term loss for one clear reason:

The ever growing number of certified buildings results in green label depreciation over time.

BREEAMs and LEEDs are becoming more common everyday, and thus little by little they are losing their “exceptionality”. Some day there will be no thrill to get certified as it will become rather normal or even mandatory by local legislation. I see the new, “exotic” building standards, such as WELL, as a clear sign of BREEAM and LEED depreciation. Knowing, that certifying organizations put efforts to make BREEAM and LEED compatable with WELL, proves my observation even more.

So what is really happening these days, one “green currency” is being replaced with the other, stronger one. To help green building leaders to lead onward and the followers to catch up as the tomorrow will inevitably be somewhat greener than today. Those who cannot do WELLs, will continue doing BREEAMs and LEEDs with an option to upgrade someday when they are ready.

But I am not saying “Don’t go with BREEAM or LEED or don’t pursue building certificates at all”. I’m saying “Do them for right reasons and seek real change, not just a label”. Right reasons for going green will guarantee that YOUR BUILDING won’t depreciate over time. The fundamental meaning of those green building certificates is to bring change, sustainable and bold and worthwhile. This is what they are meant for. If you mistakenly use them as green currency (formality with no improvement) to achieve short-term results , be prepared for depreciation.

Buying indulgence does not make one a better person. It can do the opposite, though.

Same rule applies for green building certificates and green buildings. Some of them will depreciate over time, while others will thrive and continue improving. The difference will come from realization that everyone is responsible for his/her sins and no quick fix will do the work unless YOU ARE determined to get greener for sure.

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