The timing of both University Hospitals and the Children’s Museum of Cleveland earning LEED-Platinum plaques—for a new community health facility and renovation of an old Cleveland mansion—had a lot to do with U.S. Green Building Council President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam’s schedule appearance in Cleveland. But the significance of two major projects receiving the highest green building rating is nonetheless worth noting.
Speaking at The City Club of Cleveland, Ramanujam said that LEED has gone global and has expanded its demographic reach—from offices to healthcare to cities. He noted that Cleveland is a LEED rated city among 99 others. Cleveland’s focus on equity within its Climate Action Plan aligns with USGBC’s shift from being place-based to a focus on people, Ramanujam said.
The organization recently celebrated 25 years and Ramanujan, a native of Chennai, India, took time to reflect on the singular accomplishment of a trillion-dollar green building industry and his personal narrative, one that is shared by millions of Indians from humble beginnings. USGBC, he said, will move beyond rating with an ambitious plan to zero out carbon in buildings, still the leading producer of climate altering greenhouse gases.
One big challenge that Ramanujam was feisty about is the lack of historic preservation at a level that matters.
“When we knock down a building (its embodied energy) is equal to 80 years of energy savings from a new building,” Ramanujam said.
All the more reason to celebrate the transformation of a home built in 1866 on Euclid Avenue into the Children’s Museum of Cleveland. The fact that it won a LEED-Platinum plaque was no accident—it was the result of leadership. Leaders there recognize that sustainability is mission critical—for owning a building long term, and making it the centerpiece of the education experience for visitors. It was no accident that University Hospitals would win a LEED-Platinum in the same day for its Center for Women & Children, a new building planned with the community on a long forgotten piece of land in Midtown on RTA’s HealthLine.
Ramanujam was quick to recognize where USGBC needs to improve. When asked about measuring its impact on climate change, he stressed that the thousands of buildings that are LEED certified have reduced energy and water consumption, but there’s no database to quantify how much. Also, the very technical nature of LEED lacks context, the stories of how quality of life improves. He cited the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden as a leader in “talking about the kinds of experiences people need to have that leads to sustainability.”
“Placing health and wellness in context works better than the energy and climate change (frame),” Ramanjam said.
When asked whether he could envision the day that LEED would measure quality of life rather than points for water and energy reduction, Ramanjam added that LEED for Cities, which apparently Cincinnati and Shaker Heights are discussing, “is focused on economic inequality. I do believe it will go beyond the structure to the people residing in it.”
When asked by a city leader about advocacy at the state level where many policies from building code, transportation, and land use funding is decided, Ramanjam promised to work with state leaders.
Zoning is another important (local) issue that needs reform if green building will reach Ramanjam’s laudable goal of LEED-Zero (emissions). Zoning in most cities is too suburban and negatively impacts how green or sustainable a building can perform in reducing the demand for carbon intensive transportation or with encouraging more density, flexible housing for families who want to live in cities, renewable energy and the creation of green spaces.