Natural stone can be deconstructed/removed from one project and stored for later use on another job.
Natural stone can be deconstructed/removed from one project and stored for later use on another job.

As sustainable design becomes more widely known and applied, it is important to pause and keep the larger picture in focus. Too often, sustainable design is equated to just earning LEED points on a project. But true sustainable design is much more than that one factor.

High performance buildings

The Sustainable Buildings Industry Council ( provides good guidelines for big-picture thinking in its High Performance School Buildings Resource and Strategy Guide.

Why “high performance?”

The answer is because sustainable design is about more than just consideration of environmental impacts. It also must include economic and social considerations. High performance buildings take this broad picture, sustainable view.

Though targeted toward schools, the principles of high performance buildings found in this document are applicable to all types of construction. According to the SBIC, high performance buildings should consider:

  • Environmentally responsive site planning
  • Energy efficient building shell
  • Thermal comfort
  • Energy analysis
  • Renewable energy
  • Water efficiency
  • Safety and security
  • Day lighting
  • Commissioning
  • Environmentally preferable materials and products (includes durability)
  • High performance HVAC
  • High performance electric lighting
  • Life cycle cost analysis
  • Acoustic comfort
  • Superior indoor air quality
  • Visual comfort.
  • Each of these principles fits within one of the goals of sustainable design: environmental, economic, or social. Sustainable design is that balance of all three.

    LEED-NC rating system

    LEED-NC is the most widely used green building rating system in the U.S. It is organized into five environmental categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

    How does the LEED-NC rating system fit within this framework for high performing buildings?

    LEED-NC stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction and Major Renovation. As the name states, the focus is on energy and the environment. Some credits touch on the less tangible aspects of sustainable social goals and indirect economic goals, but for the most part, these aspects of sustainable design are not included.

    For this reason, several principles of high performance buildings are not included in the LEED-NC rating system. At present, LEED-NC does not include safety and security, life cycle cost analysis, acoustic comfort, visual comfort, and durability. In some cases, such as acoustic comfort, these principles can be pursued under the Innovation and Design category; however, most have not been broadly recognized by LEED-NC.