United States Green Building Council & LEED

Have you heard talk of "green" building construction and sustainable living? What does it mean for smokefree air?

Architects and engineers are no longer the sole conversers about building design. The "greening of America" and "sustainable buildings" now extends to the water coolers of local, state, and federal policymaker offices, hospitals, schools, private residences, and shopping malls. As natural resources deplete and energy costs rise, individual citizens, policymakers, and entire communities are brainstorming ways to sustain quality of life, and improve health, while minimizing impact to the earth's climate and natural resources.

As a result, the United States Green Building Council (USBGC) has been busy. USGBC is a non-profit network composed of 9,000 member organizations and leaders from every sector of the building industry, working to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work. Its core purpose "is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life."

As part of its mission to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, USGBC created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™, which is now accepted as the national benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. Its intended purpose is to promote a "whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality."

If USGBC and LEED's desired goals are to promote health and sustainability, and to improve quality of life, buildings must be required to be 100% smokefree indoors, right?


LEED specifies that the intent of this section is to "enhance indoor air quality in buildings, thus contributing to comfort and well-being of the occupants," establishing two prerequisites for indoor air quality: (1) complying with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers' (ASHRAE) outdated smoke-filled Standard 62.1-2004, versus its new smokefree Standard 62.1-2007, as a baseline for minimum ventilation rates or (2) to create smoking rooms to "effectively contain, capture, and remove ETS from the building." This requirement creates the impression that ventilation and other air filtration techniques can remove (eliminate) secondhand smoke from the air, leading to a public presumption that ventilation protects people and the building from secondhand smoke. The truth is that ventilation cannot remove secondhand smoke. Period.

As U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated upon the release of the 2006 Surgeon General's Report, "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke," the debate is over; and the science is clear: "there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke" and that no ventilation system or air cleaning technology can completely control for secondhand smoke, thus completely eliminating the health risks caused from exposure.

The science of secondhand smoke is old news, so what is stopping the USGBC from taking the lead with its LEED standards by requiring "healthy" buildings to be 100% smokefree and, in fact, healthy!?

The USGBC needs to hear from you! Here is what you can do to help:

  • Join LEED! Become a member and get a voice at the table when LEED requirements are up for revision.

  • Write the Board of Directors! Encourage them to amend LEED requirements for new buildings and renovations by eliminating the smoking room language and requiring 100% smokefree buildings to ensure healthy, sustainable living for buildings and people alike.