Module 1: Introduction to Sustainability and Building Design

Module 1: Introduction to Sustainability and Building Design

Authored by EcoRise

Essential questions: 
What is systems thinking and why is it useful?
What can we learn from systems in nature to create sustainable human structures?
How does carbon move through the global carbon cycle?
How does the carbon cycle relate to greenhouse gases and global climate change?
What can I do to reduce my personal carbon footprint?
What are some examples of feedback loops in daily life and in natural systems?
How can analyzing feedback loops in the built environment help us make systems more sustainable?
What are some of the difficulties in determining whether something is sustainable or unsustainable?
What is the “triple bottom line” and how does it relate to green building?
What is LEED and the USGBC, and what are the three available LEED credentials?
How can life-cycle thinking help builders make sustainable choices?
What is regenerative design and how can it be applied?
How is an integrative design useful in green building?

LESSON 1.1: Eco-‘Systems’
(Estimated time needed: Four 55-minute sessions)
In this lesson, students explore systems thinking and why it is useful. They consider a variety of systems in the world around them and discuss how systems often intersect and interrelate. Then they examine an ecosystem as a basic unit of nature that includes a variety of subsystems: a community of living organisms; nonliving structures; and biological, chemical, and physical processes. Next, students work in groups to create a lesson they can share with their peers about one specific natural system and how it sustains itself over time. Finally, students consider how what they’ve learned about sustainable natural systems might be applied to the development of human structures. This first module serves as a foundation for understanding key green building principles and LEED Green Associate Exam materials covered in future modules.

LESSON 1.2: The Carbon Dilemma
(Estimated time needed: Two 55-minute sessions)
In this lesson, students investigate the carbon cycle to learn the many ways it moves through Earth’s natural cycles. They play a game to simulate the carbon cycle before and after the Industrial Revolution. After the game, students discuss how our use of fossil fuels has impacted the global carbon cycle and contributed to the greenhouse effect and global climate change. Students explore the carbon dilemma, probing our reasons for using fossil fuels and strategies to lessen our dependence on them. This foundational knowledge helps prepare students for the LEED Green Associate Exam, Energy and Atmosphere Knowledge Domain.

LESSON 1.3: Feedback Loops
(Estimated time needed: One 55-minute session)
In this lesson, students have another opportunity to practice systems thinking as they learn that feedback loops can help them pinpoint cause-and-effect relationships in a system. Students explore specific examples of feedback loops in natural and human systems and differentiate between positive feedback loops, which reinforce conditions, and negative feedback loops, which balance conditions. They consider examples of feedback loops in buildings and identify leverage points as places where a small change can influence a significantly larger change. Then students divide into groups and create skits to challenge one another to identify positive and negative feedback loops and consider potential leverage points that could lead to an increase in a building’s sustainability. This foundational knowledge helps prepare students for the LEED Green Associate Exam.

LESSON 1.4: Prioritizing High-Performance Solutions
(Estimated time needed: Two 55-minute sessions)
This lesson gives students an opportunity to pull together the concepts they learned in Lessons 1.1–1.3. They work together to define sustainability and then begin analyzing how a variety of actions fall on a sustainable to unsustainable spectrum. They learn the concept of the “triple bottom line,” which considers the environment, society, and the economy. Next, students get an introduction to USGBC’s LEED Impact Categories and Credit Categories. They divide into teams, with each team investigating one of the six primary LEED Credit Categories and how applying this category to a building could make it more sustainable. Then groups share their findings with the class and discuss how green building can benefit the triple bottom line.

LESSON 1.5: Toward Regenerative Design
(Estimated time needed: Three 55-minute sessions)
In this lesson, students work with a partner to investigate the life cycle and environmental impact of a product, considering ways to make a product more sustainable at each stage in its life cycle. Then they consider ways that an entire system can be designed to “regenerate,” or restore, renew, or revitalize, its sources of water, energy, and materials to create a sustainable system. Finally, students work in teams to brainstorm strategies for implementing regenerative designs to create sustainable buildings. This foundational knowledge helps prepare students for the LEED Green Associate Exam, Materials and Resources Knowledge Domain.

LESSON 1.6: Integrative Process
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(Estimated time needed: Two 55-minute sessions)
In this lesson, students learn that in addition to systems thinking and life-cycle analysis, another important aspect of successful green building projects is an integrative process. This strategy prioritizes connections and communication among professionals and stakeholders throughout the entire life cycle of a project. The idea is that the more the people on the team understand the perspectives of the other people on the team, the better the project will be. Then students work as team members, experts, and stakeholders to evaluate a neighborhood plan and propose changes to make the plan more sustainable. This foundational knowledge helps prepare students for the LEED Green Associate Exam, Integrative Strategies Knowledge Domain.

Supplementary References
Every LEED Prep lesson includes references in the Assess section to the GBES LEED v4 Green Associate Exam Preparation Study Guide (when relevant), the LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook (for Task and Knowledge Domains), and LEED Impact Categories. Those resources are included here, along with other references students may find helpful in preparing for the LEED Green Associate Exam.