“Calif. and USC must LEED the way”

California is known for being ahead of the curve on all things green. We liberally apply endless variations of the word ‘trailblazer’ to the state’s environmental policy and usually assume that if some new trend in sustainability is taking the nation by storm, California got there first.

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Apparently that’s not always the case, in California or at USC.

The U.S. Green Building Council recently named the top 10 states “with so-called green commercial and institutional structures,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Basically, the states that are the most aggressive in making their buildings LEED-certified.

California, surprisingly enough, didn’t make the cut.

This doesn’t mean California has thrown in the towel when it comes to sustainability so much as it indicates that other states are stepping up their game. And at USC, the drive for LEED-certified buildings seems to tell the same story.

USC, like California as a whole, is making progress, but it’s no longer enough to be doing the minimum. Other colleges and other states are completing more projects at a faster pace, and USC is being left behind.

In the wake of the successful certification of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, USC Sustainability pledged all future construction on campus be held to LEED standards.

USC is far from being the only college with such a goal.

The University of Washington and the University of California, Santa Barbara have seven and eight LEED-certified buildings, respectively, and colleges across the nation have made similar or more extensive pledges.

Instead of waiting on new construction for the opportunity to lessen campus’ carbon footprint, USC could implement LEED-inspired standards in more of its existing buildings.

Yes, some criteria for certification, such as choosing a sustainable construction site, aren’t realistic for existing structures. But numerous others, such as ‘energy & atmosphere’ (which refers mostly to electricity conservation), and ‘water efficiency’ (self-explanatory) call for mostly topical changes to existing building fixtures and would require no extensive overhaul.

Although such improvements wouldn’t earn a building a full certification, they would certainly improve the environmental impact of the building.

Since USC is prepared to pay the full price for future projects, it should also be able to afford some interim measures.

California, meanwhile, might be better served  by just ensuring that as many future projects as possible are up to code.

Granted, now might not be the best time to spend pocket change on water filters. Instead, California’s government should instead focus on the bigger picture.

The advantages of LEED certification are hard to deny.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council website, LEED-certified structures are healthier for occupants, can decrease production of landfill waste and even have financial benefits like tax rebates and lower operating costs within the building itself. In short, these structures are worth investing in.

The colleges outdoing USC in LEED-certifications have, in general, less money and fewer resources, just as California is getting shown up by smaller states in less geographically-desirable parts of the country.

It’s time for both to up their commitment.

Kastalia Medrano is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism and an associate managing editor for the Daily Trojan.  Her column, “Green Piece,” runs Tuesdays.