indoor plants and indoor environmental quality (IEQ)

By: Joe Zazzera, LEED AP, GRP |  March 31, 2010 | topics: US Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System

Under the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system there is a credit category for Indoor Environmental Quality or IEQ. Within the system a building owner can submit to receive credit points for using materials that are low VOC,  (volatile organic compound) emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, carpet systems, composite woods, laminate adhesives and furniture. In addition to several prerequisites, there are credits available for air monitoring and delivery, having construction management plans to deal with and filter air during construction and prior to occupancy, as well as chemical source controls.  The general idea is to avoid sick building problems before they arise by using products that are low or no VOC emitting and have monitoring and control devices in place during and after construction.

This category deals specifically with increased occupant comfort, well-being and productivity. Let me repeat that…well-being, comfort and productivity! Nearly every credit within this category references those three words in its intent, yet despite the research, findings and science proving the benefits of indoor plants on the human experience, the increase in productivity and removal of toxins and VOC’s, there is no credit category for plants indoors.

The Green Building Council of Australia has an equivalent building rating system known as “Green Star”.  In their system they aim to encourage and recognize the installation of indoor plants that improve environmental quality. Points are awarded when plants are included in the office build out or tenant improvement.

The criteria for compliance must have the following:

  • Plant species selected on suitability to indoors
  • Two-year horticultural maintenance plan
  • Minimum density of one 300mm (12”) plant or two 200mm (8”) plants per two work settings
  • Additional points can be added for increased plant density (double density=double points)

Beyond the criteria there are also compliance requirement submittals and documentation, which I encourage you to review (Green Star- Office interiors v1.1 IEQ-15 Indoor Plants)

This past month there was some good news published by press release from the USGBC.  Australia’s Green Star, the UK’s BREEAM rating system and USGBC’s LEED system have agreed to work together to develop metrics and alignment tools to create consistency in measuring and reporting. Although this in and of itself may not seem like a very big deal, in my opinion it is huge because it indicates mutual respect between these three entities and gets them working together toward a common goal. I believe this cohesive approach will eventually give live plants their correct place within the LEED rating system, but only if we push for the change.

I encourage Interiorscapers everywhere to learn as much as you can about the Green Star requirements and talk about it with your current and potential clients. Additionally, join your local USGBC chapter and talk to anyone there who will listen about the system and why indoor plants should be in the LEED rating system. It is these kinds of grass roots effort that will get us recognized and get green plants in green buildings.