In Defence of LEED: Stop Bashing the Bike Racks!


Image Credit: Steven Vance

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, so Henry Gifford (who is suing the USGBC) and others feel free to complain that it doesn't save enough energy. That's fine, but every time they do complain, they bring up the bike racks; it has become the standard bash. An example: Joseph Lstiburek of Building Science Corp's comments to an Oklahoma newspaper:

The problem? LEED gives "green" points for construction factors and building features that have more to do with "feel good" aesthetics than energy conservation. "A bike rack? You get a green point for a bike rack?" he said incredulously, pointing out that as important as that might be to some people, it has nothing to do with building performance.

While I respect Joseph Lstiburek, I think he is dead wrong on this one.

The bike rack meme has been used by many to criticize LEED, but if you actually read what LEED gives you a point for:

Provide secure bicycle racks and/or storage within 200 yards of a building entrance for 5% or more of all building users (measured at peak periods)

Provide shower and changing facilities in the building, or within 200 yards of a building entrance, for 0.5% of full- time equivalent (FTE) occupants.

It's not just a bike rack. Furthermore, one can make the case that promoting bikes is promoting serious energy efficiency. Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen looked at the Transportation Energy Efficiency of Buildings. His conclusion:

I found that office building energy use for commuting averages 121 kBtu/sf-yr. That's 30% more energy than an average office building uses itself. So it takes more energy to get to and from our office buildings than those buildings use directly!

Even more significantly, if we make the same comparison using a new office building that is built according to modern energy codes (ASHRAE 90.1-2004), we find that the transportation energy use is nearly 2.4 times as great as the direct energy use of the building!

So that bike rack that Joe is so dismissive of is part of a strategy that has a whole lot more impact on energy consumption than he suggests. Joe also thinks that "green building programs should focus 80 percent on energy efficiency and indoor air quality, 10 percent on water efficiency and 10 percent on materials."

That is his opinion; he happens to be a mechanical engineer and specialist in building envelopes; that is where his head is. Others happen to think other things are important as well. Based on the work of Alex Wilson I would say that location, transit and bikes are more important than his energy efficiency.

Henry Gifford fixes boilers; Joseph Lstiburek fixes building envelopes. I think bikes are the best energy saving device on the planet. We all have different approaches to saving energy. I have no love for LEED, but I wish smart people like Joseph Lstiburek would stop bashing the bike racks.


More on Green Building:

How Should We Really Measure Green Building?
Why Cycling Is to Transportation What Efficiency Is to Energy
The Four Sins of LEEDwashing: LEED Green Buildings That Perhaps Aren't Really Green
Forget About Green Gizmos: Buildings Need To Be Healthy and Durable Too

Tags: Green Building | Ride Your Bike

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