LEED-Bashing: USA Today Series Says It's Too Easy To Be Green (and a Whole Lot More)

Palazzo Hotel/Promo image

Behold the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas. It's LEED Silver Certified, under the green building program run by the US Green Building Council and according to an article by Thomas Frank in USA Today,

The designation won its owner, Las Vegas Sands Corp., a $27 million tax break over 10 years because a Nevada law puts the private interest group — not the government — in charge of deciding which buildings are green enough for a taxpayer subsidy.

The U.S. Green Building Council, a building industry non-profit, credited the Palazzo for having bike racks in the garage; room cards telling guests when towels are replaced; landscaping that does not use grass, which local law prohibits anyway; and preferred parking for fuel-efficient cars — spots that on a recent week were occupied by Ford Expeditions, Chevy Tahoes, Range Rovers, Mercedes E320s, Chrysler 300s, Audi A6s, vans, sports cars and a Hummer.

The article goes on (and on) accusing designers of point mongering, accusing LEED practitioners of self promotion (and in a subsequent article published today, serious conflict of interest) and of doing the cheap and easy stuff first, which seems like a logical thing to do. It also cherry-picks a building designed under the 2002 LEED rules and certified in 2008, much changed since then, and that benefited from a tax credit program that no longer exists.

I have previously suggested that calling any building in Las Vegas green is probably a contradiction in terms, but Thomas Franks and USA Today paints the entire LEED program and green building industry with this brush.

Across the United States, the Green Building Council has helped thousands of developers win tax breaks and grants, charge higher rents, exceed local building restrictions and get expedited permitting by certifying them as “green” under a system that often rewards minor, low-cost steps that have little or no proven environmental benefit.

And yes, they bash the bike racks. Tough reading in USA Today: In U.S. building industry, is it too easy to be green? and 'Green' growth fuels an entire industry They are a little nicer in their article about updating LEED in 'Green' code under construction

USGBC/Screen capture

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) had no choice but to respond, but I think was a bit mealy-mouthed and could have done a more powerful job of it. They probably also should have waited until the series was over before they responded; today's article needs to be addressed, probably by lawyers.

LEED isn’t perfect, but it is always improving. The program is developed by technical committees of the highest caliber and any changes to LEED are commented on by the public and must be approved through a democratic ballot process open to all USGBC members.

USGBC is proud that these measures that were once deemed exceptional are now industry standard,” concluded Fedrizzi, “That is why we keep raising the bar. We may be the only organization that has created a program that when the market really starts to like it, we make it harder and more difficult to use. We develop LEED using a consensus-driven process, and while the rate of change may not be fast enough for some who would like to see more requirements that process allows us to work with the building industry to find the sweet spot that ultimately becomes the LEED rating system. We think we will have more success with the industry's help than without it."

I think Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen did a better defense of LEED in his article at LEEDUser.

What the article never does is look at the whole picture: either for individual projects or the industry as a whole. Is it a problem that projects earn some low-benefit points if LEED also causes them to take more meaningful measures?...

Given the amount of work that apparently went into this story, and the valid concerns it raises, it’s too bad that it ended up so flawed, missing a chance to raise the quality of discourse on more important and relevant questions about LEED and green building generally.

No doubt the chemical and lumber industry lobbyists are out buying up every copy of USA Today to hand out to their stooges in Congress who are trying to kill LEED. They just got a lot of ammunition.

Tags: greenbuild | Green Building

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