"LEED Exposed" Exposed: A look at who's behind the new organization attacking LEED and green building

LEED exposed
Screen capture LEED exposed

The email from Banks Woodruff popped up last week, titled LEED Certification Fails to Increase Energy Efficiency. The first paragraph:

Today, LEED Exposed, a project of the Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA), released research showing that large privately-owned buildings in Washington D.C. certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, actually use more energy than uncertified buildings.

It didn't really seem worth covering; the site gave no information about who was behind it, got most of the facts wrong in its exposé of the "arbitrary point system" including my favorite, the famous bike rack point, years out of date.

Who's behind LEED Exposed?

It wasn't exactly an august organization either, this Environmental Policy Alliance; their website was just registered on February 5 and LEED exposed just registered on December 13. Woodruff's researchorg.com isn't even on WHOIS yet. Their website listed no staff or address or board of directors, they barely existed.

Google maps/Screen capture

A google search on the phone number of Banks Woodruff shows him operating out of the offices of the Center For Consumer Freedom, described as "a pro-food-and-beverage industry front group that attacks anyone who criticizes smoking, fast food or alcohol" on Berman Exposed, a site devoted to the antics of Richard Berman. They describe Berman as..

...a regular front man for business and industry in campaigns against consumer safety and environmental groups. Through his public affairs firm, Berman and Company, Berman has fought unions, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, PETA and other watchdog groups in their efforts to raise awareness about obesity, the minimum wage, the dangers of smoking, mad cow disease, drunk driving, and other causes.

What are they claiming?

Researcher Anastasia Swearingen claims that "LEED certification is little more than a fancy plaque displayed by these ‘green’ buildings", and compares energy use intensity (EUI) of LEED certified buildings to non-certified buildings. Quoting data from the Green Building Report for the District of Columbia, she concludes that "For LEED-certified buildings, their EUI was 205, compared to 199 for non-certified buildings. Ironically, USGBC’s headquarters (which has achieved the highest level of LEED certification) is even worse at 236."

© The USGBC office really packs'em in tight

EUI isn't a very useful metric

In fact, this is often the case, because LEED buildings are newer and modern office planning packs people in more tightly, with more computers, so that they use more energy per square foot. (This was a serious debate in New York City) Employees today have a big plug load, so since last summer in New York, EUI has been used to attack green building. On its own, EUI isn't a very useful metric; a bunch of rich old fossil fuel lobbyists in big corner offices are going to use a lot less energy per square foot than the kids packed into the USGBC headquarters.

Or as Lane Burt puts it, in "What is an EUI", "They are basically trying to convince you to drive Hummer instead of riding the bus, because the bus has a worse MPG."

Marisa Long of the USGBC notes that by other criteria, LEED buildings come off just fine:

The claims made by the fictitious organization “Environmental Policy Alliance” are false. As a recent report by the District of Columbia states, Washington’s commercial buildings are exceptionally efficient, scoring on average 77 out of 100 on the ENERGY STAR scale, well above the national median score of 50. Commercial buildings in the District of Columbia have reduced their energy consumption by an average of six percent from 2010 to 2012. These positive results are due in large part to the District’s use of LEED, the most widely used global green building program.

By the way, Swearingen is as versatile as Berman in her critiques; here she is complaining about spot checks for drunk drivers on holiday weekends for the American Beverage Association. These are professional astroturfers, hired guns for industry.

So why give it any time or pixels? Because a lot of other people are.

Daily Caller/Screen capture

Well known right wing websites like the Daily Caller and The National Review are publishing it as if it is real news, part of the politicizing of green building as something evil and un-American. No doubt this "research" will be trotted out in the continuing state by state campaign to delegitimize and even ban LEED.

What's the agenda here?

On the last page of LEED exposed, they note that "A growing number of states are moving away from USGBC standards for new public buildings." They end up doing a pitch for Green Globes, the industry friendly alternative to LEED that is being promoted in campaigns across America. (See Ohio here)

Paging Jerry Yudelson

LEED Fellow and "Godfather of Green Building" Jerry Yudelson is now President of the Green Building Institute and head of Green Globes. I look forward to hearing his thoughts on this. Does he approve of this astroturfing? Does he not worry that it is further tainting his brand? Isn't it time to tell his supporters that it is time to call off the attack dogs?

UPDATE: I was unable to find out any information about the Center for Organizational Research and Education, listed as the parent of the Environmental Policy Alliance. However Sara Johnson at Architect Magazine did some digging.

Tags: Green Building | LEED