LEED-bashing Reaches New Heights In Fast Company


Image credit swanksalot via Creative Commons

LEED bashing is all the rage these days, to the point that I have actually found myself in the uncomfortable position of defending it. The current flavour is to pick up on Henry Gifford's $100 million class action lawsuit and complain that LEED buildings are using more energy than they were projected to. But are these complaints valid?

Over at Fast Company, Alec Appelbaum describes the Imaginon Children's Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. He writes that "instead of consuming a third less fuel, as expected, Imaginon was using twice as much as predicted."
He then writes:

It turns out that Imaginon's theaters were used seven hours a day instead of the expected two hours, and offices were used on weekends. That energy draw was left out of the model behind the building's LEED certification.

Normally one might think this is a good thing; Any person with a calculator might say "wow, three and a half times the projected use, and only twice as much energy consumption as predicted." Instead, Alec complains that LEED "does not predict the future energy use of the spaces it certifies, and there are no consequences for buildings that end up consuming more energy than originally planned."

As if the USGBC should be saying "I am sorry, Mr. Imaginon owner, you are not allowed to be more successful, have more customers and run more hours than originally planned. It will mess up the projections."

It is not like this is a new issue. LEED acknowledges that not all of its buildings are performing as well as they should; in their own 2008 study, Energy Performance of LEED® for New Construction Buildings, they write:

Variation in results is likely to come from a number of sources, including differences in operational practices and schedules, equipment, construction changes and other issues not anticipated in the energy modeling process. More in-depth analysis of some of the best and worst performers could identify ways to eliminate the poorer outcomes and communicate lessons from the best results.

Alec does not help his case by quoting an engineer who says "I have 25-year-old cheap and cheerful suburban speculative buildings whose energy consumption is higher than buildings with LEED Gold." My goodness, I should hope so.

Alec has another problem with the USGBC:

But there's a big problem with snapping LEED ratings into building codes, which are equivalent to law: The United States Green Building Council is a private institution that has no public oversight....the organization's budget comes from people who take classes to become accredited certifiers, and landlords who foot the bill for certification paperwork.

Actually, the USGBC is a is a "501(c)(3) non-profit community" with thousands of members. Every decision that is made about its policies goes through a rigorous public review; look at the fight that recently took place over lumber certification; that is serious public oversight. I don't know why Alec wants to nationalize it, or who he thinks should pay for it.


Henry Gifford, photo by Travis Roozee

Finally, Alec refers to the Henry Gifford lawsuit:

A class action suit has been filed against the United States Green Building Council, claiming that LEED defrauds consumers and befouls interstate commerce while acting as a monopoly. "Everybody who pays taxes has to buy this rating system," says Henry Gifford, a Manhattan-based energy efficiency consultant who helped initiate the lawsuit. He contends that local governments are embracing LEED without enough oversight and as a result subsidizing energy "hogs."

But Alec doesn't even comment on the fact that just about everyone who has anything to do with green building law dismisses it completely; Tim Clayton of Ohio Green Building Law describes it in the most entertaining fashion: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Suing Your way to More Speaking Engagements."

I have no love for LEED; architects are more than spreadsheet jockeys. But I do think that the LEEDbashing is getting out of hand.

Read the Alec's article in Fast Company.

More on LEED-bashing:

LEED-Bashing Pile-On Continues On New Fronts
$100 Million Class Action Filed Against LEED and USGBC
In Defence of LEED: Stop Bashing the Bike Racks!

Tags: Architects | Green Building

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