The Four Sins of LEEDwashing: LEED Green Buildings That Perhaps Aren't Really Green

henry gifford photo

Henry Gifford, photo by Travis Roozee

"Is LEED a Fraud?" is the provocative title of an article on the Fine Homebuilding website by Kevin Ireton. It appears that mechanical designer Henry Gifford thinks it is, and makes a few good points in his paper A Better Way To Rate Green Buildings. (PDF Download here)

It is a good starting point in a discussion of what one might call the Four Sins LEEDwashing: using the LEED system to make a building appear green, when for any number of reasons, it really isn't. The Sins are:

1) The Sin of Not Following Through
2) The Sin of Valuing Gizmos Over Appropriate Design
3) The Sin of Laughably Inappropriate Use
4) The Sin of Wretched Excess.

gifford-solar-panels image

Gifford makes the controversial case that LEED certified buildings use more energy than comparables, not less- as much as 29% more.

Gifford gets some solid hits, when he complains about the money wasted installing solar panels at the wrong angle and blocking them with other equipment just to get some LEED points.

Building energy use is probably the largest field of human endeavour in which almost nobody measures anything.

And he is right, that engineers and architects should be able to show that the decisions they make and the designs they produce actually work.

LEED is, in terms of the pace of architecture, brand new and still going through growing pains. It is also constantly evolving, so things that we complain about one year may be gone or changed in the next update. Many of the things I complain about here might already be fixed.

But it is interesting nonetheless to look at past TreeHugger posts and see what was passed off as being green, and why it might actually be questionable, our own list of the Sins of LEEDwashing.

The Sin of LEED Green Buildings that Don't Follow Through


Used with permission from Vidiot

Henry Gifford writes of the Hearst Tower:

"The building is reportedly equipped with sensors that turn the lights off based on occupancy, yet lights throughout the building stay on through the night, night after night....Energy efficiency is dependent on specific procedures at least as much as on the use of special products or technologies. But, because better procedures do little or nothing to promote the image of energy efficiency, they have been mostly ignored in the rush to rate buildings as green."

One might point out that the Hearst Tower houses the operations of newspapers and magazines, and they often have deadlines that keep people working at night, but his point is generally valid; if people don't operate a building in a green fashion it doesn't matter how it was built.

More in TreeHugger: Hearst Tower Leed Certified in "Gold"Hearst Tower Leed Certified in "Gold"

discovery-headquarters silver spring photo

LEED also has a program designed around follow through. Discovery Headquarters got LEED Platinum for its operations and improvements, a ""top to bottom effort to become carbon neutral through the use of carbon offsets and wind power renewable energy certificates, and a robust employee engagement program to challenge and motivate employees to become involved in recycling and reduction programs."

More in TreeHugger: Discovery Headquarters Get LEED Platinum

But I have also been in LEED certified spaces and looked in the janitors closet and seen the usual toxic supplies and a kitchen full of styrofoam- the LEED practices ended as soon as the plaque went up. There is really no point in doing it if you don't follow through.

Next: The Sin of LEED Green Buildings that Value Gizmos Over Appropriate Design

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