Is LEED Leading Us Astray?

Written by Kara Sjostrom, ESLLC 2015-2016

Buildings: the epitome of human development over nature. While forming the foundation, literally and figuratively, for many societal processes (think shopping, living, employment, education), buildings support our way of life but take an enormous toll on the environment. In fact, buildings use 73% of US electricity consumption and contribute almost 40% of CO2 emissions.[1] When LEED came on the scene in 1994, most people believed—for the most part rightly so—that it demonstrated the legitimate financial benefits of environmentally friendly design. Certainly, LEED’s streamlined standards and respected status have resulted in LEED certification being touted across the country on new “businesses, schools and homes.”[2]

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Kerchum Residence, the first LEED Platinum home in Western Canada, by Frits de Vries Architecture © Lucas Finlay

Yet these same characteristics come with negative consequences. The “status symbol and point system [of LEED] encourage you to “game the system (and not think about the environment at all).”[3] In other words, builders can strategize and receive as many points as they can while doing the ‘easy’ alterations—that do not necessarily have significant environmental impact. In fact, some studies have found that many LEED certified buildings are “often less energy-efficient than their uncertified counterparts.”[4] Part of the cause of this very unfortunate phenomenon is that the energy efficiency standards incorporated into the four LEED certification levels are based only on projected use. The building never has to prove with data, after it is occupied and in use, that it lives up to those projections.

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Additional problems with LEED include the difficulty for average homebuilders to navigate the LEED process, much less afford the sustainable materials costs combined with registration and certification fees. Even with a more subjective and accountable certification process, such fees bar lower-income families from pursuing sustainable design and instead limit LEED standards to a status symbols of wealthy business and home owners.

Despite its issues, LEED does promote an important image of innovation and environmental consciousness in a major area of development: buildings. For future improvement, LEED must impose stricter regulations on energy consumption before and after the buildings’ construction, as well as work to lower costs or provide discounts in order to make green design accessible to all families and communities.


Works Cited

 

[1] “The Environmental and Economic Impact of LEED Certified Buildings.” Visually. Visually, Inc., n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <http://visual.ly/environmental-and-economic-impact-leed-certified-buildings&gt;.

[2] Quirk, Vanessa. “Where Is LEED Leading Us?…And Should We Follow?” ArchDaily. N.p., 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Dec. 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/227934/where-is-leed-leading-us-and-should-we-follow&gt;.

[3] Quirk, Vanessa.

[4] Swearingen, Anastasia. “LEED-Certified Buildings Are Often Less Energy-Efficient Than Uncertified Ones.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 05 Dec. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/04/30/leed-certified-buildings-are-often-less-energy-efficient-than-uncertified-ones/&gt;.

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