LEED or LAME?

Written by Nick Olson, ESLLC 2016-2017

What’s up LLC? This time around I’m going to write about something that may have been picture1overlooked by green-enthusiasts: LEED Certification. For those who don’t know, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a certification given to buildings who meet certain “green” requirements. Buildings who are certified are then given certain benefits such as tax breaks and grants, as well as the ability to charge residents higher rent for the appearance of a healthier lifestyle. The LEED certification was launched in 2000 by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to provide guidelines to successfully and systematically construct environmentally friendly buildings. But is that really what happened?

There are many flaws to be exposed within the guidelines, and the first one I’m going to talk about is the point system. The point system allows for many “easy points” to be obtained that don’t necessarily have any environmental impact outside of the building. For example, you can obtain many LEED points required for certification through these simple purchases: bike racks, health center/arcade for workers, showers, low-emitting paints/adhesives/sealants, and recycled materials. Now this sounds alright in context, but if you’re buying just for the certification, it really defeats the point of LEED. And recycled materials such as concrete and steel, which are common materials that would probably have been used in construction anyway, are included.

This sort of money-based line-of-sight doesn’t encourage a green mindset; it just encourages capitalism. When creating the initial guidelines for LEED, I can’t help but think this isn’t what the creators had in mind. Initially, they created a few “gimme points” for those who were just a few away from certification. It’s clear now that the system is being exploited. Speaking of money, because these guidelines make it easy for any new building to be certified, it also makes them eligible for tax breaks and grants, which taxpayers then pay for. Making the argument for those that care less about the environmental impact of a LEED certification, it’s still in their best interest to make guidelines tighter.

picture2One last point I’d like to make (and a quite big one, in fact), is that LEED buildings don’t necessarily perform any more “green” than noncertified buildings. Buildings are given a certification before they’re even in use, it doesn’t matter how it performs once occupied. Because it’s not required to release operation figures once the building’s been through daily use, we are praising the assumption of performance (which is rarely lived up to), instead of observed performance.

All of my skepticism aside, I do believe LEED is a step in the right direction. With tighter guidelines required for certification, it would create a real impact, instead of the green façade of a plaque on a wall. By focusing more on how the building actually performs instead of freebie points, we could be on our way to fully green cities. But for now, I’m going to go back to eating my granola.

~N

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