Monday, February 28, 2011

The Truth about LEED

You may have already heard, but there's a lawsuit pending against the USGBC. The plaintiffs claim that they are losing customers because USGBC's false advertisements mislead the consumer into believing that obtaining LEED certification incorporates construction techniques that achieve energy-efficiency.”  If you're looking for an article that jumps on that train, you're in the wrong place.  I think this lawsuit is seriously misguided, and draws attention away from all of the positive consequences of the USGBC's work. 

The truth is that LEED is flawed and imperfect, but I don't think that the USGBC ever claimed it was perfect or the end all of green buildings.  What the USGBC did/does say is that they want LEED to encourage market transformation, which I think they have already achieved.  I have been involved with the USGBC and LEED on several levels and here is what I know and believe about LEED.  
  1. It has created AWARENESS - I don't think that there is any doubt that LEED and the USGBC have brought widespread awareness to green buildings.  Does a building have to be LEED certified to be green - of course not.  Nor does certification guarantee that a building is more green than another which is not, but it does carry weight.  They may call it LEEDS, but in general LEED has brought more visibility to the green building market than anything else I can think of.  And that's a positive thing - the more we can get people talking and thinking about green buildings and sustainability, the better off we are.
  2. It has generated INVOLVEMENT - The USGBC and LEED have brought individuals and groups to the green building table that would not have participated in the absence of LEED.  Whether they like it or not most design and construction professionals have recognized that LEED is here to stay and as a result have jumped on board.  They might not be enthusiastic about green buildings at first, but  becoming involved usually allows them to see the value and sense in green building.
  3. It has provided a framework for EDUCATION - The USGBC in and of itself has done a tremendous job of educating the building and design industry about sustainable design and green buildings.  But even beyond that, the LEED rating system provides a great framework for others to use in educating.  I believe strongly in education as advocacy, and I have found that we can use LEED as a tool to educate others about what can be done to make our built environment more sustainable and green.
  4. It encourages INTEGRATED DESIGN - I think that most professionals would agree that an integrated approach to design and construction is best.  However, that doesn't mean that it's standard practice.  In my experience the goal of LEED certification forces the project team to come together earlier and more often than in projects that aren't seeking certification.  When project team members collaborate early and often it almost always results in a better project than when each of the team members operates independently.
  5. It generates BETTER BUILDINGS  - Hopefully, I won't be next on the list of lawsuits for saying this, but I believe that LEED has generated better buildings.  Design teams and owners seeking LEED certification have been accused of "point chasing" and I can attest that it does happen.  However, what I've often found is that there are good practices that are implemented for the sake of LEED that would not otherwise been done, which can result in better buildings.  On projects that I am involved with I try to encourage the team to pursue points and practices that have some value beyond LEED, but in some cases points are pursued only to achieve certification.  And although that bothers me a little, what I have come to realize is, if it makes for a better building then the motivation for doing it doesn't make it a bad thing.
The USGBC and LEED are always changing and improving and I think that each iteration of the LEED system brings improvements with it.  However, it will always be imperfect and we need to be careful to not let perfect be the enemy of good.  I believe that the USGBC has transformed the market for the better and while there is always room for improvement, the TRUTH is that the building industry is better because of it.


    1. Bob,

      As a small civil engineering firm in Connecticut I totally agree with you. We have one of our civil engineers who is LEED Certified. What people don;t realize is that the USGBC has totally transformed the way property owners, project managers and contractors thought processes are as it relates to construction. It is amazing how there is not even a second thought now of having multiple dumpsters on site to separate materials whereas before you would have dumpsters but everything would be mixed together. The USGBC has created a total awareness that did not previously exist.

    2. Brendan in the UKMay 9, 2013 at 2:54 AM

      Interesting opinion piece, however it's a bit odd what you haven't mentioned LEED doing. While "education" and "increasing awareness" are certainly noble goals, a "green" building organization should, first and foremost, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, power usage, and pollution from the construction and maintenance of building projects. A "better" building is not necessarily a cleaner one.

      It should be an open and shut case - if the data shows that LEED buildings are always better than the control case on all points above, then it should certainly be encouraged. If not, the organization clearly needs to be reformed or scrapped.

      I am a bit surprised by the LEED engineer accreditation process as well, which is just a test that costs $350 to take. For working professionals, that may not be much, but they are encouraging graduating civil engineering students to take this as well. That's a lot of money - especially compared to the FE exam which is only $30. Perhaps someone can comment on the exam content? I really don't see how just an exam can certify an engineer being "green." I would think the process should include some kind of design or portfolio review to really be credible.

      I'm glad to see increasing environmental awareness among engineers but as a data-driven profession, let's make sure we're not just patting ourselves on the back while just putting sticking-plasters on the problem!