Oct 30 2007
When the U.S. Green Building Council was founded in 1993 it didn’t appear that it would be just an environmental movement. The Council (known as USGBC) sought a marketable approach to green building as a way to transform the built environment.
Out of this idea came the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, launched in 2000.
According to Richard Fedrizzi, who became USGBC’s CEO in 2003, LEED was meant to “transform the marketplace towards sustainable building.”
With six categories from which to earn points (siting, water use, energy, materials, indoor air quality, and innovation in design), LEED aims to encourage the implementation of green and energy efficient design into the building process. While LEED does devote a lot to the construction of commercial buildings, there are also programs that concentrate on residential homes and land development. Today, LEED is the industry standard and, as the fastest growing non-governmental organization in history, is open to much scrutiny.
FastCompany, a business magazine, recently ran an editorial claiming that LEED’s exponential growth is causing it to lose sight of what is important. FastCompany wonders if LEED’s success is more a business venture than a sincere concern for our environment. For example, Bank of America’s new home at One Bryant Park in New York City will, essentially, be a platinum-rated glass skyscraper, something that NYC architect Chris Benedict believes will “use obscene amounts of energy.” FastCompany wonders if LEED has lost sight of what a green and energy efficient building really is. Here are a few of FastCompany’s criticisms :
- LEED isn’t stringent enough. Certified buildings are 25% to 30% more efficient than those built to code. However, another program, Architecture 2030, aims to exceed code efficiency by 50%.
- The six categories that make up the point system are not weighted. Watson claimed that they “threw in a few gimmes,” so developers can feel like the green goal is reachable. But this means that a building using water conserving fixtures in an area of the country where drought is not common earns the same amount of points as a building in the middle of a desert.
- LEED earns 95% of its $50 million dollar budget through member fees and professional and building certification. Attaining LEED certification for a building can cost thousands of dollars in USGBC fees alone, which could be used for additional energy producing equipment such as solar panels or wind turbines.
USGBC CEO Fredrizzi quickly rebutted FastCompany’s criticism in letters to FastCompany and USGBC member chapters”
- Fredrizzi states that the USGBC and LEED have “successfully introduced market incentives to a major segment of the environmental movement” as evidenced by the growth in green building products and components.
- Though the USGBC earns a fair share of money from LEED related fees, it uses this money to fund new projects and programs that its goals.
Fredrizzi is also quick to acknowledge that “there is still a long way to go.” LEED is only impacting ~10% of newly constructed buildings and only beginning to scratch the surface with homes and land development.
The USGBC is a unique organization whose success has brought some much needed attention to green building. In the past, there has been a disconnect between business and environmental issues—but LEED’s bold conjunction of the two has made people like the author of the FastCompany article question LEED’s true intentions.