LEED certification is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the new “green” economy. High-priced consultants and certification processes, an over-reliance on gadgets, a lack of real measurable effectiveness and a near-total lack of insight into the more fundamental problems of building design (such as window placement and building axis). Like hybrid cars, industrial organic farms or other fantasies of “green capitalism”, it amounts to a whole lot of fanfare and band-aid solutions on basic processes which simply are not sustainable. So what if a Burlington Wal-Mart has geothermal heating, like the new one in Burlington, or its asphalt surface parking lot uses LED-lights? It’s still a Wal-Mart, it still imports mountains of petrochemical-based plastic crap made in sweatshops on the other side of the globe?

LEED Certification is unbelievably expensive and adds significantly to the cost of a new building. The application fees alone can reach over $20 000, and the cost of certification itself can range over $100 000. And while the USGBC (LEEDs creators’, a developent/construction industry-run group) claims they are 25-30% more efficient than comparable buildings, such claims are based on fudged numbers. As Henry Gilford points out, they made no measurements for about a decades, and base theirs only on voluntary contributions from building owners. They then compare the numbers to all buildings in the US, rather than new buildings/renovations installed in the last decade, and compare the median of LEEDs energy use values (a much more moderate “average” measurement) to the mean energy use of others (influenced far more by the extremes, since one building which uses 1000 btu/square foot/year will throw off the mean more than six buildings which use 3btu/square foot/year). When Gilford compares LEEDs numbers with the actual median energy use of all new US buildings built/renovated in the same time period, they actually use 29% more energy. So why spend six-figure sums or more?

So that the construction and development industry can find jobs for LEEDs-certified white-collar professionals and bureaucrats such as architects and engineers, as well as create a market for many high tech (high cost) “green” gadgets to bump up the price of new buildings. This means the cost of buildings goes up, which will of course be passed on to the end consumer (us – the mortgagee, renter or customer), and gets multiplied more times over through the financial instruments of the development industry (mortgages, property speculation, investment etc). The press gets to report on how the horrendous environmental problems we face are being tackled by our leaders, the experts, and everything will be ok, when really it’s getting worse.

LEED ratings give little or no points for the building’s actual energy preformance, quality of construction (drafts, etc), building procedures (turning off lights etc) or a whole host of simple, low-tech energy-saving measures like the building’s alignment with the sun. The system favors new construction over preserving old buildings, making it a threat to heritage buildings (many of which are far “greener” than their replacements, and construction uses a LOT of energy). Worst of all, LEED generates fanfare for “green” gas stations, corporate headquarters and suburban mega-mansions ignoring, allowing some of society’s worst polluters to pat each other on the back for being “a part of the solution”.

Green building is not hard. It doesn’t require costly professional “experts”. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on space-age technologies, and it sure as hell doesn’t have to be newsworthy, just because you threw up a couple of solar panels. If it’s ever going to catch on it has to be the opposite – simple, cheap and accessible.

Learn more here:

Henry Gilford’s Article (pdf)
The Four Sins of LEEDwashing – Treehugger article