LEED Buildings ‘Less Energy Efficient’ – Says Who?
Large privately-owned, LEED-certified buildings in Washington, DC are actually less energy-efficient than their uncertified counterparts, according to an advocacy group report.
LEED Exposed, by the Environmental Policy Alliance, found that weather-normalized energy use intensity for LEED-certified buildings was 205, compared to 199 for non-certified buildings. USGBC’s LEED-Platinum headquarters is even worse at 236, the report says.
Environmental Policy Alliance research analyst Anastasia Swearingen described LEED certification as “little more than a fancy plaque,” and said her organization’s report confirmed findings from previous studies.
Critics have long charged that LEED doesn’t actually guarantee energy efficiency. And the US Green Building Council itself concedes the naysayers once had a point: USGBC research found that in the years up to 2006, under an earlier version of the LEED standard, many buildings were not energy-efficient enough to meet Energy Star ratings.
But the council has set about to change that. LEED V3, introduced in 2009, increased the emphasis on energy use and carbon emissions. Last November, USGBC launched LEED v4,which allocates about 20 percent of all points to optimizing energy performance over the ASHRAE 90.1-2010 standard.
In January, USGBC released a report which found that 450 LEED projects had an energy use intensity nearly 31 percent lower than the national median source EUI.
Who’s right and who’s wrong? Without more details it’s difficult to say. The Environmental Policy Alliance directs readers to leedexposed.com for more information. But the website does not offer any hint of how the energy use intensities were calculated, which buildings were selected for study, or any other details that would help readers to evaluate the soundness of the organization’s findings. (For example, if most of the certified buildings are pre-1999, that would be much less damaging for the USGBC.)
The Environmental Policy Alliance is itself mysterious. Its website offers no clue as to its funders, backers or staff, except to stay that it is a project of the Center for Organizational Research and Education – which doesn’t seem to have any web presence whatsoever.
The alliance describes its mission this way: “The Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA) is devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups and exploring the intersection between activists and government agencies.” The language here hints at the organization’s political leanings (and does clue us in that they are a group with an agenda) – but who is behind it, or what their expertise is, again we don’t know.
This is not to say that LEED is a perfect system, or that its flaws should not be exposed. But such conversations should be had in a transparent manner, to accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient building – rather than to score political points.
Takeaway: A new study alleges that LEED-certified buildings waste more energy than their uncertified counterparts – but details beyond the headline finding are scarce.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.
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