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LEED Takes Hit For Underdelivering on Federal Building

youngstownCritics are coming out of the woodwork after the General Services Administration found that the LEED-certified Federal Building in Youngstown, Ohio, was lacking on the energy efficiency front.

In fact, the building was unable to attain the Energy Star label, reports the New York Times.

The U.S. Green Building Council, which devised the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process in 1998, counters that the building, which was constructed in 2002, would not qualify for LEED designation today, under more stringent standards.

Indeed, in a study last year, the council found that 53 percent of 121 new buildings certified through 2006 were not energy efficient enough to qualify for the Energy Star rating. In fact, 15 percent scored below 30 in the Energy Star program, which means they consumed more energy per square foot than 70 percent of comparable buildings nationally.

Some buildings, such as the one in Youngstown, earned their LEED stripes based on aspects such as adding native landscaping, recycling graywater for irrigation and other features that don’t directly affect energy consumption.

An executive at the U.S. Green Building Council indicated that the LEED certification system may eventually move to a model like that of the Energy Star program, wherein buildings earn certification for showing energy savings over a set period, and must be recertified every year, the Times reports.

Rob Watson, executive editor of GreenerBuildings and a board member at U.S. Green Building Council, took umbrage at the criticism, in an editors’ note in a GreenerBuildings e-newsletter.

“People need to stop pretending they are providing any insight on issues LEED needs to deal with,” Watson wrote. “Honestly, anyone who thinks that the issues of energy use per square foot, how to get at operations energy though a design standard, how to make energy modeling more representative of what actually happens in a building, etc. haven’t been discussed at LEED since 1995, needs to stop sniffing whatever it is they’re sniffing. Really . . . it’s bad for you.”

“For every LEED building that doesn’t meet expectations, there are three that do and better,” Watson continued.

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5 thoughts on “LEED Takes Hit For Underdelivering on Federal Building

  1. First, I’ve done LEED ( Mercedes Benz, Phoenix, Az) and many more non-LEED buildings.
    The challenge with LEED is that it is a measurement tool – not a design tool.
    It needs to be brought in LAST – after a site appropriate high performance design is roughed out.
    Architects and designers not well versed in the basics of passive solar design, net-zero buildings, etc . . .cherry pick points to get the plaque. Everyone in the field knows that.

    The other challenge is building management and behavior change.
    A ‘dumb’ passive solar building . .(even a 1,000 year old one like the Taos Pueblo) will outperform a ‘smart building” with dumb occupants anytime.

    IMHO the answer is local green building programs that are climate specific.
    If LEED wants to truly lead..join the 2030 challenge and require all new LEED bldgs. to be carbon neutral now.

  2. Having been involved in over 100 LEED projects I share some of Mr. Watson’s frustrations. According to the standard in place at the time LEED measured energy equally with other environmental attributes and this project clearly met enough of the attributes to achieve certification without the energy component. Now, if the owner’s requirements at the time were to achieve a high level of energy efficiency, that is not a failure of LEED but rather of the design and construction team to deliver a project that met those goals. LEED has since rebalanced to add more weight to energy issues making it much more difficult for future projects to achieve Certification without a significant energy reduction strategy. Personally I have mixed feelings about this, but to Mr. Watson’s point, to continue to harangue on an issue that USGBC struggled with from the beginning about creating balance for all attributes, NOT just energy, and has radically readjusted recently is frankly tiring and needlessly damaging to the best, albeit imperfect tool, we currently have.

  3. Agreed. Early LEED versions were simply a series of checkboxes. People chose what they wanted and left the rest. If they didn’t choose the energy efficient options there wasn’t much stopping them.

  4. The USGBC appears to agree with many of its critics. I am happy they plan to require that new projects track their energy use for five years as part of the LEED certification program. I just came back from a client who is pursing the standard and was surprised by what I saw. It made my wonder, is LEED really leading?

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