Is LEED a guarantee of energy efficiency – or can LEED-certified buildings also be energy hogs? The New Republic has reopened that longstanding debate with a piece charging that New York City’s Bank of America Tower (pictured, with spire), the first skyscraper to be certified LEED Platinum, uses more energy and produces more greenhouse gases per square foot than any Manhattan building of comparable size.
The problem this boils down to has been known for some time: there is a divide between how buildings are designed (which LEED certifies) and how they are used (which it doesn’t). In Bank of America’s case, the building’s big energy drain is its giant trading floors.
Perhaps the issue is essentially one of public communication. There are other standards, such as ISO 50001, that help companies demonstrate that they are taking appropriate steps to monitor and reduce energy consumption. But LEED gets by far the most attention – and since it is billed quite generally as the go-to standard for “green building,” it’s little wonder the public expects it to ensure low energy use.
But there are also reasons to suspect The New Republic analysis. Lloyd Alter of Treehugger did his own analysis and found the building “is not the biggest energy hog in the City (it’s 53rd on an energy-use per square foot basis). It is not even the biggest financial institution energy hog on a per square foot basis.”
Which brings up another key point: end use. Are cross-sector comparisons even useful? Trading floors will naturally consume a lot of energy. The tower may be energy-intensive, but the key question is how efficient its users are in carrying out their daily functions.