A public storm has erupted throughout the United States surrounding questions over the Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design (LEED) and whether or not the standards required for certification are sufficiently stringent in order to deliver real-world environmental gains in building and construction.
The storm was ignited by an article published late last month in USA Today which claimed that across the country, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has helped thousands of developers to win millions of dollars’ worth of tax breaks by awarding ‘green’ certification under a system that rewards minor, low-cost steps that have little or no proven environmental benefit. Some local councils across the US award tax breaks for buildings which meet LEED standards or allow buildings which are LEED certified to extend beyond heights which would not otherwise normally have been allowed under planning rules.
The 50-storey Palazzo Las Vegas Resort Hotel (LEED Silver), the report says, is set to reap $US27 million in tax breaks over 10 years for its LEED Silver Certification even though in many cases developers took the easiest and cheapest steps in building design. It says that in some cases, the building gained LEED credits for steps which took no work at all, such as using recycled steel and concrete.
The report also asserted that the USGBC was not accountable to anyone in its administration of the system – which it implies is easily gamed.
Not surprisingly, USGBC president and chief executive officer Rick Fedrizzi hit back. Contrary to accusations of unaccountability, Fedrizzi says, LEED is developed by technical committees of ‘the highest calibre’, with any changes approved through a democratic process and open to public comment.
Furthermore, Fedrizzi says, many of the strategies about which the article adopted a negative tone: low-flow toilets, use of recycled building materials, dedicated hybrid parking spaces, proximity to transport and being situated in densely populated areas are actually important strategies which have brought commercial real estate builders, developers and owners into the green building discussion and delivered thousands of better buildings across the world.
Fedrizzi acknowledges that LEED is not perfect, but says it is constantly evolving, and that the LEED v4 – the fourth version of the program – will continue this process.
“USGBC is proud that these measures that were once deemed exceptional are now industry standard,” he says. “That is why we keep raising the bar. We may be the only organisation that has created a program that when the market really starts to like it, we make it more challenging.”
Throughout the US, LEED has gained widespread commercial acceptance. How it fares in the court of public opinion depends largely on the public response to media stories such as the one published by USA Today.