The New York Times reported on the controversy surrounding the energy performance of LEED certified buildings.  Studies have shown that many LEED building receiving certification actually poorly perform when it comes to energy efficiency. 

The Article points to a federal building in Youngstown, Ohio which would have failed to obtain U.S. EPA’s Energy Star rating even though it was LEED certified:

The building’s cooling system, a major gas guzzler, was one culprit. Another was its design: to get its LEED label, it racked up points for things like native landscaping rather than structural energy-saving features, according to a study by the General Services Administration, which owns the building.

As documented, the latest version of LEED starts taking a major step toward addressing these two major issues:

  1. Energy Performance- Should all LEED building perform to a certain standard
  2. Decertification–  Should LEED plaques be removed from buildings if they fail to demonstrate performance over the life of the building

My reaction is that perhaps there is too big of a focus on the energy performance of a building.  As mentioned in the article, the building actually achieved its LEED status by performing in other areas. 

So should a building that does all the following be deemed not worthy of "green" status:

  • Redevelops a contaminated brownfield property
  • Reduces water use by 50% from basic standards
  • Uses waterless landscaping
  • Uses solar panels for energy
  • Recycled materials from the prior building
  • Purchased regional construction materials
  • Has a plan for tenants to utilize ride-sharing and public transportation
  • Other non-energy related enhancements

Aren’t there significant environmental benefits to a redevelopment project that achieves all of these objectives?  Perhaps we need a different certification for these projects- Leadership in Environmental Design (LED) projects. 

I see the argument that buildings (and the energy they use) are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions due to their electricity use.  How can you say there is leadership in energy design when buildings don’t actually perform well when energy audits are performed?  

But I come back to the same point- there are multiple ways to have environmental benefit.  Perhaps there needs to be different certifications for buildings that don’t perform as well from an energy usage perspective.  However, stripping buildings of their "green status" when they may have had a host of environmental benefits seems extreme.