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The Greenwash Brigade

LEED certification in a transitional moment

Jim Nicolow Jan 8, 2008

I totally agree with Daniel Brook’s premise that you can game the LEED Rating System to come up with a LEED Certified project that is decidedly NOT green. And many have questioned individual LEED credits and the equivalency suggested by the point-based system (do 1 point for low VOC carpet and 1 point for a green roof suggest that the two are environmentally equivalent, for instance?).

The question is whether LEED is causing improvement in the environmental performance of our built environment overall, not whether there are limited examples that clearly lie outside of the system’s intent. In spite of all its warts, LEED has been, and continues to be, a significant catalyst for change. It has provided an agreed upon, understandable way to ask for a green building. Before LEED, ‘green design’ and ‘sustainability’ were fairly esoteric terms in the building industry. LEED is also clearly promoting some healthy competition with college campuses and building portfolio managers scrambling to get their first “LEED Certified” building.

LEED takes sort of a shotgun approach, attempting to address all aspects of the environmental impact of building. I do wonder if the growth in public awareness about global climate change that has occurred largely since LEED was introduced in 2000 will result in the industry transitioning to more of an energy/carbon-focused system which directly addresses global warming emissions.

In light of this growing awareness, and specifically pressure from Architecture 2030, the USGBC did increase the energy efficiency requirement for all LEED projects last year. But recent initiatives focusing exclusively on climate change, such as the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement seem to be growing at a rate that eclipses even LEED’s explosive growth. It will be interesting to see whether carbon footprint supplants LEED certification in the green building arena.

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