Green Goals Matter

leed_certified

Post contributed by Sonja Gustafson, LEED AP:

This week the New York Times published an article entitled “Some Buildings Not Living Up to Green Label," discussing the energy under-performance of buildings rated with the LEED system. (BTW, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, so energy matters!) The article cites various examples of LEED-certified buildings falling short of predicted energy efficiency and notes industry criticism of the lack of accountability in tracking actual energy performance.

I’m glad to see the discussion moving this direction, as any pragmatist will tell you that it’s all about how a building performs according to its green goals, not about some shiny LEED plaque on the wall. I do want to offer two comments about this discussion, however, that provide some perspective on the role of LEED in the building industry.

My first point is that the organization that oversees the LEED system, the non-profit United States Green Building Council, is not fighting the criticism, but in the past 2 years has been tracking the performance of buildings and provided much of the data that pointed out the deficiencies. As a result, last week the USGBC launched its Building Performance Initiative, which not only tracks energy efficiency but provides feedback to building owners to help address performance gaps. It also provides outreach and education to help architects and engineers understand energy issues before they begin building design. Tracking energy performance is now part of the conversation, and I’m glad to see it stick.

My other point has to do with why a building owner may elect to get LEED certification. “Green” covers a wide spectrum, and although energy use is certainly one of the most important (and required) components of LEED, there are other ways to reduce carbon emissions in building green. For example, a building owner might choose to locate her project in an urban setting in order to provide building users/tenants greater access to public transportation and services. Or, if the building is a redevelopment, it might conserve enormous amounts of energy by using materials and infrastructure that are already embodied in the existing building. Energy use by a building might be lower if the project were built from the ground up on undeveloped suburban land, but the carbon footprint might in fact be higher than a redevelopment due to increased commuting, parking needs, and greater need for virgin materials. Other buildings may choose indoor air quality as a top priority which will require additional energy consumption in ventilation systems. Green goals matter, so looking at a green building may require looking not only at energy consumption, but at the larger spectrum of green.

I’m glad to see the scrutiny being paid to LEED’s (ahem) leadership of energy performance. This rising tide of accountability will float all boats at a new level and perhaps even generate discussion on the variety of issues that matter in green buildings.