“Projects pursuing LEED certification earn points across several areas that address sustainability issues. Based on the number of points achieved, a project then receives one of four LEED rating levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.”
“LEED advocates say the added cost of building to their standards is small. That may be true for the actual recommended energy measures; it is the certification process that is so costly.”
“Proponents of LEED say there are short paybacks and many benefits for the extra costs. But the environmental benefits are subjective…. Plus, many of the projected savings for LEED buildings are proving very difficult to verify.”
“LEED with its one-size-fits-all standard … may not hold up in competition with voluntary energy efficiency programs.”
– Jim Clarkson (below)
It’s a shame to see money wasted in the name of energy conservation. That is what happens when sensible energy-saving measures are wrapped up in a politically correct, grossly exaggerated, needlessly expensive implementation-and-certification process.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a program promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council that does just that.
It is mainly governments and non-profits that follow the whole LEED package. For-profit, private-sector projects try to avoid the central-planning process, knowing that self-interested, decentralized, on-the-spot decisions between builder and owner best assess costs and benefits.
LEED can be considered a government intervention in the subjectively determined, best-practices building trade. As LEEDEXPOSED reminds us:
The USGBC is not a government agency, but several laws have been passed at the federal, state, and local levels, requiring new buildings be built to LEED specifications. Governments have also offered millions of dollars in tax breaks to private companies that build LEED-certified buildings.
And it is hardly taxpayer neutral. Continues LEEDEXPOSED:
Taxpayers have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the government endorsement of the USGBC standards. LEED certified buildings cost more than non-certified buildings to build due to additional certification costs and building materials, but studies show that LEED certified buildings are not necessarily more energy- or water- efficient than regular buildings. The additional cost of LEED certification despite any actual added benefits has led to increased criticism of LEED from a variety of media outlets, scientists, legislators, and environmental activists.
Also be warned: Management improvement programs periodically sweep through corporate America making that sector susceptible to sound-good programs like Quality Circles, Six Sigma, and Lean Manufacturing, now overlaid with LEED. Once a few big names get on board with the latest program, it is followed lemming-like by other enterprises until the next management fad replaces it.
Hopefully, the fashionable but wasteful LEED program will soon run its course before it gives cost-effective energy efficiency a bad reputation. If the public begins to see efficiency measures bundled with outrageous boondoggles, then the good is tarred along with the bad.
It is not just the totalitarian environmentalists that are now pushing to make the LEED standards mandatory, but a sizable segment of the architectural and design engineering community. Their enthusiasm reflects rent-seeking: The certification and on-going compliance for LEED requires an enormous amount of design time and special expertise.
There is a growing vocal minority in the design business that is making stinging criticisms of the LEED program. Many budget-pressed enterprises are implementing some LEED recommendations without seeking the full expensive certification.
LEED advocates say the added cost of building to their standards is small. That may be true for the actual recommended energy measures; it is the certification process that is so costly. Proponents of LEED say there are short paybacks and many benefits for the extra costs. But the environmental benefits are subjective. Claims that workers are happier in a new LEED building may be true, but the same could be said for any new building. Plus, many of the projected savings for LEED buildings are proving very difficult to verify.
This is not to say LEED standards do not save at least some energy. Many efficiency improvements are hard to measure. The real issue is the huge waste of money that is spent on things that do not save energy. LEED’s grab bag mix of doltish environmental measures and worthwhile suggestions has competition with other standard-making groups.
The greatest benefits from energy standards will be achieved when competitive groups innovate to meet consumer demands. New technologies and building techniques will develop and gain acceptance. LEED with its one-size-fits-all standard, questionable benefits and high costs is resistant to change and relying increasingly on mandates for new customers. LEED may not hold up in competition with voluntary energy efficiency programs.
Great article. I have not been hearing as much about LEED lately, but this article is spot on.
“Many budget-pressed enterprises are implementing some LEED recommendations without seeking the full expensive certification.”
Yes, many of my private-sector clients have expressed exactly that. Reap some benefits from cost-effective measures while avoiding the HUGE costs associated with certification.
The main reason some clients pursue the certification is for the prestige. A few years ago I retro-commissioned a LEED building. They proudly displayed the LEED gold certification in the lobby. Retro Commissioning revealed many inefficiencies. HVAC systems operating at full occupied setpoints 24/7 even with 8-5 M-F operating hours for the building and a full BAS in place. My guess is that even today they have never implemented simple scheduling control as recommended in the RCx report.