Thursday, March 24, 2011

Litigating LEED

Although LEED building standards have come under criticism in recent months for the excessive costs they impose on new construction, a lawsuit currently proceeding in the Southern District of New York alleges that there is no evidence that LEED-certified buildings even deliver their promised energy savings.  The most recent complaint, available here (courtesy of the Green Real Estate Law Journal which has much more on the story), brings counts in false advertising and deceptive trade practices against the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for promoting LEED standards as energy-efficient when, according to the complaint, the sole study on the subject indicates, on average, higher energy usage for LEED-certified buildings.

One of the major points of contention is that the USGBC in the past awarded LEED status for design features only, while failing to track and report whether these features actually led to subsequent reductions in energy usage which a cynical observer might interpret as a focus on the image, rather than the reality, of energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.  (The USGBC has since instituted a reporting requirement, although certification will continue to be awarded at the time of project completion.)

The merits of this particular suit aside, the LEED standards have been faulted for other reasons (by no means an exhaustive list):
  • By historical preservationist groups claiming that the standards encourage tear-downs rather than rehabilitation (in an odd echo of mid-20th century urban renewal incentives);
  • By planners who point out that the standards' failure to take into account location (now addressed somewhat by a revised ratings system) resulted in LEED platinum certification going to projects on exurban greenfield sites accessible only to cars;
  • For not tackling the issue of minimum parking requirements given that driving habits contribute far more to total energy use than in-home heating, cooling and lighting systems;
  • For inexplicably providing bonuses for reducing building footprints thereby encouraging sprawling patterns of development.
To its credit, the USGBC seems to be well aware of these criticisms and is committed to revising the standards on a regular basis with public comment sought.  The cascade of unintended (albeit, in many cases, quite forseeable) consequences, though, will present a challenge for any future LEED drafters.

1 comment:

  1. If this house becomes LEED certified, the whole concept is bankrupt: