Is it really too easy being “green?”
The USGBC was critiqued for, among many things, giving away points in the LEED rating systems too easily. The strongest accusation is that by allowing commercial projects to take credit for ’low hanging fruits’ they would easily earn LEED Certification, subsequently making it too easy to achieve tax incentives that are tied to that certification.
While it is true that multiple LEED credits can be automatically earned from a single decision, it is important to understand that those “low hanging fruits” are actually an incentive for builders and developers to dive deeper into the LEED program to explore what else can be done to be more sustainable. It is also a good way to reward builders and project teams for making conscious choices that factor in the sustainability of the location, materials and energy features of their projects.
One example of free or automatic credits would be a project selecting an inner city construction site. A project team could automatically earn 3 points for an ‘infill site’ and another point for ‘previously developed site.’ In many cases, the inner city lot would also mean close access to public transportation, which would count for some more points. So, that single decision on the site location may result in the project receiving points in multiple categories. Is that unfairly rewarding double-dipping, or a justifiable reward for making a decision that results in a more sustainable project on multiple levels?
While USA Today criticizes those “free” points, one has to see the flip side; in the example above, the project team chose to develop an in-fill location over the more typical green field site. While an inner city lot might not be intrinsically “Green” the redevelopment is helping the entire community indirectly by avoiding additional new infrastructure of a typical new project and will likely help traffic and emissions levels in the area by selecting a site where many public transportation possibilities are offered right outside the front door.
We (EnergyLogic) believe that the author of the USA Today article misrepresented and oversimplified the philosophy of the LEED program. LEED certification does not necessarily mean that a building in itself is the greenest object around, but rather that the interwoven synergies of the design elements, human comfort, livability and a general “awareness of natural resources” most certainly have an impact on each resident or tenant of the new building as well as the surrounding community. There are a lot of paths to certification within the LEED program. Depending on the project, some of those points are easier to come by than others. But in the argument over whether specific points are automatic or too easy, the big picture is lost: contrary to public perception, earning the LEED label was never intended to represent the building as the greenest object around. Instead, LEED certification means that among the thousands of decisions were made during the planning and design phase of a building project, sustainability was included as a major factor in a large number of them. The LEED program provides a system to recognize and reward project teams for those decisions. It’s been a long time coming, but as LEED and other labeling programs grow and gain momentum, sustainability is finally earning a long-overdue seat at the table. Still, we have a long way to go before this becomes the norm. We work on thousands of buildings each year. From what we see, the average building project could not even come close to meeting LEED certification requirements. When it comes to LEED, is it too easy being green? We say no. What do you think?