Beyond LEED Certification

The US Green Building Council’s LEED certification has provided the framework for implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. Since its implementation in 2000, many professionals have challenged the voracity of LEED certification on the grounds that LEED buildings are not as efficient as the council claims. This has led to a plethora of alternatives that warrant investigation.

Criticisms of LEED

The LEED certification has played a profound role in raising awareness for energy efficient buildings and provided recognition for those who have implemented energy-saving policies. That being said, many professionals in the field claim that LEED certification does not guarantee performance: “There is no justification for claims that LEED-certified commercial buildings are using significantly less electricity or have significantly lower greenhouse-gas emissions associated with their operations than do conventional buildings,” says John Scofield, a physicist from Oberlin College. The trouble stems from the gap between projected energy consumption of buildings according to the LEED score sheet and their actual performance.

A study conducted by the Chicago chapter of the US Green Building Council discovered that LEED-certified buildings in Illinois were only 5% more energy efficient than comparable non-LEED projects. The study also showed that the sought-after LEED Platinum and Gold buildings are no more efficient than those that had achieved lower rankings.

Avid critic Henry Gifford, described by the US Green Building Council as: “a longtime gadfly, preoccupied with critiquing USGBC and LEED through the media, internet forums and the like,” tried (unsuccessfully) to sue the USGB Council in a $100 million civil lawsuit, claiming it engaged in deceptive practices and false advertising in order to garner support from the public. The Green Building Council is working to overcome some of the criticism leveled against it by critics to provide a more comprehensive standard.

Alternatives to LEED

Even though LEED is certainly the golden child of green, it is by no means the only rating system for energy efficiency on the market. The rigorous Passivhaus standard is utilized in Europe to create buildings that have very small carbon footprints and zero to low energy consumption.

Now the Living Building Challenge is setting the bar a little higher. This new standard for green building is run by the International Living Future Institute. This holistic standard consists of seven “petals” including site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. The Living Building Challenge differs from LEED in that it encourages us not to simply cause less harm or to cause harm slowly, but to change the very fabric of our building ethos to one that is organic and causes no harm at all: “The International Living Future Institute issues a challenge to all of humanity to reconcile the built environment with the natural environment into a civilization that creates greater biodiversity, resilience and opportunities for life with each adaption and development.”

Green Globes is another alternative to LEED which provides: “a revolutionary building environmental design and management tool. It delivers an online assessment protocol, rating system and guidance for green building design, operation and management.”

No matter which system you rely on, ensure that your energy efficient goals are clearly stated prior to construction. Assign responsibility for the achievement of those goals so that your contractors, architects and other artisans are held accountable for performance. Establish a rigorous regime of performance appraisal and measurement so that you can ascertain the actual energy consumption of your building once complete.

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