LEED asks – “Do you have GREEN to burn?”

1 Sep

As the CORGANIX Hybrid Homes begin to take off, we’re getting feedback from the “Housing Community”:

“Hey, this is pretty cool! IT’s green! Wait… it’s steel. Not so “green”. Wait… It’s earth! That’s GREEN,  er… um… brown… Um… What the heck?”

As the “professionals” try to figure out what slot we’re in, families are trying to figure out if it’s a good idea to “lean GREEN”…

While that’s happening, I’m getting hammered by families asking if CORGANIX is designed to LEED Standards.

After all, we have all seen the “LEED” craze, and how it’s actually driven UP the price of GREEN construction.

What exactly is “LEED” you might ask?

I’m about to take a very unpopular stance here, but here goes:

Well, LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”.

Sounds good, right?

Well… LEED is a “double edged sword”.

LEED is a certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

According to Wikipedia:

LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in metrics such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.”

It’s basically a VOLUNTARY points system where your project gets rated based on how many LEED rules you follow, while being closely monitored by people who are paid (handsomely) to know about such things.

There are seven categories for LEED Certification:

You do get nice buildings. You do pay a LOT of money for those nice buildings. Is it really about GREEN?

I think not.

IMHO – I suggest that LEED is more about driving profits by reapplying new definitions about what “GREEN” really is.

LEED is not a NEW Building code.

Nor does it take the place of building codes. It’s a just yet another way of certifying a building’s design and ultimately it’s construction.

LEED is simply a “scorecard”, based on “points”;

And while it sounds good, LEED is NOT the answer to all of our building problems.

Common sense is.

Yet, jurisdictions across America are putting laws into place requiring that all new government buildings be built to meet “green building” standards designed by (Guess who?) the U.S. Green Building Council.

City and County (even <gasp!> State) Governments are promoting “the NEW Voluntary Standards” – commonly known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). They’re doing this because they see LEED as a one-size-fits-all strategy designed to make government buildings more environmentally friendly.

Ironically, like most things political recently… the logic is totally flawed.

First, LEED is a “voluntary” program! It was never meant (nor designed) to be forced down the taxpayer’s throats.

LEED standards were not designed to be used in a “one size fits all” manner. The reality is that LEED benchmarks/mandates and “guidelines” are more likely to simply raise the costs of housing for consumers as well as increase tax burdens of citizens in cities and towns that rigidly (and erroneously) apply LEED to “public projects”.

According to most studies, LEED application increases project budgets at least 5%. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re building your own home using your paychecks, that 5% can loom like Mt Everest.

Here’s a quote for you (From the Ohio State Real Estate Law Blog);

“The reality is that the money used to pursue the LEED certification could often be better spent on the construction itself to allow for additional green concepts that might otherwise be unavailable due to limited funding. In other words, money spent on LEED certification could be spent on other materials or procedures to make a project greener. The same study which demonstrated that green building is on the rise also showed that most builders’ view of  LEED  has become   less  favorable.”

And worse than that, it’s looking more and more like LEED is just a tool to manipulate a building’s status.

Developers frequently manipulate LEED so that it appears that a project actually makes a significant impact, while not really achieving it. LEED Buildings arent changing the world. In fact, you can usually measure a LEED project “boon” by what are usually measured as “insignificant improvements” when measured against the whole.

And, at what cost?

LEED, in my view, has sadly been reduced to “just another marketing tool to separate clients from their hard earned dollars.

I know this sounds like I hate LEED, but it’s not true. I applaud anything that lends to creating sustainable, energy efficient structures. But, you have to use common sense in their development and then construction. LEED just isn’t panning out. It’s just become a yardstick to gain status by, usually by “fat cats” with money to burn on certifications that will make their street address more lucrative than the one next door.

And when the “fat cat” politicians get into the fray and apply LEED to State and Federal Government Buildings we all know who is paying for those buildings.

Can’t happen, you say?

Ex FL Governor Governor Crist is just one of several Governors who issued an SEO (Statewide Executive Order), adopting LEED -NC  for any new building constructed for or by the state. New buildings must strive for platinum certification – the highest (and by far the most expensive) level possible.

Yep. Bend over. That’s right…  😉

There’ a distinct difference between a ruler and a hammer.

One architect I’m working with on a large ISBU Based Commercial Housing Project in the “Greater Chicago” area had this to say about LEED:

“Alex, LEED is still an <expletive deleted>  minefield. The LEED “suits”, the actual project “reviewers” are still very inconsistent, inexperienced and for the most part… unyielding.  They’re like kids with new toys. Sure, they have a new ‘power’ that most of us don’t have. They know that they can “make or break us” wielding that set of standards like ‘The Highlander’s Sword’.”

When I asked him why he felt like this  (okay, I baited him… ;)), he replied:

“It’s like the angst we feel when we submit plans to a planning and zoning desk, only to be told that “the guy with no real education” is in charge of approving them.

Now, I’m not implying that reviewers aren’t educated to specific standards… but because of the growing pains that USGBC and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) are going thru, chaos is being created on every front.  And beyond the chaos, they’re making the cost of business (and the timelines) unreachable for many clients. There seems to be a new fee… and a new step…  every time you turn around.

That’s just not smart business in this economy.”

But if you spend any time looking at LEED, people are being taught that LEED is some kind of new “Yellowbrick Road” that we all must follow…

Bull. LEED has been reduced to ” just more ‘green-washing’ kool-aid”.

You don’t need LEED to build GREEN. In fact, in my view, the only thing they have in common is that they share a pair of vowels.

LEED isn’t really targeted at “cleaning things up across the architectural spectrum”. Want some examples?

Commercial buildings are the bread and butter of LEED. They ARE the primary LEED beneficiary, creating 19% of total US greenhouse gas emissions in 2008.

Personal vehicle use — The cars used to actually arrive at these worksites — accounted for over 17%. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that the cars contributed nearly as much to greenhouse gases as the buildings themselves.

Yet LEED-NC (LEED – New Construction) has 14 points available to reward reduced driving. This can be  compared to the 42 points directly related to the actual energy reduction in the buildings themselves.

So much for “City Planning”…

Can you say “urban sprawl?”

Does this really make any sense?

What you need to build GREEN isn’t layers of fees based on “empire building”… it’s the application of common sense and a deep knowledge of the materials you’re going to use.

You’ve heard me preach it time and time again;

Reuse, Recycle and Repurpose.

Couple those with good design and a realistic view of your goals, and you’ll hit GREEN way before you hit “LEED Anything”.

And your wallet will still have some cash in it, for that Open House at the Certificate of Occupancy Soiree you’re just dying to throw…

So in answer to the question:

“Is CORGANIX designed to LEED standards?”

The answer should be obvious.


But if you have money to burn on things you’ll probably never see, it could be… but certainly not by US.”

Which leads us to the next installment;

Why do people hate dirt?

Stay tuned.

Image Credits: LEED images – USGBC


2 Responses to “LEED asks – “Do you have GREEN to burn?””

  1. Alton Toth September 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Glad to hear other people have this view point too! Recently, a couple of civic projects around here (Vancouver, BC area) were contemplating going for LEED certification, but the politicians ultimately decided to go with ‘LEED equivalent design’…ie/ not bother with that extra 5% in construction costs just to get a sign to put up. More people like that need to be in charge of things.

    • Renaissance Ronin September 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

      Hi Alton,

      Would that politicians and developers here were so clear of thought…

      Here, (at least lately) what seems to matter most is the “trophy case”, regardless of the costs or common sense.

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