The LEED Scam

The new Bank of America building near me has all kinds of plaques inside about how it is LEED certified.  How?  Well, I don't know the whole plan, but out front there are four reserved parking spaces for electric vehicles.  There are not any charging stations mind you -- those might cost money -- just parking spots for electric vehicles, right next to the handicapped spots.  LEED is a points based system and you can score a lot of points doing mindless, useless, zero-value stuff like this.

So I am not at all surprised to read this:

Washington, D.C. may have the highest number of certified green buildings in the country, but research by  Environmental Policy Alliance suggests it might not be doing much good.

The free-market group analyzed the first round of energy usage data released by city officials Friday and found that large, privately-owned buildings that received the green energy certification Leadership in Energy Design (LEED) actually use more energy than buildings that didn’t receive this green stamp of approval.

LEED is the brainchild of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a private environmental group.

Washington, D.C.’s Department of Environment made the capital the first city in the nation to mandate LEED certifications in the construction of public buildings. The standards are now being phased in.

The results are measured in EUI’s, a unit that relates a building’s energy consumption to its size; the higher the number, the more energy is expended by a smaller building.

Take the Green Building Council’s Washington headquarters. Replete with the group’s top green-energy accolade, the platinum LEED certification, the USGBC’s main base comes in at 236 EUI. The average EUI for uncertified buildings in the capital? Just 199.

Certified buildings’ average comes in at 205 EUI, still less efficient than that didn’t take home the ultimate green trophy.

“LEED certification is little more than a fancy plaque displayed by these ‘green’ buildings,” charged Anastasia Swearingen, LEED Exposed’s lead researcher on the project. “Previous analyses of energy use by LEED-certified buildings have consistently shown that LEED ratings have no bearing on actual energy efficiency.”

Hilariously, the problem cited with the certification program by government regulators is not that it is ineffective - after all, they can't admit that after requiring LEED certification in DC buildings.  Their only problem is that it is a private program outside of government control.  I am sure the folks who gave hundreds of millions to Solyndra would do much better managing the program.

The problem with LEED is the same problem that many ISO 9000 programs had -- it puts too much emphasis on process an inputs, and not enough on results.

Postscript:  One wonders why if there is a perfectly good "output" metric like EUI why people even bother with input-based systems like LEED.  If the government really wants to regulate here, the lightest touch would be to require architects and builders to estimate EUI of buildings for clients.  Then the owners themselves can decide if they are comfortable with their potential energy bills or want so more design work.


  1. Leatherneck:

    Heh. I was just thinking of this as I started the fire in my shop on a nine-degree morning.

    The Pentagon sports many such LEEDS plaques- made of bronze even. The Pentagon! Where 39,000 people are in and out constantly. Where the lights stay on constantly unless somebody searches out the switch before saying "ah, screw it" where the building is kept at a constant over pressure. Where the automatic faucets and toilets either don't work at all, or give a spurt and quit or run constantly.

    I could go on, but I am proud every time I come up the Metro escalator and see the LEEDS plaque.


  2. Joshua Vanderberg:

    Wow, I'd always assumed that efficiency was a major component of the points system. With these numbers, I cannot imagine how that could be the case. Or is it perhaps a matter of gaming the rating system to present a "theoretical" efficiency that is never realized in practice?

  3. FelineCannonball:

    LEED has been controversial for a long time. It's something you do to impress people. Generally by spending more money on recycled or innovative supplies, architects, and inspection. Problem is that if you have a lot of money to spend impressing people you probably aren't incentivized to try to save money on the electrical bill.

    A lot of energy efficient projects by people who actually care about not wasting money don't use LEED.

    Third party capitalization of small business or rental weatherization would save a lot more money without handing any to a silly plaque maker.

  4. Ward Chartier:

    I've got a LEED certified Potemkin village for sale. Any interest?

  5. irandom419:

    I heard that the efficiency problems happen due to large windows to capture natural light. Now, if you really want to spend $2 to have $1, try Passive House with microscopic windows.

  6. Curtis:

    Reading your first paragraph jogged an undisturbed memory. All cars are electric powered. You can easily prove it by trying to start and drive one away without the battery. :)

  7. old dude:

    On the recycling aspect, I have seen journeymen carpenters taking time to remove nails from lumber that is to be recycled. Would you pay a skilled carpenter to pull nails from the lumber they removed during a home remodel? Of course not. Would you spend the savings on better insulation, triple pane windows or a more efficient air conditioner? You might if it could be shown to save you money over time. Looking at outputs instead of inputs works better but fails to provide regulators with the power they crave and so is never the choice of government.

  8. Morven:

    LEED isn't just about energy use, though. Lower water use is also a goal, as is reducing construction waste. I suspect those parts may be slightly more successful, though I agree there's a lot of bullshit involved.

  9. Cereal Killer:

    LEED certification qualifies the buildings owner for tax credits. This is the justification for the huge upfront cost compared to standard building practices. This is being driven more by idealist architects and designers than by owners in the private sector. Very few privately owned buildings pursue LEED certification after the sticker shock of the first round of bids.

    Of course, the federal government mandated LEED for federal buildings, pays for it with your tax dollars, then gives themselves a tax break - all while spending more on average than everybody else.

    I love these guys!

  10. FelineCannonball:

    This is the case of government (and others) being duped, not government regulation.

  11. Andrew_M_Garland:

    LEED Compliance models equal nonsense
    === ===
    I rode my bicycle around, seeing white signs on the sidewalk and around the building. Each sign proclaimed an environmental benefit obviously contradicted by reality. Bike racks for no riders. Small, almost leafless trees unable to "reduce energy use for air conditioning up to 70%".
    === ===

    AMG:  Government achieves excellence by checking off the box. Business achieves excellence by producing a profit, creating more value than the resources used.

  12. mesocyclone:

    Last year, I complained to the bank people at that branch about those reserved spaces. They told me to ignore the signs - they were just there to get the LEED certification. Sigh.

  13. Joshua Vanderberg:

    Yes, but surely if your building uses more energy than a non LEED building, year after year, this extra consumption must come to dominate any initial saving realized in construction.

  14. bigmaq1980:

    One could say something similar about almost all Certification programs.

    I know of some Professional Certifications that clients often specifically require to be on the team, yet, those certifications say nothing about the ability to execute on the things that individual is certified in. An embellished (but not fraudulent) resume would be a better indicator of competency.

    The Certification Industry is a growth one, but it does not seem to add much value, beyond a brand/image effect.

  15. CB2101828:

    This seems like pretty crude study, the kind you should be, let's say, skeptical about. I say that since there seems to be no control for what's actually occurring in the buildings.

  16. ADX:

    The LEED system has long been under scrutiny for its lack of focus on energy - and they've made it clear that they prefer to focus on holistic environmental impact rather than energy consumption. Still, projects have to prove either a designed (for new construction, since they can't measure), or actual (for the existing buildings program) adherence to energy codes. Existing buildings have to score at least a 69/100 from the ENERGY STAR program, which the article recognizes as being a legitimate benchmark.

    EUI does not tell the whole story - if a building is fully occupied, it may be more energy efficient (despite a higher EUI) than a building next door with a 25% vacancy.

    Tough to trust the Environmental Policy Alliance (haha, nice take on EPA) here - doesn't seem to have credibility or methodology in their study either?

  17. 42apples:

    While I am skeptical of LEED projects for their lack of commitment to ensuring energy savings, I don't think "LEED Exposed" is exactly an objective research group.

  18. thedevilcorp:

    Great site! Here's a link to a report about a known employment scam at . Hope you enjoy.

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