How Good is LEED Certification?


I’ve never looked into in detail, but the LEED certification process to get your building classified as environmentally friendly has always struck me as something rife with scam potential. And my favorite local development blog, citing David Owen, seems to agree:

But Owen reserves his most pointed criticism for the very tool we hope will make our cities greener, one building at a time: LEED. It’s a little known fact that most architects, particularly the ones who take sustainability seriously, all hate LEED. With its prescriptions and brownie points for bike racks and proximity to alternative fueling stations, LEED is—in Owen’s estimation—both too difficult and too easy. Too difficult because the process is stupifyingly bureaucratic, requiring even LEED accredited designers to hire expensive LEED accredited consultants to manage the paperwork. And too easy because even after much refinement, many designers and developers still game the system with a few cosmetic changes to achieve LEED certification with a minimum of effort, expense, or innovation.

Whenever you look into these issues, you wind up coming back to how vital it is to put a carbon pricing mechanism in place. Debates about which building is really greener than which other building can go on forward. Debates about what a given firm or family pays in utility bills tend to be simple—you just add the number up. Add a carbon price into the mix, and the chain of commercial interactions will calculate the total consumption much more effectively than any amount of sitting around and trying to guesstimate would. There’s more to environmental policy that carbon pricing, but without carbon pricing it’s hard to have much confidence in anything else.