Monday, March 29, 2010

The Next Best Alternative & "LEED Washing"

This article from Treehugger "The Four Sins of LEEDwashing" highlights some of the silliness that can occur from the current LEED credit system.

If you break NC v3 down by credits per category, you get this:
After you fulfill some prerequisites:
  • having a construction site pollution prevention plan
  • meeting a 20% reduction in water usage
  • performing basic commissioning
  • meeting minimum energy performance standards
  • not using CFC based refrigerants
  • having recycling plan and facilities
  • having a minimum indoor air quality plan
  • controlling tabacco smoke exposure
all you need is 40 points to be LEED certified.
This can lead to some strange configurations that would not be sustainable at all. For example:
  • A new building in the middle of the desert, far away from any housing, other development or public transit, with a grass lawn that made no special effort to control energy use could be certified  if it took extra care to:
    • Control construction waste, reuse materials, use recycled, sustainable, FSC certified wood and materials. [8 points in Materials and Resources]
    • Put a huge number of solar panels on or near the building, buy green power contracts, control refrigerant types, commission the building more thoroughly and then put an M&V plan in place to ensure that those systems continue to work as designed for a year. [16 points in Energy and Atmosphere]
    • Make a really nice interior environment for its residents by supplying extra air, light and views. By controlling indoor pollutants, by letting inhabitants control their own lighting and environment and by designing and verifying that the environmental design and those environmental controls work as designed about a year later. [15 points in Indoor Environmental Quality]
    • Ensure that residents and visitors are "educated" on just how "green" this building is... or, if that is too ironic, use organic cleaning supplies... or that is too much to ask, find a LEED AP to be a principal on the project. [1 point in Innovation and Design]
That's not very green, but is it better than the alternative: Doing none of the above?

That's a tricky balancing act.
If the bar is too low then it risks becoming greenwashing and undermining real efforts.
If the bar is too high then it risks inaction and rejection as being "too much."

So USGBC probably has struck a good middle road by starting somewhere that is arguably credible and gradually ratcheting the requirements as public and industry sentiment and awareness improve.
Not perfect but better than the next best alternative.