An engineering colleague of mine bristles whenever the words “green” or “sustainable” get used to describe a building. “TANSTAAGB,” or “There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Green Building” really should be a mantra of sorts. All efforts at a genuine carbon-neutral building have fallen far short once you get past the scale of a yurt, and most energy experts will tell you that the best strategy is to do as much as you can with what you have, and minimize–not try to eliminate–the inevitable environmental penalty that comes with building a structure of any scale.
With that in mind, an interesting piece in the New York Times this morning talks about the shortcomings of the USGBC’s LEED Certification Program. Designers and clients can submit checklists for new projects to gain various levels of certified “sustainability.” For several years, many have pointed out that this program, which is industry-led, offers more points for using the “right” products than for a holistic notion of efficiency. The classic example is that you get points for using recycled carpet, but no points for not using carpet at all. The critiques and suggestions in this article, most importantly the idea that any certification should be held off until the building has five years of energy bills to prove its efficiency, suggest a more stringent approach. There are state programs that already do this, and it seems a logical next step for LEED’s evolution. Here’s hoping that these steps don’t get mired down by vested interests.
Even if LEED gets better, we’re still way, way behind. Most buildings that come in at the program’s highest level would still be illegal in Germany, which has had some of the most stringent energy codes and evaluations for decades.